Secretary Becerra visits Richmond Planned Parenthood clinic ahead of Roe v Wade anniversary

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Posted at 9:42 PM, Jan 18, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-18 21:45:31-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- A few days ahead of the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services came to Richmond to speak with advocates at a Planned Parenthood clinic pledging efforts from the Biden administration to protect access to abortion.

"Who's going to control my body? Who's going to control my destiny?" Becerra asked at the end of a roundtable discussion with providers, patients, and local high school students. "The answer should be 'me.' But, today in America, there are too many people that can't say that."

The visit is among a series ahead of the anniversary.

Since Roe was overturned by the Dobbs v. Jackson decision in 2022, ending a federal constitutional right to abortion, the issue of legislating the procedure went back to the states, and dozens enacted bans or restrictions.

"It's hard to believe that in America today, we're talking about people having less rights than their parents did. But that's the way it is," said Becerra.

He said the administration is committed to using every lever at their disposal to protect access to abortion and contraception.

"We want people's privacy to maintain to be to remain theirs. So, we're going to enforce all the privacy rights that folks may have. Whether it's under HIPAA laws, which are our healthcare laws that protect privacy, or whether it's under the ACA, section 1557 -- protections against discrimination," said Becerra. "We're going to make sure that if you are in need of care, as I mentioned before, and it's an emergency circumstance, under federal law, if you are present at a health facility, in an emergency, that provider of care is obligated to do everything to stabilize you to keep you from dying and you're entitled to get the best care possible, including care that might include abortion."

Becerra added the issue shows the importance of the 2024 Presidential and Congressional elections, including some states that will have referendums on abortion.

"For all the folks in those states, we hope that they recognize that they have a chance to make a difference and give people each individual control of their own body and control their own destiny," he said.

"Democrats continue to be the party of unrestricted late-term abortion-on-demand and are far out of step with everyday Americans. The truth is that the majority of people want sensible protections for unborn life and compassion for mothers and children, which remains the position of the Republican Party," the Republican Party of Virginia said in a statement in response to Becerra's visit. " The Republican Party of Virginia will continue to push back against the lies and fear-mongering of the Democrat Party on this issue."

Virginia since Dobbs

While other states have enacted abortion restrictions or bans since the Dobbs decision, Virginia has not. Abortion remains legal through the second trimester and in some cases in the third.

That has led to Virginia becoming a destination for people in more restrictive states seeking an abortion.

"The Virginia League for Planned Parenthood here has seen an increase to where now 15-to-20% of their patients are coming from out of state. A very large increase to where only a few percentages were coming from out of state pre the overturning of Roe v. Wade," said Jamie Lockhart, Executive Director, Planned Parenthood Advocate of Virginia.

Speakers at Thursday's event mentioned many people, especially minorities, in those states do not have the economic resources to make such a trip and Lockhart said the organization

"Unfortunately, we know it is quite a journey to be able to leave your home to access care. We think people should be able to access care where they live in their zip codes. But Planned Parenthood and other organizations are doing what they can to help make sure people can access care."

Democrats in control of the state senate since the decision, have blocked efforts to roll back the current laws and campaigned on the issue in last year's election that saw them take back control of the House.

This year, Democrats have filed several pieces of legislation on the subject of abortion, including a constitutional amendment to enshrine the right to an abortion.

However, the Senate voted this week to move the bill to next year's session. State Senator Jennifer Boysko (D - Fairfax County (part)), the bill's sponsor, said the move will not delay its timeline.

A constitutional amendment requires its passage in two General Assembly sessions separated by an election. The earliest the second vote could take place is 2026. If approved, it would then go to voters for a referendum.

"This was really a messaging year, making sure that we are showing our voters that we care about this issue. We know that it mattered to them more than just about anything else on the ballot. And we wanted to show, I specifically wanted to show, commitment to this issue to making sure that we are protecting a person's right to make those personal private decisions for themselves getting politicians out of their bedrooms," said Boysko.

Other abortion-related legislation from Democrats remains active this session, including barring menstrual health data from search warrants and not allowing Virginia to extradite people to other states to face prosecution for seeking, providing, or aiding in an abortion.

Meanwhile, Republicans have filed their own legislation on the issue, including Del. Tim Griffin (R - Piedmont) who, speaking of the anniversary of Roe, has legislation to recognize the date as the "Day of Tears".

"I think that this country is mourning the 60 million people that we have aborted over the last 50-plus years. And that is what this resolution is about is remembering the people that we have lost the babies, the innocent babies, that we have lost through these reckless abortions," said Griffin, who also has a bill that would ban abortion except to save the life of the mother. "We should stop doing abortion. It's murder and we want to put a stop to it. And that's what it does, it's a very clean, straightforward [bill]. We don't want it here in this state. We want to create a culture of life."

Because of the Democratic control of both chambers of the General Assembly, Republican bills will likely meet the same fate as in 2023, but the Democratic ones still face a potential veto by Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin (which Democrats do not have the votes to override).

"I trust the governor," said Griffin on what Youngkin might do. "The governor has been a hero on life issues. He has fought to protect life, he campaigned on life. So, we always defer to the governor's leadership on this and I think he will stand up for the unborn as he always has."

"I can't wait to get it on his desk," said Boysko. "The idea that he is going to veto the bills that allow women and people who can have their menstrual cycles to keep that data private. I dare him to veto that."

When asked what he intends to do about abortion-related legislation that might reach his desk, Youngkin did not give any indication.

"When legislation comes on my desk, I'll deal with it," Youngkin said Thursday. "There's 2,500 bills that have been filed. And there's a lot that will get turned to the side along the way. And then there's a number that will come to my desk and I'll have to deal with them when they get there."

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