Reproductive rights still a focus at Capitol
RICHMOND – About 30 abortion rights activists from the Cooch Watch protest group lined the streets outside of the 47th annual Commonwealth Prayer Breakfast at the Greater Richmond Convention Center on Jan. 9. Protesters came armed with a boom box and a catchy parody of Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”
“We will never, ever, ever let you be gov’ner! We’ll go tell all our friends to tell all their friends to take the streets,” the group sang to Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. The parody, by Jordan Romeo of Cooch Watch, aims to prevent Cuccinelli from becoming governor in 2013.
Around the same time, about two dozen anti-abortion groups from across the country joined the Virginia Society for Human Life at its “Stand Up for Life” gathering near the Bell Tower at Capitol Square.
They were showing their support for “pro-life” legislation. They also thanked legislators for passing a law last session requiring women to get an ultrasound before having an abortion.
Olivia Gans Turner, president of VSHL, said supporters must “encourage our legislators to do what is right.”
“Consider the victory of last year as an opportunity to look forward at what we can do to continue to protect women and – most importantly – innocent, unborn children,” Turner told the crowd Wednesday.
The anti-abortion activists walked around the Capitol before meeting at the Bell Tower. Cooch Watch members followed them silently and then waited, lined up around Capitol Square.
Cooch Watch’s name is a play on the pronunciation Cuccinelli’s name and the group’s claim that he “has been keeping an eye on your vagina.” The organization began last year when Republican lawmakers passed legislation that requires the state to regulate women’s health clinics to codes comparable to hospital codes.
To protest Cuccinelli’s decisions and his gubernatorial campaign, Cooch Watch follows and protests the attorney general at his public appearances.
Leslie Rubio, founder of Women United, said her organization joined with Cooch Watch because she believes Cuccinelli’s policies would hurt Virginians.
“We’re going to make sure that he’ll never be elected because he has a radical agenda, not only against women, but he doesn’t want to insure people in Virginia,” Rubio said.
“His policies, along with Gov. McDonnell’s, are to not use Medicaid to help women who are pregnant. One hundred forty-four thousand children in Virginia are not insured because of their policies.”
Nicole Cooley, an anti-abortion protester stood, alongside Cooch Watch protesters with two large signs with photos of aborted fetuses.
“I was raped when I was 23 years old and chose to have an abortion and found out the hard way that abortion doesn’t help anyone, least of all rape victims, overcome assault. It just compounded the trauma for me and made healing from both events much more difficult,” Cooley said.
Like Cooley, Turner said she also has had an abortion. She said women should have the right to know all medical information before “we make a permanent life and death decision for our unborn children.”
During her speech, Turner thanked the legislators who supported her group’s positions. “It is hard work to do the right thing in the face of enormous, and often hostile, opposition,” she said.
For Turner, abortion is a human rights issue, and life should be protected from “conception to natural death.”
“Ultimately, if our right to life is not protected under the law, then none of our rights are sacred,” she said.
In response to the rally, the House Democratic Caucus announced plans for legislation in support of women’s reproductive health later that morning.
“The Republicans did real damage to Virginia’s women by passing burdensome regulations” on a woman’s right to have abortion, Sen. Mark Herring of Leesburg said at the press conference.
Instead of legislators being motivated by ideology, “we should be motivated by helping Virginians,” said Herring, who represents parts of Fairfax and Loudoun counties.
Delegate Kaye Kory of Falls Church, who also represents part of Fairfax County, introduced House Bill 1560, which would remove the requirement to get an ultrasound before having abortion.
Delegate Vivian Watts of Annandale has introduced HB 1644, which would define birth control. “It makes it clear that using birth control is not considered an abortion,” Watts said.