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Emily Holter

Governor and Others Vow to Protect Women’s Reproductive Rights

By Arianna Coghill and Emily Holter, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Dozens of women packed into the state Capitol Thursday to stand beside Gov. Ralph Northam, Attorney General Mark Herring and General Assembly members who issued a statement in solidarity with women’s reproductive rights.

Representatives of several advocacy groups, including the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, joined public officials, all Democrats, to discuss abortion rights and promote better access to comprehensive reproductive health care.

“I’m going all the way to the Supreme Court if I have to in order to protect Virginians’ health care,” Herring said.

Meanwhile, two bills calling for greater reproductive health rights failed to leave the Senate Committee on Education and Health. Committee members voted 8-7 twice, along party lines, not to advance the bills.

Public officials and advocates who support abortion rights promised to remember Thursday’s votes at the next election.

“When we can’t change people’s minds, we change seats,” Northam said.

Herring added, “As saw in committee this morning, in order to really truly protect women's rights and their reproductive rights, we need a pro-choice majority in the General Assembly.”

SB 1637, sponsored by Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, sought to establish a woman’s reproductive choice as a right. Also called the Virginia Human Right Act, the bill stated, “Every individual who becomes pregnant has a fundamental right to choose to carry a pregnancy to term, give birth to a child, or terminate the pregnancy.”

Boysko expressed concerns that the current political climate could jeopardize women’s reproductive rights.

“We must codify our national rights into Virginia state law,” she said, “to ensure that the reproductive rights of Virginians are dependable, secure, and no longer in danger from changing political tides.”

SB 1451, sponsored by Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, also failed in committee. The bill would have eliminated the state’s requirements women get an ultrasound before an abortion, that a second trimester abortion must be performed in a hospital and that two doctors are needed to certify a third-trimester abortion.

“It’s time we stop criminalizing a woman’s choice and expand access to care for all Virginians,” McClellan said.

When McClellan served in the House of Delegates, she was the first member to give birth while in office. She said pregnancy opened her eyes to the scope of women affected by current regulations and prompted her to submit her bill.  

“One [woman] who had a hole in her heart, who was on birth control but got pregnant anyway, had to make the terrible decision to terminate that pregnancy or risk her life,” McClellan said. “I have always been pro-choice. This took on extra passion for me because so many people have told me in the grocery store, ‘That’s my story.’”

HB 2491, sponsored by Del. Kathy Tran, D-Springfield, is identical to McClellan’s bill and currently sits in the House Courts of Justice committee. Tran said the current medical requirements are unnecessary and impact low-income Virginians and women of color.

“For women seeking reproductive care, the additional costs and obstacles imposed by existing regulation could potentially include unpaid time off from work, hospital fees and other emotional distress,” Tran said. “These restrictions harm women and have disproportionate effects on low-income women and women of color in Virginia.”

Faculty Members Lobby Legislators on Higher Education Issues

By Emily Holter and Madison Manske, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Faculty members from colleges and universities across Virginia converged on the Capitol on Thursday, urging legislators to provide more funding for higher education and ensure affordable college degrees for future generations of students.

Higher Education Advocacy Day drew professors like Brian Turner, who chairs the political science department at Randolph-Macon College. He noted that the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia has developed a plan to guide the colleges and universities in the commonwealth.

“The Virginia Plan for Higher Education’s goal for Virginia is to be the best-educated state by 2030,” Turner said.

To make that a reality, faculty members asked members of the General Assembly to allocate money for salary increases, boost tuition assistance and increase student access to higher education.

In December, Gov. Ralph Northam proposed amending the state budget by giving $1 billion to higher education, including increasing tuition aid. Many public institutions in Virginia are hoping that with higher salaries, they will be able to offer a higher-quality education to students.

Low salaries make it hard to compete for prominent faculty members with other well-known institutions, Turner said.

As a group, Virginia’s college and university faculty members said they support a bill by Del. David Bulova, D-Fairfax, to increase transparency on gifts that public institutions receive from donors that are subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

Turner said House Bill 2386 would help ensure that donations enhance the curriculum and provide more accountability on how institutions spend their money.

Speaking with delegates and senators, some faculty members also expressed their concerns over Title IX policies. Some have questions about legislation sponsored by Del. Joseph Lindsey, D-Norfolk, pertaining to accusations of sexual violence on campus.

Lindsey has introduced two bills (HB 1830 and HB 1831) that would allow students to have attorneys present at any campus disciplinary hearing or sexual assault hearing.

Another higher education issue is a bill proposed by Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, that would prohibit public colleges and universities from asking student applicants about their criminal history. Under HB 2471, schools could not “deny admission to any applicant on the basis of any criminal history information.”

“Your criminal history should not be deterring you from being able to pursue education. And in my bill, there’s a line that says this is really about the application,” Aird said. “If they do get admitted and let’s say, for some instance, you have a student that wants to live in on-campus housing, the institution can then request their criminal history.”

In making the rounds at Capitol Square, participants in Higher Education Advocacy Day spoke with Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Fredericksburg, about his bill to give students a voice on tuition increases.

Under SB 1204, “No increase of undergraduate tuition or mandatory fees approved by a governing board of a public institution of higher education shall take effect unless such increase receives an affirmative vote of at least two-thirds of undergraduate students enrolled in such institution.”

Faculty members fear that would make it impossible to raise tuition.

“I don’t think you could round up two-thirds of the student body to vote for free beer,” Turner said.

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