Home Virginia state senator on the right to contraception: ‘We are living in a dangerous time’
Politics, Virginia

Virginia state senator on the right to contraception: ‘We are living in a dangerous time’

Crystal Graham
birth control doctor
(© Monet – stock.adobe.com)

In recent months, the Supreme Court and Republican lawmakers have been re-writing the books on what reproductive access women should or should not have access to.

Much of the uncertainty stems from the controversial reversal of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court, which granted federal protections to women seeking an abortion.

The Supreme Court, in its ruling, gave the power back to each individual state to make decisions related to abortion.

Since the decision, women and legislators have feared that the court may also review other federal protections including access to birth control and fertility treatments like in vitro fertilization, or IVF.

In Alabama, IVF clinics are pausing treatment after the state Supreme Court ruled Feb. 16 that embryos created through IVF should be considered children as part of a wrongful death suit. It is unknown whether the ruling will lead to other states to pause treatment until the ruling is clarified or until medical facilities are granted an exemption through legislative action.

In wake of the fears of women, lawmakers are scrambling to enact legal or constitutional protections in response to the attacks on reproductive freedom.

In Virginia, a Right to Contraception bill passed the Democrat-led General Assembly in both the House and the Senate, and the bill now sits on Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s desk for approval. The Virginia General Assembly is only in session for 60 days; Youngkin has just days to sign or veto bills as they land on his desk. If Youngkin vetoes the bill, it will not likely become law, as the vote to pass the bill was mostly along party lines, and there is not a super-majority of Democrats to overturn a governor veto.

The contraception bill, if signed, would protect women’s rights to birth control and put in place measures to allow women access to any FDA-approved drug intended for use in prevention of pregnancy including condoms, birth control pills, IUDs and plan B.

The bill does not address abortion.

Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D-Richmond), who sponsored the bill in the Senate, told WHRO the problem is that there is a conflation between abortion and birth control and that groups talking about restricting abortion also discuss restricting birth control and contraception.

“We knew we had to take action, just given the heightened discussion around the country and some of the real threats that we have seen in some states,” Hashmi told WHRO.

“Protecting contraceptive access is, I think, an easy decision,” Hashmi said. “And I certainly think the governor should be quite open to listening to what our advocate communities have been saying, what the majority of Virginians are asking us to do and certainly he should sign the bill.”

Virginia Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Charlottesville) said legislatures throughout the United States are dealing with “culture wars” that include women’s reproductive rights.

“You’ve got to understand that the culture wars are being fought out in legislatures all over the country and in the Congress,” Deeds said in a response to AFP. “There are many people who have warned over the years that the abortion debate was really masking the larger debate about self-government with respect to contraception and all things private. These bills prove the truth of that concern.”

Republican lawmakers are on the record saying they are hesitant to support bills that guarantee the right to contraception due to emergency measures like plan B being included in the protections.

Could Republicans or the U.S. Supreme Court target birth control next?

One political science professor thinks it’s possible that the right to birth control could be restricted in the future.

“Is it farfetched? I don’t necessarily think so,” said Alex Keena, a political science assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, in an interview with The Virginian-Pilot. “It would have been unthinkable to overturn Roe just 10 years ago and look where we are today.”

A nationwide poll of likely voters showed that three-quarters of the voters polled have used a form of contraception with the majority of voters supporting birth control and emergency contraception. The poll also showed that 88 percent of Americans don’t want government interference in their right to make decisions about contraception.

Deeds said it’s important to enshrine contraception rights into state law to protect against an overzealous court.

Deeds isn’t optimistic that Youngkin will sign the bill despite overwhelming support for contraceptive freedom from Virginians.

“I expect the governor will veto the bills … though I think a clear majority of Virginians support the notion that people ought to have a right to contraception,” Deeds said. “We are living in a dangerous time.”

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Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.