The struggle of Texan women against dangerous anti-choice legislation – the struggle that made Senator Wendy Davis an overnight hero for the reproductive health movement – suffered a blow on Thursday, July 18 when Governor Rick Perry signed the notorious HB2 into law. The law which has inspired such passionate opposition from Texas’ “feminist army” places restrictions that would shut down most abortion clinics in the state, depriving countless women, especially poor or minority women, of access to services that could save their lives. While advocates of reproductive freedom in Texas will continue to oppose these measures, conservatives in other states also strive to make legal abortions expensive, if not impossible. Virginia, in the midst of a heated gubernatorial election between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli, may be the next battleground state to gain such national attention.
Ken Cuccinelli, the Virginia Attorney General who is currently running for Governor, has proven instrumental in enacting legislation similar to HB2 in Virginia. TRAP laws, short for “targeted regulation of abortion providers,” have been a long-time goal of Cuccinelli’s which was recently achieved when Governor Bob McDonnell passed the legislation. (A timeline of the TRAP laws’ development can be seen here).
Much like Texas’ HB2, Virginia’s TRAP laws impose requirements on clinics which perform abortions to adhere to unnecessarily strict building standards which are too costly for most to implement. Advocates note in a state petition that if most other hospitals built before 2005 were required to meet the same requirements as clinics under TRAP, most would either have to pay for expensive remodeling or shut down entirely.
Though the fight continues, TRAP laws have already forced several abortion clinics to stop providing their services. The clinic which performed the most abortions in the state has been forced out of commission by the bureaucratic restrictions. Another clinic is being shut down after 40 years of service. Women in affected areas are left with fewer safe and realistic means to receive not only legal abortions, but also birth control and other health services that these clinics frequently offered to women.
The future of low-income women who cannot afford to travel to clinics has been easily overlooked by the media covering the gubernatorial race. Cuccinelli has downplayed this issue on the campaign trail and makes job creation his primary selling point. It is not likely that it would be his sole focus as Governor. His long history of extremism in office has often meant the state of Virginia paying for clearly spurious lawsuits that further his ideological ends, not the interests of the Commonwealth. His attempt to sue over the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act was swiftly dismissed from court. His earlier attempt to intimidate climate scientists by demanding research documents from the University of Virginia was likewise dismissed.
Cuccinelli’s latest and perhaps greatest legal legerdemain has been his attempt to restore Virginia’s “crimes against nature” statute by insisting it’s a needed tool to fight child predators. The law as written, however, may be used to criminalize oral or anal sex between consenting adults, and Cuccinelli’s record suggest that he stands in support of using it as such. There is little doubt that such a law in effect would be disproportionately used against LGBT individuals, a group Cuccinelli has targeted in the past whenhe told colleges to remove policies banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The record is clear: when Ken Cuccinelli assumes an office, he uses it as a political weapon. A term as Governor, if paired with a cooperative General Assembly, would see the rankest right-wing fantasies become law, directly threatening gender and sexual minorities and, concomitantly, doing little to better the lives of most Virginians.
The tenacity of Texan feminists has been inspirational, but it will remain impossible to win short-term legislative fights as long as an entrenched GOP legislature and a governor such as Rick Perry can force through malignant laws in their terms. Preventing these conservative strangleholds over the state legislative process and slowing down TRAP or HB2-style regulations means more time for women to realistically receive their constitutionally-permitted medical procedures.
People who care about reproductive health can avoid these outcomes for Virginia by sending the message to all state-level GOP operatives that waging war on women may cost them dearly. When extremists seek office, bring attention to their views and demand better from their rivals. When they hold office, one ought to learn from the brave activists in Texas and organize.