By SaraRose Martin
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – The House of Delegates voted Tuesday to defund Planned Parenthood despite protests by women's rights advocates on the Capitol grounds and in the House chamber.
On a 60-33 party-line vote, the House approved HB 2264, which would cut off federal Title X funding for Planned Parenthood and any other groups that perform abortions in Virginia. The organization says loss of the funding would "significantly undermine" services at its five clinics in the state.
About a dozen protesters lined the sidewalk at Capitol Square on Tuesday morning as legislators walked from the General Assembly Building to the state Capitol. They held signs declaring "I Stand with Planned Parenthood" and "Stop the War on Virginia Women."
Later, wearing T-shirts that spelled out "We are watching," the demonstrators sat in the first row of the gallery overlooking the House floor to urge delegates to vote against the bill. The protesters represented such groups as Progress Virginia, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, the Virginia Latina Advocacy Network, the Virginia Civic Engagement Table and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia.
Planned Parenthood's clinics in Richmond, Hampton, Virginia Beach, Charlottesville and Roanoke mostly provide cancer screenings, family planning services, contraceptive counseling, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, according to the organization. Nationally, Planned Parenthood says, abortions makes up about 3 percent of the group's services.
In Virginia, Planned Parenthood clinics provide contraceptive care to thousands of low-income women each year, according to Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia. She said most Virginians agree that a woman who has decided to terminate a pregnancy should have access to safe and affordable abortion services.
"The activism we saw today at the state Capitol is a clear sign that women care deeply about threats to their reproductive freedom," said Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia. "In voting to defund Planned Parenthood, legislators are subverting the will of the people and endangering health and the lives of thousands of Virginia women for purely ideological and political reasons. It's shameful."
The Family Foundation of Virginia, which opposes abortion rights, applauded passage of the bill. Josh Hetzler, who serves on the foundation's legislative council, noted that nationwide, Planned Parenthood performed almost 324,000 abortions in 2014.
"Unprecedented efforts are being made to strip Planned Parenthood and the entire abortion industry of taxpayer funding," Hetzler said. "Conservatives in Congress and state legislatures are now zeroing in on the abortion giant."
Hetzler disputed the assertion that abortions comprise 3 percent of Planned Parenthood's services. He said the organization does not provide services such as mammograms and prenatal care. Hetzler also criticized Planned Parenthood for providing hormone therapy for transgender individuals.
"So let me get this straight: Even if I could agree that taxpayer dollars are not directly paying for abortions when they are sent to Planned Parenthood, I can be confident that some money will go towards perpetuating a person's mental health condition regarding his or her perceived sex, while furthering a dangerously false notion that a person's sex is defined only by how they feel at the time?" Hetzler wrote on the group's blog Tuesday.
"Well, just in case we needed another reason to totally defund Planned Parenthood, there it is folks."
Del. Ben Cline, R-Amherst, sponsored the legislation to defund Planned Parenthood. Republicans overwhelmingly supported the measure; Democrats vigorously opposed.
Cline said his bill would direct the Title X money Virginia receives to more than 140 federally qualified and rural health clinics in Virginia. The legislation "ensures that hospitals, federally qualified health clinics and rural health clinics are funded prior to abortion centers," he said.
Cline introduced an identical bill in the 2016 legislative session. It passed both the House and the Senate but was vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe. An attempt to override the veto in the House fell one vote short.
The bill states that the Virginia Department of Health "shall not enter into a contract with, or make a grant to, any entity that performs abortions that are not federally qualified abortions or maintains or operates a facility where non-federally qualified abortions are performed."
That means the state would cut off funds for organizations that offer abortions that are not eligible for matching funds under Medicaid. This would include any abortion outside of cases of rape, incest or "gross fetal anomalies." The bill would not apply to licensed hospitals.