The anti-medical science Devolites-Davis Amendment passed in the Virginia Senate today, removing Senator Mary Margaret Whipple's scientific terminology which defined how a contraceptive prevents pregnancy.
Since the bill as amended today by Devolites-Davis is now useless as a means to protect access to at-risk birth control methods such as the oral contraceptive pill, Senator Whipple (D-Arlington) will move to withdraw the entire bill tomorrow rather than have it pass in its new science-free form.
More on this major defeat for reproductive freedom in Virginia (coming soon to a state near you!) and 10 Handy Dandy Ideas for What You Can Do Now below the fold.
Commonly prescribed birth-control pills prevent pregnancy through both means. Abortion opponents who contend life begins at conception insist that denying a fertilized egg the opportunity to attach itself to the womb and develop as a fetus is a form of abortion.
Whipple's bill and a companion measure by Del. Kristin Amundson, D-Fairfax County, would head off anti-abortion groups' efforts to classify birth control pills as a form of abortion. That could subject obtaining the pills, intrauterine devices and other forms of birth-control to Virginia's growing list of abortion restrictions, including parental notification and consent for girls under 18...
Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis' floor amendment applied a less specific dictionary definition of pregnancy. It was adopted largely along party lines in a 21-17 vote with one abstention.
Fellow Kossack Waldo also weighs in at the Virginia Family Values PAC blog.
This was a really important debate, and it will be repeated throughout the session when other related bills are debated, including a bill that seeks to grant fertilized eggs constitutional rights. The fact that 21 Senators failed to accept the standard definition of contraceptives that is accepted by all of the mainstream medical organizations is a bad sign for the other debates to come.
So what the hell is wrong with Virginia?
First of all, it's not just abortion rights that are at risk here. Access to abortion has been steadily whittled away in Virginia already. We're not talking about abortion here -- we're talking about the loss of of basic reproductive freedoms such as access to birth control and access to scientifically correct information in family life education classes. Of course, in a state where laws against sex outside marriage are still on the books and oral sex is still a felony, one might not be surprised. But the state of reproductive and personal freedom in Virginia is worsening, steadily.
Why? Well, if you'll indulge a short Maura Rant, here are my thoughts on why.
- Virginia is home to some of the most active and committed members of the Democratic Party. Huge Democratic big money donors and many bigwigs from the DNC, DCCC, DSCC, Democratic-allied organizations, and Democratic-friendly lobbyists live in Virginia. But 98% of their focus is inside the Beltway. They may pay attention to a Virginia congressional or gubernatorial race, but that's about it. All that money and attention goes to DC, not Richmond.
- Too many Democrats think we're doing oh-so-great because we have a Democratic governor, but we failed to even RUN a Democrat in 43 out of 100 House of Delegates races in 2003. If we just HAND nearly half of the seats in the House to Republicans without a fight, how can we POSSIBLY wonder that the right-wing extremists can get away with these outrageous attacks on personal liberties?
- When we fail to run Democrats against incumbent Republicans, the Republicans in power build huge war chests which they can weild at will to impact other races where we might be competitive. This is exactly why many of us supported Richard Morrison against Tom DeLay, and we can vividly see the negative impact of Democratic failure to fight in Virginia. For instance, Tom Davis had no opponent in 2002 and a well-meaning but weak opponent in 2004 (he started way too late to be competitive). If you look at the Davis FEC reports, you'll see he is extraordinarily generous to other Republicans in Virginia. Is it any suprise, then, to see so many Republicans who would have supported Whipple's original bill have defected and supported the new amendment introduced by Tom Davis's wife? Do you think they'd risk cutting off Granddaddy Moneybags Davis? I think not. When Democrats fail to compete for every seat, it has a negative impact at ALL levels. Every time we fail to compete against the Republicans, they grow stronger.
- We have really weak systems for liberal and progressive organizations (ACLU, NARAL, PPVA, Equality Virginia, etc.) to stay in touch with each other and disseminate information on bills of importance to people who'd care about them. Furthermore, too few Democratic legislators have the time to do a lot of constituent outreach, so many people who would work to support a bill like SB456 weren't even aware of today's floor vote.
- If you live in Virginia, check to see how your Senator voted on the Devolites-Davis amendment.
- A Nay vote would have retained Senator Whipple's medical science-based definition of contraception. If your Senator voted Nay, please thank them. (If you're not sure who your Senator is, visit here.)
- If you Senator voted Yea, you might ask him or her why they reject the medical expertise of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, and the National Institutes of Health. I would recommend asking them specifically whether they believe that IUD's, oral contraceptives, and emergency contraception should be subject to Virginia's laws on abortion. If you get a reply, please share it here!
- Please let other ordinary Virginians know that the Virginia Senate failed to protect access to contraceptives. Most ordinary, busy Virginians have no idea that their access to something as basic as the pill is so at risk. Please spread this information to your non-political neighbors and colleagues.
- Please take 10 minutes to email a letter to the editor of your local paper expressing your opinion on the failure of the Virginia Senate to protect access to contraceptives, its rejection of medical science, etc. More details on some current bills that threaten access to contraception are in my earlier diary
- Support HB2855, a bill that Delegate Kris Amundson introduced in the House that is identical to Senator Whipple's bill. Given that the House is even more conservative than the Senate, this bill is even less likely to get out of committee, and if it does, it is likely to face an amendment just like the Devolites-Davis amendment, which would essentially kill it. Contact your delegate and express your support for HB2855 anyway. It's really important that they know that more Virginia citizens are watchin what they do.
- If you're interested in keeping watch on other legislation in Richmond, please join Democracy for Virginia's Legislative Sentry email list. Our objective is to have more citizen sentries keep watch over Virginia legislation and increase public awareness about bills of interest to progressive Virignians.
- If you're not already a member, join your local Democratic organization in Virginia. If it sucks, find other Kossacks, DFA-ers, and other allies, and take it over. Half the battle is just showing up.
- If your Senator or your Delegate are Republican, find out now whether they have Democratic opponents yet. A number of the worst Republican Delegates, like the Dynamic Duo of Discrimination, Robert Marshall and Dick Black, actually have opponents this time - we need to support them with our power of many small donations. If they don't have opponents yet, you'll know where work is needed!
- If you are not already active, become active with Democracy for Virginia and attend Virginia DFA Meetups.
And if you're not a Virginian, thanks for reading. I still think infomation about battles like this may be of use to other states. We need to build on each other's efforts and learn from each other if we're all going to be stronger in our own states.