I’m A Registered (Virginia) Feminist: Celebrating National Voter Registration Day By Taking Action

By Kristy Birchard

Happy National Voter Registration Day! Here at Feminist Campus, we’ve been encouraging and registering feminists to vote for years – and it only gets more important with time. Kristy, our Mid-Atlantic Campus Organizer, is heading up a huge effort to register voters in Virginia, in advance of their state elections, and registration ends super soon on October 15. Whether you’re from Virginia or any other state in the union, you should make sure your voice is heard by registering to vote today.

I moved to Virginia in July to be a campus organizer here at FMF, and I knew I would have to eventually register to vote whenever I settled down into my new apartment. After I was designated to be the Mid-Atlantic regional organizer, I realized just how important registering to vote would be for me, a newly-minted Virginian feminist.

As a new Virginia resident, I am genuinely nervous about the continuously oppressive legislation coming out of our state. Just as I was going to write a blog about all the reasons why, I found an article in our blog archive titled “I am a Virginian, I am a Feminist, and I am Worried,” which basically took the words right out of my mouth. There are so many reasons we, as young feminists, need to pay attention to this election – specifically, because state policies like the ones threatening the women of Ohio this year and Virginia in November’s upcoming election aren’t insular. Once policies happen at the state level, they happen at the national level, and when we’re in the midst of a clinics crisis nationwide, the thought of more women losing care in any region is particularly heartbreaking.

Reproductive rights are something we have to fight for here in Virginia and across the nation. As Emily Butler said in her article:

Thanks (but no thanks to Governor Bob McDonnell) to the TRAP laws (Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers) we may lose even more abortion clinics and make it that much harder for those who need abortions to be able to get them. Access is even more difficult due to the mandatory ultrasound bill, HB 462 [PDF], which requires that patients living within 100 miles of the provider must obtain an ultrasound at least 24 hours before the procedure. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the time to get an ultrasound one day and an actual procedure the next day without potentially getting me fired from my job or resulting in me potentially failing a class. Nor do I have the money to spend on a potential 200 mile drive twice. Unfortunately, the Virginia legislature’s attack on reproductive health isn’t over. According to NARAL, Governor McDonnell is considering amendments to H.B. 1900 or S.B. 921 that would ban coverage for abortion care in plans participating in the health insurance exchange, which would be a huge blow for many Virginians struggling to make ends meet.

NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Foundation, the ACLU of Virginia, ProgressVA Education Fund, Jill C. Abbey of the Richmond Medical Center for Women, Virginia NOW, Northern Virginia Members of the National Council of Jewish Women, the Feminist Majority Foundation, and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia provided the Board of Health with vital information about this mandatory ultrasound bill and the way that Crisis Pregnancy Centers will benefit financially by the bill when abortion clinics will be defunded in a letter to Board members that circulated at their September 12 meeting:

“Crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs) are anti-choice organizations that regularly pose as comprehensive health care centers, yet use coercion and misinformation to dissuade women from considering their full range of reproductive health options, including abortion and birth control. 71% of CPCs in Virginia share some degree of medically erroneous information…

These medically inaccurate and deceptive practices are deeply alarming, particularly because the VDH [Virginia Department of Health] is directly referring women to 18 Virginia CPCs through its statutorily-mandated “No Cost Ultrasound Providers” list on the VDH website.  The mandatory ultrasound law also compels abortion providers to present this list to any woman who enters their facility seeking termination of a pregnancy. CPCs are the only ultrasound providers on this list.

We are extremely concerned that VDH refers women seeking abortion to facilities whose sole mission is to dissuade women from accessing abortion care. The stated purpose of the so-called no-cost ultrasound list is to provide women with information about where to access an ultrasound prior to abortion. Several crisis pregnancy centers on the VDH list do not provide ultrasound clients with a copy of their ultrasound image if the client plans to use it for an abortion, even though the copy is necessary to receive an abortion. Furthermore, the list does not provide verifiable assurances that the personnel at CPCs conducting the ultrasounds are trained in sonography and supervised by a physician licensed in the state of Virginia, two requirements of the mandatory ultrasound law.

As a medically-based government agency created to serve the public health, the VDH has the responsibility to refer patients only to health-care facilities that meet basic and appropriate standards of care. It is troubling that a state agency would, by referring women to CPCs, confer legitimacy on their pervasive use of deception, manipulation, and medical misinformation. By including CPCs on its list – facilities that actively dissuade clients from seeking abortion care, mislead clients about medical facts, and refuse to provide an ultrasound copy for an abortion – VDH is promoting a list that does not comply with the purpose of the list itself…

Regardless of how a person feels about the question of legal abortion, everyone can agree that women should never be misled when seeking information about pregnancy, birth control, abortion, or sexually transmitted diseases.  Yet that’s what is happening in Virginia – and the Virginia Department of Health is endorsing this practice.

There is a lot at stake in this election – and typically, there’s a lot at stake in elections around the country for women voters in particular. In Virginia, many campuses with a feminist presence are starting Get out Her Vote Initiatives to guarantee students are heard on a state level; at Old Dominion University, Brenna Perez and the Old Dominion Women’s Center are collaborating to inform her peers about these issues. Whether you’re on the heels of an election or not, getting feminists registered and voting is vital to ensuring that we are protecting the issues we care about at the polls and in our states.

By Kristy Birchard

Northeast & Mid-Atlantic Campus Organizer for Feminist Campus.

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