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Pro-Choice Va. Legislators Get Ready For State Fight

By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter
New Journal and Guide

On May 2 when the draft  opinion of the Supreme Court calling for overturning Roe Vs. Wade, it signaled the end of over four decades of a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion.
If the conservative 6-3 majority on the current court adopts the draft, written by Associate Judge Samuel Alito’s opinion, then the states and not the federal government would define if and when a women can have an abortion.
Since the leak, the reaction has been loud from supporters of abortion rights.
Last week marches were held across the nation, including in Hampton Roads, demonstrating opposition to the high court’s potential move.
U.S. Senate Democrats sought to advance a vote to codify abortion rights last week, but Republican oppositions and Senator Joe Minchin killed that move.
Alito notes that such a right should not be imposed by the federal but state lawmakers. Also, he noted, that abortion is not a right cited by the original writers of the Constitution.

Only when the Constitution was amended or the courts struck down oppressive laws have voting rights for African Americans and women come about, as well as interracial and Gay marraiges.
Polls show most Americans support abortion rights, according to the Pew Research Center poll.
And even in the reddest states, “the share of people who think abortion should be illegal all the time maxes out at around 25%,” said Natalie Jackson, the director of research at the Public Religion Research Institute.

And yet, propelled by partisan gerrymanders and voter suppression, dozens of Republican-led state legislatures are certain or likely to ban the right to end a pregnancy as soon as the court reverses Roe, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Virginia abortion rights advocates are among those in Republican-led states closely watching the impending Court’s ruling.
“This was the basis of the Civil War….usurping federal protective rights then for Black people,” said Gaylene Kanoyton, President of the Hampton NAACP and a health care activist. “Now it’s abortion rights.
Next, you will see voting, LGBT, and employment rights on the chopping block if the Republicans have their way.”
If the courts do strike down Roe, states will be empowered to impose “trigger” laws, crafted before 1973,  which could make laws more stringent or ban the procedure.

Many of those restrictions would ignore the viability of the fetus, rape or incest.
Today state restrictions vary.  Abortion in Virginia is illegal after the third trimester. The state’s Medicaid program even provides for   abortion coverage and is limited to cases of fetal defects, life endangerment, rape, or incest. There are no waiting periods; no parental involvement consent and notices are required.
In Virginia, according to  Democratic Senator Mamie Locke, during the administration of  Governor Ralph Northam, the state legislature  cast aside the restrictive laws imposed during the decade of GOP-control of the state house But today, Virginia Democrats and pro-abortion activists believe that the State Senate’s firewall may be fragile if they do not expand their numbers in the House and Senate during the next election cycle.
The Democrats’ grip on power in Richmond was weakened last November when Republicans won the Governorship, and a four-seat majority in the House (52-48).

In the Senate which will not face an election until next year, the Democrats own a 21-19 majority.
During the last legislative session, House Republicans managed to pass several bills which sought to reverse that two years of Democrat legislative progress. Most died in Senate committees or  on the floor of that body.
But  if a Senate vote is tied,  Lt. Governor Winsome Sears, a conservative Black Republican who supports Roe’s abolition, would give the GOP a legislative win.
Shortly after Alito’s draft was leaked, members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus (VLBC) began sounding the alarm about the consequences of Roe’s abolition.

“We (women) were not created with a spirit of fear but with a sound mind and we can decide what is best for us, our bodies, and our lives,” House Delegate Angelia Williams Graves of Norfolk wrote in a statement to the media the day after the leak. “Women are fully capable of making decisions for themselves. This potential ruling is egregious and insulting to the intellect of every woman in America!”
Graves continued, “I know there are some (Republican) lawmakers who are pulling out bills and dusting them off. It will be abortion rights today. What right do we have will be next? It is my duty as a Christian political leader to fight for those women to protect their reproductive rights.”
According to Senator Locke, Democratic Senator Joe Morrissey or other anti-Roe lawmakers could make a difference if a bill hits the Senate floor. But Morrissey is not on any committees that deal with such legislation.

In the past, he has walked out of the chamber and did vote against  his party on certain bills.
Kanoyton and other civil and health rights advocates believe that if abortion rights are restricted, it will negatively impact poor and Black women the most.
“It is about maternal rights and health,” she said. “Black women are four times more likely to die  in childbirth. What if they are victims of incest or rape. Many cannot afford to travel to another state.”
Kanoyton said that “no woman gets pregnant then decides that I want to kill a baby.”
“Rape, incest, a fetus that may not have a brain, hands, or legs,” she said.  “There are so many things to consider as a woman. It takes an emotional and physical toll on us and we should have the right to choose.”

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