Deb Lassiter, a Norfolk native, traveled to the Capitol of Virginia for the fourth time since Feb. 20 on Saturday to show her discontent with the current political temperature of the Virginia General Assembly.
Women and men presented a united front against the ultrasound bill, which would force a state-mandated ultrasound be performed 24 hours before an abortion procedure could occur. Originally, the ultrasound bill would have required women to have a transvaginal ultrasound before having the procedure completed but the bill was amended to require only a transabdominal ultrasound. Protestors were outraged that Virginia’s legislature would mandate a medical procedure; one that many said violated women’s right to privacy and ultimately violated women’s rights.
Lassiter said the anti-abortion legislation in the General Assembly is taking the fight for women’s rights back about 40 years to the bra-burning era of the ‘60s. She said that it was sad that women are being forced to fight the same battle once again when there are so many other issues the government could be focusing on.
“Gov. McDonnell you’ve got to go, when you get pregnant let us know,” rang out in the crowd during Saturday’s protest. Sara Wallace-Keeshen, the northern Virginia organizer for Virginia New Majority, said that she came to the protest because she was disgruntled by the fact that Virginia’s majority-male legislature is trying to make life-altering decisions for women.
“I figure if you can’t keep Republicans out of your vagina, what chance do you have of affecting any positive change?” Lassiter said.
Ann Huebner and her 10-year-old daughter, Aili Waller, were among Saturday’s protesters as they stood at the top of a hill bearing a sign that read, “Gov. McDonnell Get Out Of My Vagina.” Huebner said she comes from a medical family, and even her father, a surgeon, supported her and her daughters’ presence at the protest because Virginia legislators are making decisions that medical professionals are trained to make.
“Women have very complicated medical situations. There are ectopic pregnancies, there are complications from fibroid tumors, cancer, all sorts of things that can happen when a woman gets pregnant and these fools are rushing in and acting like doctors,” Huebner said.
Kathy Greenier, director of the Patricia M. Arnold Women’s Rights project at the ACLU of Virginia, explained that by mandating an ultrasound the government is limiting access to healthcare for lower-income women.
“On top of that, mandating an ultrasound can possibly raise the cost of the procedure, a cost that is passed to the patient which may make the procedure prohibitively expensive,” Greenier said.
Gabi Schatz, a student at Virginia Commonwealth University and one of the organizers for the original “Speak Loudly with Silence Protest” on Feb. 20, said that the ultrasound bill and the personhood bill, which was killed for the year, would not eliminate abortions entirely, even if it were passed in the future.
“Rich women are still going to be able to get safe abortions and poor women are going to go in back alleys. It’s [the legislation] not eliminating abortion, it’s eliminating safe procedures,” Schatz said.
Scott Price, director of public policy at Alliance for Progressive Values, suggested a scenario in which a woman, living in the southwestern part of Virginia, where there aren’t any abortion clinics, would have to take off work to travel to an abortion clinic. He continued explaining that she would probably have to stay overnight, get an ultrasound, and wait 24 hours to get the abortion. The time away from work, on top of the possibility of the price of an ultrasound rising in response to the ultrasound bill, would create yet another barrier for poor women to get this procedure Price, pointed out.
Price described the ultrasound bill as, “a piece of Swiss cheese.” He said Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) put it well when she was quoted in a Huffington Post article saying that the Virginia legislature amended the ultrasound bill, removing the state-mandated rape.
Price explained that, although he recognizes that Howell’s statement was hyperbolic, it wasn’t completely inaccurate. He said that rape is defined as forced penetration, and the original ultrasound bill would force women to have a transvaginal ultrasound done before having an abortion.
Greenier said that based on the number of bills that restrict a woman’s access to choice introduced during this session of Virginia’s General Assembly, the fight for women’s rights has moved backward to some extent. On the other hand, she added that the fact that people are standing up for their rights, protesting and even gaining national media attention, speaks to the certainty that women and men are taking action in the fight for women’s rights.
Schatz said the protests might not have come together quite as well without social networking. She said it truly brought people from every age, every race, and both genders out to fight for women’s rights.