By Katherine Johnson
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Abortion rights supporters made their way to the state Capitol grounds on Tuesday to mark the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision and to look to the future of women’s rights in Virginia.
The landmark case decided that women’s right to privacy includes the right to have an abortion. A crowd of a few hundred gathered to listen to Virginia legislators in support of women’s rights, including Democratic Sens. Barbara Favola of Arlington, Mark Herring of Leesburg and Ralph Northam of Painter.
The rally served as a reminder to women’s rights and reproductive rights advocates to continue their efforts, especially after last year’s turbulent General Assembly session, when legislators introduced and passed bills that received national attention and controversy.
Last year’s House Bill 1, sponsored by Delegate Bob Marshall, R-Manassas, would have redefined “personhood” to include unborn children. The bill was tabled until this year.
Last session’s HB 462 originally required women to submit to a transvaginal ultrasound before an abortion. At the request of Gov. Bob McDonnell, the bill was amended to require an external ultrasound and was signed into law in March.
Dr. Karen Remley, the former state health commissioner, was on hand for the rally. Remley resigned from her position in October after the state implemented new abortion clinic regulations. She said she never dreamed she’d have to attend a rally to defend Roe v. Wade.
“How we choose what we do and when we do it is something we should be able to do on our own, collaborating with our family, our friends and our physician,” she said in her speech.
“Roe v. Wade is a very … essential and important element, but it is a much bigger issue than pro-choice. It is, ‘Where are women in our society, and how do we stand as equals next to every man there is in the world?’ ” Remley said.
Sandee Delano has attended every women’s rights protest at the Capitol since last February. “It’s disgusting – it’s absolutely disgusting and deplorable – that they’re even talking like that,” Delano said about last session’s legislation regarding women’s rights and reproductive rights.
For this session, Delano would like to see Virginia legislators “get back to their senses” and work on important things.
“We need jobs. We need other things. This needs to stop, because it’s a settled issue,” she said.
Favola said the rally has important implications for the future.
“You are paving the way for our daughters and our sisters and for the generations that come behind us,” she told the crowd.
Favola also offered her thoughts how one of Virginia’s Founding Fathers would respond to the debate: “Thomas Jefferson would say, ‘My goodness. What the heck has happened to the Commonwealth?’ ”
Northam noted that he has introduced Senate Bill 1332, which would make ultrasounds optional for women seeking abortions. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Education and Health.
The Virginia Society for Human Life, an anti-abortion organization, issued its own statement regarding the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
Since 1973, there have been more than 55 million abortions in the United States, including more than 500,000 in Virginia, the group said. “Abortion has become a tragic response to the needs of too many women facing a complex pregnancy,” the statement added.
Olivia Gans Turner, the society’s president, said abortion “has risks both physical and emotional for the mothers of these children.”
“VSHL remains committed to protecting the lives of the unborn, those with disabilities and the elderly under the law,” Gans Turner said. She said the society wants to ensure that women “obtain all the facts before making this life and death decision.”