Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health (VCPWH)
In March 2011 the Virginia General Assembly, through crafty political maneuvering of anti-choice legislators, passed a bill at the last minute involving the “targeted regulation of abortion providers” or “TRAP” laws. The Virginia Coalition to Protect Women’s Health (VCPWH) feared that the event was further evidence of an emerging trend of anti-choice legislation in the United States in which, rather than attempting directly attack the illegality of abortion, the goal is to make abortion difficult or impossible to access through regulation. Soon after, the state’s Department of Health introduced strict regulations requiring that all women’s health care facilities providing abortions enact burdensome and unnecessary hospital-style architectural changes. The inability of these facilities to comply with the measures given the unrealistic timeline and prohibitive costs could result in a drastic decrease in the already scarce access women in rural areas had to first-trimester abortions and general women’s health care services. VCPWH decided to take action prior to the governor’s decision on the regulations and requested funds from UAF to hold a Rally for Women’s Health in the capital city in October to engage activists, medical professionals and policymakers, garner continued media attention to the issue, educate Virginians on the negative impacts of the legislation and put pressure on the governors’ administration to reject it.
VCPWH is a coalition of state and national reproductive rights and health advocacy groups as well as Virginia women’s health centers, and is continually working to combat the politically motivated regulations on health centers that provide abortion in the state.
Funds were used to stage a rally for women’s health on October 15, 2011, specifically to pay for the permit, insurance, publicity materials, audiovisual set up, and intern stipends. The rally mobilized 400-500 participants from across Virginia, and gained numerous signatures for its petition to the Virginia governor expressing opposition to the TRAP regulations (Targeted Regulations on Abortion Providers) in the state. At the rally, the featured speakers included women from different ages, ethnic, class, and faith backgrounds, as well as students and professionals. Speakers discussed the legal and policy considerations of the regulations and the implications for women’s access to reproductive health services. A significant representation from universities as well as the student interns VCPWH was able to take on furthered the Coalition’s goal of deepening their reach to campus activists. Three months after the rally, VCPWH presented the governor’s office with the petition with 40,000 signatures from across the country. Although the TRAP bill was still signed by the conservative governor on December 29, the rally was successful in achieving increased press coverage and ensuring women’s reproductive rights remained in the public eye.
The rally was also successful in consolidating other progressive organizations around the issue in order to spread a unified message around protecting women’s right to health. In this sense, the coalition feels their long-term capability has been advanced. They now have a “strong base of educated and motivated activists to call upon throughout 2012” as they continue their fight against the excessive emergency regulations once in effect.