This has not been a good month to be a woman in Virginia. This state has recently has been the butt of a lot of jokes. On February 21st, Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” actually referred to Virginia as the “Punanny State.” Jon Stewart and his fellow current event satirists had an easy target with two pieces of proposed legislation that would have required a transvaginal ultrasound prior to receiving an abortion and that would have declared personhood as beginning at conception.
Admittedly, I’ve been embarrassed to be living in Virginia during this time. I have not wanted to claim the Richmond politicians as my own. With the personhood bill postponed by the State Senate and the ultrasound bill allowing women to opt out of having an eight inch wand inserted in their vaginas (although they still must have an ultrasound prior to having an abortion), it may be easy to dismiss these issues as over, but that would be a grave mistake. These laws show a dramatic shift in Virginian and Republican politics. As Stewart asked in the same show, “Whatever happened to the Republicans being the Party of personal liberty?” The answer is that they care about personal liberty for everyone except women who are acting out. Personal liberty, for Republicans, has a clear border that women cross when they make the difficult decision to have an abortion.
As young women, we must stay informed of these types of legislation. These laws came far too close to passing. Even more concerning, the personhood bill was not overturned. By a 24-14 vote, the bill was pushed to the next session. That means in a year’s time we may be back in this same debacle.
The personhood bill is terrifying as a proposal. As a law, it would be devastating. It is extremist and a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade. By direct challenge, I do mean that it would result in the Supreme Court reviewing the legislation with the opportunity to uphold or overturn the law. This would allow the Supreme Court to overturn Roe. Yes, in our lifetimes, Roe v. Wade may be overturned. It’s really that serious.
I want to make sure that is explicit because women need to understand what these laws, even as proposals, mean. With the Republican Party deciding to legislate like a father lecturing a teenage daughter, we are at risk of having the basic ability to make decisions about our reproductive future stripped away. In my opinion, like the teenage daughter in the previous metaphor, we need to act out and show Dad that such strict rules will just make things worse.
Virginian women and supporters have done some great work so far. One particularly feisty female legislator introduced an amendment to the ultrasound bill that would have required a rectal exam and stress test before men could get prescriptions for erectile dysfunction drugs. (The measure lost 21-19.) Protests on Capitol Square in Richmond have captured national attention. At one, over 1,000 women locked arms and stood silently in opposition to the proposed legislation. At another, 30 protesters were arrested. These protests and laws defined the 2012 legislative session in Virginia. We must ensure that we continue to stand up against anti-woman policies during future sessions.
Abortion is a controversial issue, even for the individual women who must make the decisions to continue or end a pregnancy. Although you may not be pro-choice, you can recognize that these types of legislation are not what government is here to do. The government needs to focus on real problems, like education and unemployment, instead of diverting attention with extremist legislation. The government needs to get out of and off of our bodies. The government needs to trust women to know what is best for us and our families. Until it does, women must stand together and say “Hell no.”