On Saturday, October 15, hundreds of people gathered in Richmond, Virginia, to protest the passage of Virginia’s TRAP Laws by the Virginia Board of Health. The protest, which was held in Monroe Park, near Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), brought together the combined forces of progressive students and esteemed women’s activists to form a rallying cry against regulations that seek to strip women of their rights to privacy and choice.
The rally called on Governor Bob McDonnell (R) and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to reconsider their stance on the TRAP Laws and was organized by the Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health with volunteers from NARAL Pro Choice America, Planned Parenthood, and the Feminist Majority Foundation. The TRAP Laws classify women’s health centers as hospitals in order to impose new restrictive regulations that could potentially close down most, if not all, women’s health centers in Virginia.
Carmen Berkley, Field Director of Choice USA, spoke of how pro-choice activists are tired of lawmakers overstepping their bounds and jeopardizing the health and well-being of women across the nation. “We are sick and tired of governors from Maine to California trying to tell us what to do with our bodies,” she said.
Sindy Benavides, Director of Community Outreach for the Democratic National Committee and Latino Liaison for Governor Timothy Caine, spoke as a woman of color who believes economic prosperity should be a top prority in America, not restricting women’s access to abortion care. She told the crowd, “at this particular time of economic downturn in America, at which many people of color are struggling to find quality care, these policies are a distraction from what we should be focusing and working on.”
Benavides also gave an emotional testimonial of her own experience as a survivor of sexual abuse. “I remember those days of guilt and shame, of not knowing how to tell my family what happened, and worst of all, not knowing why it happened to me…Virginia’s reproductive health care centers provide more than just choice, they provide women the opportunity to take care of themselves and to live a life,” Benavides tearfully recalled. Her speech was met with an uproar of cheers from the crowd.
Rally keynote Eleanor Smeal, co-founder and President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, said that job security is a primary concern of Americans right now, and should also be the priority for politicians. “The more we talk about jobs, the more they pass bills to prohibit the access not only to abortion, but to birth control,” Smeal said.
At the end of the rally, protesters in the crowd were fired up about what they could do to further the cause of justice for women.
“I try to educate people as much as I can, in ways that are relevant, because it really is, and it (reproductive health laws) affects us (women) the most, frankly,” said Christina, a protester from Newport News, Virginia.
Another protester, a college student at the University of Mary Washington, said, “I think that it’s a very crucial time right now and I think that we need to get organized so that this attack on women can end.”