Activists ‘Make Trouble’ on Behalf of Women at VA Board of Health Meeting

By Lauren Redding

Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women.

Nora Ephron

I’ve always loved this quote, but I never fully appreciated it until this past Friday. It was my first-ever experience as a feminist activist: The Virginia Board of Health was voting on whether existing abortion clinics would be required to undergo costly, unnecessary renovations.

Activists gather outside the Board of Health meeting (photo by Sarah Shanks)

It was a showdown between anti-choice and pro-choice activists alike. The stakes were incredibly high: If passed, these strict regulations would likely close the majority of Virginia’s 20 abortion clinics, which wouldn’t be able to afford the renovations. So I wasn’t surprised when I arrived at 8 a.m. to find more than 300 activists – both pro-choice and anti-choice – already camped out and ready to fight.

Ultimately, we lost. The Board of Health – an independent body comprised mostly of doctors – folded under intense pressure from Gov. Robert McDonnell (R) and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R), who told board members they would not be protected by the state if sued for grandfathering in current clinics.

Even worse, the Board had already voted in favor of the grandfather amendment last June. They voted on behalf of women’s health. They voted on behalf of science and medicine. They voted on behalf of common sense. But the anti-choicers threw a massive tantrum and got what they wanted.

I’ve experienced patriarchy and sexism throughout my life in different ways, but I’ve never been directly stared down by it like I was Friday. When the final 13-2 vote was read – and it was official the Board had reversed its previous decision – the Board sent a strong message to all women: Your health is not important to us. Your safety is not important to us. You are not important to us.

Pro-choice activists in the room immediately started chanting “Shame! Shame! Shame!” and were quickly ushered out of the room by armed police. We were brought out the back door and told to leave the building. One woman forgot her sweater inside; the police officers wouldn’t even let her back in to get it.

I felt numb.  It was the most bitter pill I’ve ever had to swallow. Several pro-choice activists cried and embraced each other, lost in a moment of grief for Virginia and all its women. It was made even worse by the anti-choice advocates who left the building with smug grins, singing “Amazing Grace.”

“I once was lost/but now am found. Was blind/but now I see.”

Listening to these words, I was suddenly glad. Don’t get me wrong – I was devastated by the Board’s decision. But I was glad I had been there to see it for myself. I was glad that, for my first activist experience, I saw exactly what I was up against. I was blind, but now I see.

We lost the battle. We will not give up the war. We will not stop fighting for women’s rights and women’s health. My experience last Friday taught me so much, but more than anything, it brought to life Nora Ephron’s beautiful words.

I will continue to make trouble. And I will continue to do it on behalf of women. I hope you’ll join me.

By Lauren Redding

Lauren Redding is a former editor in chief of The Diamondback and former CARE to Stop Violence peer educator. She can be reached at [email protected] and @Lauren_Redding on Twitter.

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