Hundreds gather for women’s rights

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RICHMOND – On the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a landmark case that legalized access to abortion, more than 100 people, including top state officials, gathered at the state Capitol in support of a woman’s right to choose.

The Virginia Women’s Equality Coalition kicked off its lobby day with a rally to support reproductive freedom and address issues women still face such as the wage gap and the stigma of abortion.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, the founder and president of Whole Woman’s Health, said women are still fighting many battles for justice.

“We have the #MeToo campaign and the Black Lives Matter movement, and we have powerful Democratic leadership in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Miller said.

That leadership attended the rally in full force, as Gov. Ralph Northam, Attorney General Mark Herring and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax spoke at the event.

“We are going to win this fight,” said Fairfax, who presides over the Virginia Senate. “I will bang that gavel in favor of progress and in favor of women for the next four years.”

Herring agreed, saying President Donald Trump’s administration threatens reproductive freedom.

“In 2016, we got knocked down,” Herring said. Referring to Democratic victories in last fall’s races for the Virginia House, he added, “In 2017, though, we got up and we stood taller and stronger than ever before … becoming a brick wall for women’s rights.”

Northam emphasized the importance of voter turnout by women. He said a group of legislators, most of whom are men, should not tell women what to do with their bodies.

The rally followed the anniversary of the 2017 Women’s March on Washington, one of the largest protests in U.S. history. It also came one week after a Senate committee killed a series of Democratic bills aimed at expanding abortion rights.

One of the measures would have allowed women to waive any mandatory waiting periods before receiving an abortion. In arguing against the measure, Sen. Richard Black, R-Loudoun, said such laws would “invite fraud in using state funds in order to fund elective abortions.”

Last year, when Republicans held a 66-34 majority in the House, they passed a resolution calling the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade a “Day of Tears.”

This year, as the GOP majority in the House has shrunk to 51-49, Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler, a Democrat from Virginia Beach, sponsored a resolution to mark Jan. 22 as a “Day of Women.” It has been referred to the House Rules Committee.

“We will not be silenced; we will not be shamed,” Convirs-Fowler told Monday’s gathering.

At the rally, several lawmakers discussed their legislative goals:

● Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax, is carrying a bill to ensure that insurance policies cover a woman’s reproductive health needs.

● Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William County, is co-sponsoring legislation to end the sale tax on feminine hygiene products.

Some of those proposals already are finding success. On Monday, the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee unanimously approved a bill by Sen. Jennifer Wexton, D-Loudoun, to require equal pay for equal work, regardless of sex.

Statistics show that working women in the United States are paid less than men.

“Latinas earn only 54 cents for every dollar a white man makes. Black women earn about 63 cents, and white women earn 78 cents,” said Margie Del Castillo of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.

“In 2018, that is beyond unacceptable.”

By Chelsea Jackson and Jessica Wetzler

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