Thursday, February 23rd was a big day in Virginia politics as we witnessed the power that strong lobbying coupled with mass protest can have. We succeeded in convincing our friends across the aisle to do away with the so-called personhood bill that had helped make Virginia something of a national punchline. Thursday was also the date of APV’s legislative Oyster Roast. It’s been a long, hard session, but Thursday night we had a chance to exhale a little and relax with some of our friends and allies from the Virginia General Assembly. Special thanks to Delegates Joe Morrissey, Patrick Hope and Mark Keam and to Senator Creigh Deeds for attending and to all the staffers who came out to raise a glass and eat. Thanks also to Caliente restaurant for making us feel so at home and to their staff. (Photo: Senator Creigh Deeds & Delegate Patrick Hope address the crowd.)
For decades our friends on the right have been railing against “activist” judges who interpret the law as they see fit, and yet the GOP controlled House of Delegates and State Senate are in the process of passing some of the most sweeping and open-ended language in recent memory; language, almost guaranteed to end up being parsed and interpreted in unforeseen ways in the courts of the Commonwealth. House Bill 1, the so called personhood bill, passed the House of Delegates earlier this month by a healthy margin and is now awaiting debate in Committee on the Senate side, but it’s only now starting to get the scrutiny that it deserves and the more people see of it, the more they don’t like it. HB 1 requires that all the laws of the Commonwealth be interpreted to grant fertilized eggs the same rights, privileges, and immunities, as people from the moment of conception on. In doing so it opens a potential Pandora’s Box for confusion and litigation. The bill’s sponsor, anti-choice zealot Delegate Robert Marshall of Prince William, says the bill is only meant to establish a civil cause of action for wrongful death of a fetus stemming from harm to a pregnant woman, but Marshall’s record and his refusal to amend the bill to clarify the many ambiguities the language raises, tends to belie this claim. Instead the bill, which is similar to language introduced and subsequently rejected in other states threatens to outlaw all abortions in the state de facto and make most forms of birth control including the IUD and the Pill illegal if current Supreme Court precedent is ever overturned and it raises serious concerns about the legality of common procedures surrounding in-vitro fertilization. A harsh but not inconceivable reading of the law could be interpreted to require women who miscarry to report the “death” to the local authorities, who, one would assume would have to decide whether or not to investigate if the “death” was spontaneous and of natural causes or was in fact an act of murder. Such silliness we are told would never happen, but the same people who say this are the ones forever warning us of the overreach of government and the chaos caused by radical, “activist” judges bent on making law from the bench. In this case I am rather inclined to take their warnings seriously.
HB1 is a sloppy piece of lawmaking that in a few terse sentences changes the meaning of the legal term person, which appears almost 25,000 times in the Virginia code to include “unborn children” which it defines as existing from the instant of conception. The bill tries to allay some of our many reasonable fears; it acknowledges that Roe and Griswold are the law of the land… for now, and in Sections 6 and 7 it address some other obvious concerns:
§ 6. Nothing in this section shall be interpreted as creating a cause of action against a woman for indirectly harming her unborn child by failing to properly care for herself or by failing to follow any particular program of prenatal care.
§ 7. Nothing in this section shall be interpreted as affecting lawful assisted conception.
Fair enough, a woman who drinks and smokes during her pregnancy or doesn’t stay on her diet can’t go to jail for murder if the pregnancy ends abruptly… but what about a woman who takes birth control? Remember conception happens outside the womb, the fertilized egg then implants (or not) in the womb. Most hormonal birth control prevents the fertilized egg from sticking to the uterine wall. By preventing this, the woman on birth control is “directly” intervening to prevent a pregnancy from continuing. The same could go for IUDs that create an inhospitable environment for the new “person” in the womb. It’s unclear, to say the least if using many of the most common and safe forms of contraception could be seen as a crime by an overzealous judge. Believe me after Citizen’s United, we Progressives have ample evidence of what damage a runaway court can do, and again don’t tell me prosecutors won’t bring these cases or judges will throw them out. Sure there won’t be many, at first, in the sense that birth control might be illegal and women and their doctors may have to seek contraception outside the law and would thus have to hide their actions, so there may be less murder and more smuggling cases. Who knows. We’re going into uncharted territory. What happens the first time or the fiftieth time that an aggrieved husband claims his estranged wife killed their child with birth control she bought in gasp, Maryland? The party that rails against nuisance lawsuits when they target corporations is all for opening up some of the most intimate decisions a woman or a couple can make to the tender ministration of the Courts. So this is what they mean by small government and tort reform.
And, what about section 7? What happens to all the “people” that routinely get produced as byproducts of fertility treatments? Doctors often implant numerous fertilized eggs, sometimes this results in large numbers of embryos in the womb. Can the mother look forward to a government official being part of any decision she and her family might make about reducing that number? What about freezing embryos, do the fertilized eggs get a legal guardian? Can the couple be charged with child neglect if they fail to pay for the lab work? Is it legal to freeze a person without their consent? What would be the impact on stem cell research? Would a doctor who performs a risky procedure like amniocentesis that results in an unintended abortion be liable for involuntary manslaughter? None of this is addressed in the legislation and to think such cases won’t come up is absurd.
This bill along with the raft of other anti-choice bills that have made this session one of the worst in recent memory for women’s rights is part of an overall plan to make abortion and birth control effectively unavailable for women in Virginia. Similar language has failed in public referendums in Colorado and that liberal bastion Mississippi. If put to a popular vote here, I am confident the people of the Commonwealth would reject it out of hand, but the radicals and partisans in the GA and the Governor’s office would like to push this through by mean force. In doing so they are also opening a gaping breach in the law that judges and lawyers and magistrates across Virginia will be asked to plug piecemeal. It’s time to let them know that that is as bad an idea as conferring personhood on a bundle of undifferentiated cells in the first place. On behalf of the Board of Directors of the Alliance for Progressive Values I urge the legislators and the Governor to stop and consider the many unforeseen ramifications of this dangerous bill. Please say NO to HB1.
APV Public Policy Director
On Monday, February 20th, over 1,100 people turned out in one of the largest demonstrations to happen in Richmond in decades, to show their opposition to a series of anti-choice and “anti-women” bills that have been working their way through the Virginia General Assembly. “Speak Loudly With Silence” was the brain child of APV board member Claire Tuite and others. It brought people from across the state together at the Capitol in Richmond to stand as mute witnesses to the ongoing war on women’s reproductive rights being waged by the state’s Republican majority. On a cold and windy morning state lawmakers walking from the General Assembly building to the nearby Capitol were met by over a thousand silent watchers who lined the walkways between the buildings. It was a powerful and moving message that we sent, that we are watching what they do and that we don’t like it. In our conversations with Delegates and Senators later in the day it was clear that message got across loud (or silently) and clear. APV has been involved from the start in the fight to stop restrictive, unnecessary and punitive legislation that would wipe away decades of progress on women’s health and reproductive rights here in Virginia. We are very proud of Claire and the work she has done on behalf of women in the Commonwealth and our membership were well represented in the large crowd. Thanks to everyone who came out and to the many organizations and individuals working to turn back the tide of ignorance and fear that threatens to make Virginia one of the most repressive states in the nation on women’s rights.
On February 13th, the day before Valentine’s Day and the next to last day for the General Assembly here in Virginia to pass bills before crossing over to deal with legislation from the other chamber, APV’s Monday Salon was pleased to welcome Delegate Patrick Hope of Arlington. Del. Hope came straight from the House floor and spoke and took questions from the audience for an hour. On behalf of the APV board of directors, I want to thank Patrick for coming to see us after such a long and frustrating day. (Photo: Stephanie Rodriguez, Del. Patrick Hope, Darby Lawes & Scott Price)
Alliance for Progressive Values President Stephanie Rodriguez, board member Claire Tuite and member Kirsten Gray all spoke at a subcommittee hearing this morning on HB836, a bill in the Virginia General Assembly which would have ended the practice of shackling pregnant prisoners during labor. Debate lasted for over an hour with a large group of speakers from across the ideological spectrum testifying in favor of the bill. Sadly the bill failed to report and is dead for this session. The main opposition came from law enforcement and the sheriff’s departments who argued alternately that the practice of shacking did not occur, or if it did it had little effect and must be warranted. Subcommittee Chairman Ben Cline, a prosecutor from Rockbridge, was particularly antagonistic to the bill and claimed that its passage would endanger correction officers, doctors, nurses, the general public and perhaps the state of the union if women prisoners were allowed to deliver their children without manacles. For the record the bill gave wide leeway for corrections officers to use their best judgment in these cases, it simply prohibited the uniform use of shackles which seems to be a prevailing pattern in parts of Virginia. No one wants women, even women in labor, who are a clear and present danger either to themselves or to others, women with histories of violence towards guards or doctors to be unsupervised or totally unrestrained such that others might be hurt, but the fact is that the vast majority of women in prison are nonviolent offenders and there was powerful testimony today that these women would almost certainly be incapable of escape or harming others directly before, during or after delivery.
APV would like to thank Delegate Patrick Hope of Arlington for sponsoring this bill and Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn of Fairfax who cast the only vote in favor of passage. We also want to thank everyone who signed our petition in favor of HB836, you helped us raise awareness about this issue with the general public and legislators and that can only help our cause. APV is involved with the ongoing regulatory process that also seeks to stop this demeaning and inhumane practice. This process is a slow one and can take a year or more, but it is our best shot right now. To read APV’s comments and to post your own on the proposed state regs, go here: http://townhall.virginia.gov/L/entercomment.cfm?stageid=6083
The Washington Post reported on the committee and quoted two APV members.
“The shackling of pregnant prisoners is shameful,” said Stephanie Rodriguez, president of the Alliance for Progressive Values.
Kirsten Gray of Richmond (APV member) recounted her own childbirth experience and said it was folly to believe women in such pain could be a threat to public safety.