Pro-choice activists demonstrate as lawmakers meet for special session

Virginia state lawmakers returned to the capitol today for a one-day special session today.
Published: Sep. 7, 2022 at 8:53 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Wednesday morning, against the backdrop of the bell tower, dozens of demonstrators from the Virginia Reporodcutive Equity Alliance gathered to demonstrate the strength of the abortion rights movement ahead of the Virginia General Assembly Special Session.

Though there were talks that lawmakers might introduce legislation restricting abortion laws across the commonwealth, Wednesday’s special session focused on choosing judges.

Despite this, organizers said their presence was necessary to send a message to lawmakers that they would be watching and ready for any legislation they could introduce between now and the January 2023 session.

“I know for sure that if I was sitting at home and something did happen that affected my rights, I would wish I was here,“ rally organizer Ann Pickett said. “We wanted to make sure that all of you had the opportunity to come to and make your voices heard.”

Among those voices was Richmond mother, Meridith Hill.

“We will not stand for an abortion ban in Virginia. Not today, not ever,” Hill said

Hill shared her experience of having two miscarriages. Despite the grief and frustration with the failed pregnancies, Hill says she could receive immediate care, which may not have been available if abortion restrictions were stricter in Virginia.

“I couldn’t reconcile the fact that I spent every day of the past month feeling the exhaustion, nausea, and other typical symptoms of the first trimester with the reality that the baby died somewhere along the way, and I didn’t even know it.“ Hill said. “I chose to have a DNC; the same procedure as an abortion both times. While many politicians say that an abortion ban would not affect this type of care, that is simply false.”

The demonstration comes months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, undoing a constitutional right that had been law for nearly 50 years.

“Rights can be taken away, and the courts have put that fight back in this building,” Senator Jennifer McClellan said.

Currently, in Virginia, abortions are legal through the second trimester and only in the third trimester if it involves the mother’s health.

In the weeks following the Dobbs decision, Governor Glenn Youngkin stated that he would consider implementing a 15-week abortion ban and wanted lawmakers to introduce a bill in the upcoming January session of the General Assembly that would do just that.

“The idea that we could come together around a bill that would address the fact that a child in the womb can feel pain, and I believe science tells us that is at 15 weeks, and I look forward to getting that message started,” Youngkin said.

But those at the bell tower say that Republican lawmakers are out of touch with most Virginian voters.

“Let me be perfectly clear, Glenn Youngkin’s anti-abortion legislators are out of step with the majority of Virginians who want to keep abortion safe, legal and accessible for all of us,” said 38-year nurse Christine Payne. “Your representative needs to hear from you today.”

But as the demonstrators made their way into the Capitol chambers, Republican lawmakers like Delegate Emily Brewer believes Virginians could get behind what she calls reasonable restrictions.

“We have to ask Virginians how they feel, but we really need to be asking legislators between one and 40 weeks what is our comfort level, and we need to be asking those that were the majority of the time where they stand now,” Brewer said.

Brewer said that any restrictions within 40 weeks of development would be a step in the right direction. Still, when asked whether she would support a 15-week abortion ban, the pro-life delegate refused to commit to the idea until she could see the language of the drafted bill.

“I stop to weigh in on something that I can’t read, honestly, and that’s just how I feel,” Brewer said. “I certainly can’t imagine that where Democrats were at two years ago that at a 40-week possible at-birth conversation, is anywhere where actually Virginians are.”

Senators like Stephen Newman believe legislation that considers fetal pain could get broad support.

“A lot of people have differences of opinion on both sides, but when it comes to a pain-capable bill, and also legislation that would wrap our arms around mothers and children, I think there can be broad consensus on that,” Newman said.

Though the Democratic minority speaker heavily criticized the governor and Republicans for considering any restriction on rights, new legislation likely won’t be introduced until the January session.

Rather than wait for new legislation to be introduced, Wednesday morning’s demonstrators say they will continue their efforts heading into the polls in November.

“We are seeing more patients coming here because they can’t get access to abortion, and abortion is healthcare in their own states,” McClellan said. “But if we have to march, if we have to rally, if we have to drag hotel to the polls, we’re going to do it.”