Virginia women feel the sting of harsh laws aimed at reproductive rights

Posted on Saturday, November 3rd, 2012 at 6:06 pm

Virginia’s Women Vote from Pavement Pieces on Vimeo.

Video produced by Kait Richmond
Pavement Pieces staff

Story by Nicole Guzzardi
Pavement Pieces staff

RICHMOND, Va -As Leslie Shinbaum, 21, talked jovially about her support for President Obama and the work she does on her college campus at The University of Richmond to encourage young people to get out and vote, a glimmering gold chain sat delicately on her collarbone. From it hung a rather unique charm: a tiny golden coat hanger.

Born and raised in Montgomery, Ala., Shinbaum is a senior studying political science and founder and president of a group called UR Students For Barack Obama.

The charm was given to her by her mother, she said, but not because she loves fashion or clothing. It symbolizes something that both Shinbaum and her mother believe is a woman’s fundamental right.

“This is my abortion necklace,” she said lightheartedly.

The coat hanger has long been associated with abortion practices, stemming from a time when services were illegal and women sometimes resorted to dangerous, self-induced abortions using tools such as the hanger.

Shinbaum is pro-choice and discussed a time when she pooled together money to keep aside just in case any of her friends got pregnant and wanted to seek out abortion services.

“People shouldn’t interfere with those choices, it is such a personal thing,” she said.

Shinbaum spent spring 2012 semester interning at the Virginia General Assembly for Senator Janet Howell, a Democrat who shares Shinbaum’s belief that a woman’s right to choose abortion and other forms of family planning must be preserved and protected.

But many Virginian women believe these rights face serious danger. From a proposed but amended transvaginal ultrasound bill,all which would have forced women seeking an abortion to first undergo an ultrasound, deemed unnecessary by some medical professionals and invasive by many women, to abortion clinic regulations, or “TRAP” laws as they are being referred, which stands for Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers, women from both sides of the political spectrum have voiced concern that the rights their foremothers fought for years ago are being threatened, and the outcome of the election will play a huge part in whether this “attack” on women gets worse or lessens up.

The transvaginal ultrasound bill was amended and passed in February by Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, requiring a less invasive procedure, an abdominal ultrasound, to be conducted 22 hours before any woman in the state of Virginia undergoes an abortion.

Some, like Jill Abbey, 51, Administrator of Richmond Medical Center, which offers abortion services, think this law will still make the process much more difficult for patients.

“It’s not economical for them to have to make two visits, especially with gas prices the way they are,” she said.

Abbey explained that patients who live more than 100 miles away from the clinic are allowed by the law to get the ultrasound the same day as the abortion procedure, but most patients live within that distance, forcing them to take extra time off work for two separate visits.

Conducting an abdominal ultrasound is standard practice at Richmond Medical and most other clinics she said, but ultimately the choice should be left to the doctors as to whether and when the procedure takes place.

“It should not be up to legislators to tell how doctors conduct their practice, it should be up to the doctor,” she said.

Many women all over the state of Virginia, have taken to protesting and promoting their viewpoints with the hopes to raise public awareness.

Jennifer Johnson, 21, and Christine Parker, 21, are students at the University Of Richmond and members of a group called, UR Body UR Choice, which Johnson started as a freshman because she said there was a pro-life group on campus but no active pro-choice group.

“We were on the brochures, but nobody was doing anything, so I was like this doesn’t work, we need to have both sides of the story, so I coined the term your body your choice,” Johnson said.

The group promotes pro-choice understanding, but it’s more than that, Johnson said.

“It’s also reproductive health in general, access to birth control, safe sex, sex education,” she said, “But because of the election this year, a lot of our focus has been on choice issues and especially the stuff that’s been going on in Virginia.”

Johnson and Parker are active in the university community, tabling and spreading the word about issues such as the “TRAP” laws being proposed in Virginia and the effects they believe they would have on women’s rights if passed into laws.

Members of UR Body UR Choice studied up on these abortion clinic regulations, or TRAP laws, before attending a Virginia Board Of Health meeting in September where these proposals were being discussed and voted on, Parker said.

Some members of the group were able to get into the crowded building and watch the meeting on a television screen in an overflow room, while others, like Johnson, stood with signs out front, making their presence known.

The regulations, which were passed by the board on September 14th, include enforcing specifics about ventilation systems and hallways widths among other things, which many like Parker, believe are completely unnecessary to running a properly-functioning clinic.

“After reading more and more we found out how absolutely horrible the situation really was,” Parker said. “They are roadblocks which will cause some of the clinics to close down.”

According to an article on the Huffington Post,none of the 20 clinics applying for new licenses in Virginia meet these requirements.

Richmond Medical Center is most definitely being affected by these regulations, Abbey said.

She explained that already existing clinics have two years from the time they were licensed to comply with the construction regulations, where as other “emergency” regulations as they are deemed, must be met sooner.

“By calling them emergency, it reduced the time for public comment and rushed them into effect,” she said.

Abbey said these include things such as writing up policies that never had to be written up before and most kinds of doctors aren’t required to write.

“How can this apply to us and not to the plastic surgeon down the street? And not the guy doing foot surgery down the street?” Abbey questioned, “It’s targeted at us.”

Parker and Johnson said they were disappointed with the outcome of the board’s vote and even more so with Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s denial to certify an amendment of the regulations which would have grandfathered in already existing clinics, thus allowing them to stay in operation.

“He decided he didn’t agree personally with this decision [to grandfather in] even though he had absolutely no right to have any part of the decision at all,” Parker said. “He sent the board back to re-vote on this, after threatening them saying he wouldn’t support their future endeavors, he would be monitoring them closely, to encourage them to change their vote.”

And that’s exactly what happened; Parker said of the outcome, they changed their vote.

But even with discouraging situations like this one, these young women are determined to keep spreading the word, hoping it will reach the ears of those students who are able to vote come election time.

Both Parker and Johnson said they are “unabashedly” supporting President Obama in the upcoming election, because they believe he is the only candidate who clearly supports women’s rights and health.

When approached with the question of what will happen if Governor Mitt Romney wins presidency, Johnson paused for a moment.

“We will have our work cut out for us, I mean if he overturns Roe V. Wade, if he repeals Obama Care, we’ll just have so much work to do, ” she said .

Johnson said she doesn’t understand how any young woman could vote for Romney when none of his political stances support women.

Many of the women of Virginia lean towards Obama, shown by the 19-percent-point lead he currently holds amongst female voters in the state.

Meanwhile, the toll these regulations and proposed bills have taken on some are great.

On October 18th, Karen Remley resigned from her position as Virginia’s Department Of Health Commissioner. She sent a letter to various clinical societies and organizations, explaining her reasoning for resignation.

Remley addressed the development and implementation of regulations of abortion clinics and 20 facilities in Virginia that underwent inspections and will be licensed for the next year.

She went on to say, “how specific sections of the Virginia Code pertaining to the development and enforcement of these regulations have been and continue to be interpreted has created an environment in which my ability to fulfill my duties is compromised and I can no longer in good faith continue in my role.”

Remley wrote that she will continue to have a passion for public health and, “will pursue opportunities to improve the health of all Virginians through different venues.”

Others continue to fight what they say is a battle which should have been over and done years ago.

“What’s frustrating to me and I think what is for a lot of women, is that we won this battle 30 years ago,” Johnson said, “and now we’re having to fight it all over again and it’s just ridiculous.”