UPDATE, February 27, 2020, 2:43 p.m.: The Democratic-held Virginia legislature on Thursday approved the Reproductive Health Protection Act. It will now go to Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who supports abortion rights.
Every week, Rewire.News will highlight trends in abortion-related legislation moving through the states, and how those bills might affect abortion access. This week, we take a look at a few of the pro-choice bills in state legislatures across the country.
The state’s new Democratic majorities are moving quickly to unravel the web of anti-choice restrictions enacted by Republicans in the past two decades.
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Democrats in a Virginia House committee moved an omnibus pro-choice bill, HB 980, to the house floor on a party line vote last Wednesday, the Washington Post reported. A day later, the senate committee on health and education approved a companion bill, SB 733, by a 9-6 vote.
The legislation would make it legal for nurse practitioners and certified nurse midwives to perform first trimester abortions; eliminate the state’s forced 24-hour waiting period and ultrasound requirement; end inaccurate counseling for abortion patients; and make more clinics eligible to provide abortion care by removing targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws.
Advocates mounted an unsuccessful legal challenge to these abortion restrictions in 2018. Ninety-two percent of Virginia counties don’t have an abortion clinic, according to Guttmacher.
Before Virginia Democrats won control in last year’s elections, abortion rights advocates told Rewire.News that they hoped the new legislative majority—in addition to undoing the state’s anti-choice restrictions, like the current omnibus bills would do—might codify abortion protections into state law, following the lead of states like Vermont. Codifying abortion rights would ensure abortion remains legal in Virginia should conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade.
“If ever there is a time to protect a woman’s bodily autonomy, that time is now,” state Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), sponsor of the state senate’s omnibus abortion bill, told the Associated Press.
State Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick (D-Lithonia) introduced a bill that would allow abortion patients to forgo a series of medically unnecessary requirements designed to deter people from obtaining abortion care.
The bill, the “Women’s Right to Immediate Access Act” or HB 746, would allow patients to bypass the state’s 24-hour forced waiting period, mandated ultrasound, and state-approved anti-choice counseling. The bill stands little chance of being debated in the Republican-controlled Georgia House of Representatives, as Republican leaders have said they won’t consider abortion-related bills while the state’s near-total abortion ban is tied up in court, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported.
After passing the Reproductive Privacy Act last year, despite pushback from anti-choice Democrats, the Democratic-held Rhode Island legislature will soon consider legislation to ensure state employee health insurance and Medicaid cover abortion care.
State Rep. Liana Cassar (D-Barrington) and state Sen. Bridget Valverde (D-East Greenwich) held a press conference last Wednesday to announce the legislation, which the Providence Journal reports will be introduced this week. Democrats control both chambers of the Rhode Island General Assembly.
The legislation would abolish the ban on state employee health plans and the Medicaid program covering abortion costs.
“Right now, there are people for whom there is a barrier to access to abortion solely as a result of their insurance coverage,” said Cassar, who intends to introduce the bill in the house. “Access to safe, legal abortion includes economic access. Disproportionately, this economic barrier to access impacts poor women and women of color.”
A spokesperson for Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) said she “is open to reviewing any legislation designed to protect Rhode Islanders’ access to safe and affordable health care,” according to the Journal.