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Women’s Equality Coalition Announces Agenda

January 8, 2015

By Ali Mislowsky and Craig Zirpolo
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – ProgressVA, the Virginia Latina Advocacy Network and other women’s rights and health advocacy groups launched the Women’s Equality Coalition on Thursday, announcing their legislative agenda for the 2015 General Assembly session.

With support from the Virginia chapters of the ACLU, Planned Parenthood and the National Organization for Women, the coalition faces an uphill battle in the Republican-led General Assembly on women’s health care issues as well as bills promoting equality in economic and civic opportunities.

“Our vision is to create an environment in Virginia for all women to have the economic means, social capital and political power to make and exercise decisions about their own health, family and future,” said Margie Del Castillo, field coordinator for the Virginia Latina Advocacy Network.

The coalition is founded around a shared belief in supporting women’s right to:

  • Decide when and if to have a family and access the full range of health services necessary to support that decision without interference from government, organizations, or individuals;
  • Secure the education and resources necessary to support and better themselves and their families without sacrificing economic security;
  • Live, work, and attend school free from intimidation, abuse, discrimination, harassment, and violence;
  • Understand how the political process affects them personally and be empowered and motivated to participate and make their voices heard.

The centerpiece of the legislative agenda seeks ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. The amendment was first introduced in 1923 and passed Congress in 1972. But it has not been ratified by Virginia and 14 other states, leaving it three states short of approval as an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Another of the coalition’s goals is to repeal a Virginia law requiring women to get an ultrasound before having an abortion. The groups also support House Bill 1430, which would provide domestic violence victims with unemployment benefits. That measure is being sponsored by Delegate Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria.

“Women need protection from their abusers and support from their communities to have the courage and resources to safely leave their abusers,” Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, said during the press conference.

The coalition also backs Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s budget amendments pushing for Medicaid expansion in Virginia.

“For millions of women, Medicaid makes the difference between access to cancer screenings and birth control or going without,” Keene said.

A bill to be filed in the coming days, nicknamed the Bad Bosses Bill, would prevent employers from taking action against female employees who use contraception. The proposal is a direct response to the Hobby Lobby ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

The coalition also called for legislation seeking equal pay for men and women, guaranteed access to paid sick days and a raise of the minimum wage.

“Women who work hard and play by the rules should be able to afford to live with dignity and raise a family,” said Anna Scholl, executive director of ProgressVA.

The agenda also seeks to promote women’s participation in the democratic process with a bill allowing absentee voting before Election Day for any reason.

Quan Williams of the New Virginia Majority called for expanding absentee voting. (Photo by Craig Zirpolo)

Quan Williams of the New Virginia Majority called for expanding absentee voting. (Photo by Craig Zirpolo)

“Women play a central role in our society and must have real democratic participation,” said Quan Williams, a policy associate with the New Virginia Majority, a liberal political advocacy group.

“Expanding absentee voting will ensure every eligible Virginia voter, including working people and including single parents, has the opportunity to go to the polls, participate in democracy and make their voices heard.”

The coalition shared quotes of support from state Democrats including Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, Attorney General Mark Herring and Sen. Donald McEachin, who chairs the Senate Democratic Caucus.

“Some of these measures are new responses to recent abridgements of women’s rights, and some of them are decades-old,” Herring said. “All reflect common values Virginians share.”

This article was published by such CNS clients as the Chatham Star-Tribune.