Legislators Send Va. Governor Bill that Restores “Trust Women” License Plate Funds to Planned Parenthood

Rachel Larris

It seems Virginia is once again on the verge of offering drivers a pro-choice specialty license plate with the money going to Planned Parenthood.

Virginia may be on the verge of offering drivers a pro-choice specialty license plate with proceeds from the sale of the plates going to Planned Parenthood. Last month a bill to create the Virginia license plate “Trust Women, Respect Choice” was passed by the House of Delegates with an amendment redirecting the funds from the sale of the plates away from the plate’s sponsor, Planned Parenthood, to a dormant state fund created in 2008 to assist women with unplanned pregnancies.

However in a conference committee on Saturday, the General Assembly restored the funding back to Planned Parenthood.

The Virginian-Pilot reports:

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Planned Parenthood sought a plate with an abortion-rights slogan, and the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union promised it would sue the state on free-speech grounds if the Assembly didn’t oblige.

The courts have made it clear that once a state starts down the road of allowing motorists to express themselves on their license plates, it must do so in an even-handed way, said Kent Willis, executive director of the Virginia ACLU.

“Specialty plates are a public forum,” Willis said, “and the government can’t discriminate on the basis of viewpoint in a public forum.”

Last year the General Assembly approved the production of “Choose Life” license plates, of which 1,899 have been sold and $13,485 has been collected for crisis pregnancy centers run by Heartbeat International. Crisis pregnancy centers in Virginia and elsewhere have a long record of providing misleading information to women about birth control, condoms, abortion and pregnancy. 

The Sun Gazette reports:

“Since the commonwealth had provided a forum for one side of the choice debate last year, we felt it was duty-bound to give equal treatment to the pro-choice position,” [Del. Bob Brink (D-48th), plate sponsor] said.

“Planned Parenthood is a vital part of the health-care safety net for women across Virginia – securing this license plate on their behalf is more than a symbolic victory,” Brink said.

The bill is now in the hands of Gov. Bob McDonnell who had 30 days to sign or veto it.

The Pilot reports:

Stacey Johnson, a McDonnell spokeswoman, gave an ambiguous response when asked if the governor would sign the bill.

“Virginia has hundreds of specialty license plates that citizens can order,” she said by e-mail. “The governor believes they all should be treated the same by the state. He opposes state funding for abortion services. He will review the final legislation with these principles in mind.”

Only two other states currently offer pro-choice license plates, Pennsylvania and Montana, while Hawaii offers a decal. Twenty-four states offer some version of the “Choose Life” plate. In Virginia, specialty license plates are a means of raising money for different non-profit groups. After the first 1,000 specialty license plates are sold $15 of every $25 goes to the plate sponsor.

Planned Parenthood of Virginia has said they will use the funds to provide services to low-income women, men, and youth seeking basic reproductive and sexual health care, such as family planning and screening for sexually transmitted infections.

News Health Systems

Virginia Governor Stops ‘Out of Touch’ Effort to Defund Planned Parenthood

Nicole Knight Shine

Gov. Terry McAuliffe said the GOP funding restrictions were likely unconstitutional and noted that federal courts have struck down similar laws in North Carolina and Texas.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) on Tuesday vetoed legislation to defund Planned Parenthood, thwarting the latest GOP-led attempt to gut reproductive health-care services.

HB 1090 would have prevented the Virginia Department of Health from issuing grants or contracts with organizations that provide abortion care, except for licensed hospitals. The bill, sponsored by Delegate Ben Cline (R-Rockbridge County) carved out exceptions for providers who perform procedures in cases of rape, incest, fetal anomaly, or in cases of life endangerment.

The legislation had cleared the house in a 64-35 vote and the state senate 21 to 19. Republicans dominate the state house and have a two-seat edge in the state senate.

“This bill, aimed at Planned Parenthood, would harm tens of thousands of Virginians who rely on the health care services and programs provided by Planned Parenthood health centers by denying them access to affordable care,” McAuliffe said in a statement issued Tuesday following the veto.

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“They are out of touch with women, with health care providers, and with Virginia families,” McAuliffe said of legislators who supported the Republican bill, according to the Virginian-Pilot.

McAuliffe said the measure would have outlawed contracts between the health department and the nonprofit Virginia League for Planned Parenthood, which conducts at its facilities about 500 annual tests for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

The state health department has two contracts with Planned Parenthood totaling $26,200, as the Virginian-Pilot reported. The contracts are for STI education and testing.

fiscal impact statement prepared by the state Virginia Department of Planning and Budget indicated the measure had the potential to “increase the rates of sexually transmitted disease, increase health care costs resulting from undiagnosed disease, and lead to increased cases of ophthalmic gonorrhea/chlamydia in the newborns of infected women.”

McAuliffe said the GOP funding restrictions were likely unconstitutional and noted that federal courts have struck down similar laws in North Carolina and Texas.

The measure was the latest salvo in a Republican-led campaign to strip Planned Parenthood of funding, after a series of deceptive, covertly recorded videos by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) purported to show the health-care provider illegally trafficking in fetal tissue. Two key figures from the anti-choice front group, which has worked closely with Republican lawmakers, now face charges related to the discredited smear videos.

Twenty states have either cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing or declined to investigate the health-care organization.

Republican lawmakers, however, remain undeterred. An ongoing congressional investigation is now subpoenaing the names of doctors, patients, and clinic staff in what Democratic leaders have called a “dangerous witch hunt.” Congressional Republicans have tried repeatedly to defund Planned Parenthood.

In 2015, 11 state legislatures introduced, passed, or enacted measures to gut funding of health-care providers like Planned Parenthood, the Guttmacher Institute found.

The Guttmacher analysis shows that defunding Planned Parenthood could seriously curtail health-care access. Planned Parenthood sites are the sole safety-net family planning center in one-fifth of counties in which they are located. Planned Parenthood health centers serve at least half of those obtaining birth control from safety-net health centers in two-thirds of the 491 counties where they are located.

Roundup: Cuccinelli At It Again

Beth Saunders

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli declares the state has the authority to regulate abortion clinics as if they were hospitals; and Elisabeth Hasselbeck supports gay marriage?!

Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia’s activist attorney general, continued his socially conservative agenda this week by declaring that the state has the authority to regulate abortion clinics as if they were hospitals or surgery centers.

How did he come to make the decision? Anti-choice lawmakers he worked with to restrict abortion while in the Virginia legislature asked him to “clarify” the issue. From the Virginia Pilot:

The General Assembly has repeatedly considered and rejected bills that would have placed abortion clinics under regulations similar to those imposed on full-service hospitals and surgery centers. Ken Cuccinelli and Bob Marshall know this because they have both sponsored such bills and watched them die.

Now, though, in the latest episode of an ongoing show of political opportunism, Cuccinelli – currently the attorney general – and Del. Marshall have decided that if they can’t get what they want through the legislature, they’ll try to get it by fiat.

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This week, Cuccinelli’s office opined, in response to a question from Marshall, that abortion clinics can be constrained by the same rules as surgical centers. Since banning abortions would be legally problematic, the goal instead is to make them less accessible and more expensive.

Cuccinelli’s opinion, though, is just that. It is nonbinding. Even so, his tactics reveal a disregard for the very government institutions that are his clients. His opinion shrugs off the legislative branch as obsolete and irrelevant. In Cuccinelli’s world, the will of elected lawmakers can be skirted by 15 appointees on the Board of Health.

The Cavalier Daily, newspaper of the University of Virginia, has more on the end-run around Virginia’s lawmaking body:

Many state legislators, including Cuccinelli when he was a state senator, have proposed bills that would have forced reproductive centers to meet the standards of an outpatient surgical hospital, but the General Assembly has rejected similar motions in the past. Cuccinelli’s opinion, should it lead to stricter regulation, may potentially circumvent the legislature and simply go before the Board of Health, and in turn, affect the operations of abortion clinics across the state.

Early reports from the Washington Post about the decision were not exactly balanced in their reporting, and Rewire’s Jodi Jacobson took the Washington Post to task for its original piece on Cuccinelli’s decision. A Washington Post editorial, however, speaks to some of the issues Jodi addresses:

But do the women of the commonwealth need additional protection? Has the state experienced a spike in abortion-related complications, including those that, as Mr. Marshall suggests, imperil future pregnancies? No, and no.

State medical and health boards already provide oversight of abortion facilities and the medical personnel who perform roughly 25,000 abortions each year. The Virginia Department of Health does not keep statistics on the number of medical complications associated with abortions. But the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit think tank that focuses on reproductive health and supports legal abortion, reports that less than one-half of 1 percent of abortions performed in the country result in complications that require follow-up medical treatment. The earlier the abortion is performed, the fewer the complications. The Virginia clinics in question perform only first-trimester abortions — the safest of all procedures. The institute provides compelling medical information that a woman’s decision to have an abortion has little to no impact on her ability to give birth later.

As for the activist AG, some Virginia lawmakers are concerned about Cuccinelli’s lack of boundaries. The Cavalier Daily reports:

“It is frightening to think of what Cuccinelli will do next,” said Del. Adam P. Ebbin, D-Alexandria, the House minority whip. “The public needs to understand how reckless he is. He is not working on what is important to Virginia consumers. Instead, he is focusing on his own extreme ideology.”

Look out Virginia. Cuccinelli has already gone after sexual orientation discrimination, pro-choice license plates, and funding for Planned Parenthood. What’s next?

Mini-Roundup: Conservative talk show co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck of The View states she’s in favor of gay marriage! And she believes the government shouldn’t be telling women what to do with their bodies! (Because she’s anti-mandate, not pro-choice.)

Aug 25

Aug 24