Opinion: Commentary: Protecting Women’s Medical Decisions

Opinion: Commentary: Protecting Women’s Medical Decisions

As the General Assembly session marches on, one issue that has many of my constituents — and women across Virginia, have been pressing is the right to reproductive choice and bodily autonomy. With the Federal government in a state of partial shutdown, Congress stuck in a deadlock, and the rebalancing of the U.S. Supreme Court, it is a valid concern that our rights could be eroded.

This week marks the 46th anniversary of the landmark decision of Roe v Wade in which the majority opinion decided that a woman's choice whether to have an abortion is protected by her right to privacy, enshrining a person’s right to make their own medical decisions.

Across the United States, over 400 restrictions on abortion have been signed into law since 2011. Virginia is among that number with our mandatory ultrasound law that began as the notorious transvaginal ultrasound bill back in 2012. Laws like these have reduced access to abortion and driven abortion access inequality. Restrictions on abortion have shut clinic doors and left entire sections of our country without access to safe, legal abortion. This disproportionately impacts those with low incomes, people of color, and those living in rural communities. We must work to guarantee access to health care, including access to abortion, and not make it contingent upon where you live or how much money you make.

Changes to the fundamental idea of privacy in your own medical decisions is truly an issue of the day. Right now, there are 15 abortion cases one step away from the U.S. Supreme Court. As of today, if Roe v Wade were to be overturned there is nothing in the Virginia code that protects the right of a woman making her own healthcare choice regarding abortion. Given these threats, it is critical for Virginia to ensure that its residents maintain their fundamental reproductive healthcare rights, including the right to choose or refuse contraception or sterilization, carry a pregnancy to term, or have an abortion.

This is why I have filed HB 2369, The Reproductive Freedom Act. It’s critical that Virginians have the freedom and dignity to make their own personal and private healthcare decisions, including the fundamental right to choose to carry a pregnancy to term, or have an abortion. I strongly believe that a person is fully capable of making thoughtful and deeply personal decisions about their family, future, and health without the interference from politicians who presume to know better. Medical decisions should be made by a woman in consultation with her doctor, not her representative or senator.

Access to comprehensive health care is a core component of social and economic equality, and studies show that impeding access can produce devastating economic consequences. Women who live in states with policies that support access to reproductive health care have higher earnings and are more integrated into the workforce. They also face less occupational segregation compared with women living in states that have more limited reproductive health care access. Most importantly, keeping abortion safe and legal drastically reduces the odds of medical risk or death.

Charniele Herring represents Alexandria City’s 46th District in the Virginia General Assembly where she serves as House Minority Caucus Chair and on the Courts of Justice, Counties, Cities, & Towns, and Agriculture, Chesapeake & Natural Resources Committees. See www.charnieleherring.com.