SULLIVAN: Protect reproductive health in the Commonwealth – The Cavalier Daily
SULLIVAN: Protect reproductive health in the Commonwealth – The Cavalier Daily

Virginia remains an island in the middle treacherous the seas—the only ones Southern state not to expressly restrict access to abortion after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Our neighbor to the south, North Carolina, has blocked access to abortion after 12 weeks of gestation. Our neighbors to the west, Tennessee, West Virginia and Kentucky all have passed a total ban on abortion at any stage of pregnancy. These states cover only a small fraction of all national abortion bans—that’s right appreciated that 2 in 5 women in the United States now live in a state that restricts or prohibits their access to reproductive health care. Because Virginia plays a unique role as the only state in the Appalachian region that does not restrict or ban access to abortion, it is imperative that our legislators take action to affirm and protect abortion rights—not only for the good of Virginians, but and for the residents of our surrounding countries.

Virginia, while not yet outlawing abortion, is not exempt from the toxic tendencies of pro-life movements. Closest to the heart of the pro-life movement in Virginia is the pursuit of a 15 weeks old, a “common sense” abortion ban. Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin claims that the moment the fetus feels pain – which according to various studies is in fact somewhere between week 24 and 25 if not later — abortion should be restricted. Not only is this argument about gestational development scientifically misleading, the reality is that over 90 percent abortions occur before this point. Also, there are such strict restrictions on abortion proven to take more lives than they would theoretically protect. Thus Virginia, like other states, experienced the movement’s misleading and dangerous claims to life in the highest echelons of state power.

But unlike in other states, the troubled outlook of influential people doesn’t seem indicative of a larger, more organized anti-abortion movement on the ground. Rather, in 2023 Virginians voted for a Democratic majority. Political analysts looked at last year’s elections as a referendum on abortion, and the Democratic majority offers a choice preference among the majority of Virginia voters. Even stronger, studies show that almost three-quarters of Virginia would like to either keep the current 26-week limits or reduce the limits even further.

State legislators appreciated this overwhelming support for reproductive freedom and passed important bills to that effect, bills that protect both Virginians and residents of neighboring states. These bills include protection against extradition of people over abortion procedures and protection for private menstrual health data. The latest bill, especially, is absolutely integral to securing broader abortion rights for the South. Recently, Democratic lawmakers have also had success in their efforts to I reject radical bans on abortion access that claim to protect women and unborn children, but in fact only further endanger the most vulnerable in our community. All of these efforts are sincerely commendable and are a constant reminder that we cannot forget the daily work being done in defense of abortion rights.

Despite such clear and laudable actions, however, the most central part of Virginia’s reproductive freedom agenda—amending the state constitution—has yet to materialize. In fact, this process is only further delayed. If all goes well, the amendment could go to the polls as early as late 2026. The process of adopting a constitutional amendment to a state constitution is often combined with many years of legislative difficulty as legislators hammer out the specifics of the language. Regardless of these complexities, this amendment should remain an unequivocal legislative priority because such an amendment is integral to reproductive freedom in Virginia and other Southern states.

It’s abundantly clear that Virginia voters disagree with Youngkin’s pro-life stance, and they showed it strongly at the polls. Our vote against such forces has thus far secured reproductive health in Virginia and beyond. Now, Virginia is setting an example of reproductive health access in the South. Even more than that, our legislature has a duty to protect reproductive freedom for Virginians and our neighbors alike. There were 75 last year alone percent increasing the number of abortions available safely to women in Virginia, a statistics which is supported by bans in other states. Simply put, Virginia is – and should continue to be – a safe haven for Southern women seeking reproductive health care.

Because the stakes here are so high—affecting not only us, but all women in the Southern states—we as Virginia voters must take seriously the weight of our vote. We need to keep an eye on the local and federal candidates who are campaigning to represent you. Think what they sayand see if it matches what they make. More importantly, Virginians should explore ways we can join locally, whether through a phone bank, a donation, an on-site IT director or even a conversation with someone who disagrees. When Virginians vote for reproductive freedom, when the citizens of Charlottesville rally for abortion rights outside their courthouse when donors fundraising for the Blue Ridge Abortion Fund, the activism done is not just for the benefit of citizens in the Commonwealth. This is beyond us. Rather, we rally for women who have nowhere to turn in their own states, and vote for policies and freedoms that we can only hope will set a lasting example of choosing freedom for ourselves over encroachment by others.

Scarlett Sullivan is a senior associate opinion editor who writes about politics for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at [email protected].

The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors only.

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