Protection of contraception access advances in Virginia legislature

Virginia Democrats who control the state Legislature are advancing legislation that aims to protect access to a wide range of contraception, something they say should not be taken for granted after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

Similar bills that would establish a right to obtain and use a detailed list of contraception approved by the federal government — including oral medications, intrauterine devices, condoms and the Plan-B morning-after pill — have cleared both the House of Delegates and the Senate. The legislation also creates a right to sue over violations of its provisions.

“I think the overturning of Roe was a first step on the assault on reproductive health care,” said Sen. Ghazala Hashmi of Chesterfield, the sponsor of one of the measures.


The court’s June 2022 majority opinion overturning the 1973 Roe decision said it applied only to abortion. But Hashmi noted conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ separate concurring opinion that said the court “should reconsider” other precedents, including decisions legalizing same-sex marriage, striking down laws criminalizing gay sex and establishing the right of married couples to use contraception.

“I didn’t hear any of his other conservative member justices challenge him on that. And so if he’s saying this, I think we ought to believe him,” Hashmi said.

Hashmi and Democratic Del. Cia Price of Newport News, the sponsor of the House bill, emphasized the importance of access to contraception not only for family planning but to prevent sexually transmitted infections and to help manage other medical conditions, including endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome.

Similar efforts have been made in other states around the country. Thirteen states had enacted some kind of legal protections for the right to contraception as of October and more were pending, according to research from KFF, a nonprofit that studies health care issues.

In Congress, a measure to enshrine the right to use contraceptives passed the House of Representatives in July 2022 but failed to advance in the Senate.

While Price’s version of the legislation picked up a handful of Republican votes on the House floor, the bills have been advancing largely along party lines. And they have drawn opposition from religious and socially conservative groups, who have raised a range of objections, particularly over the lack of an exemption for health care workers who may have a religious or moral objection to offering contraception.

The bill is “designed to restrict the conscience rights of medical providers,” said Jeff Caruso, executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference.

Other opponents raised concerns that the bill was written broadly enough that it could protect access to abortifacient drugs.

Price said that’s unfounded, noting that the bill defines contraception as “an action taken to prevent pregnancy.” The definition also covers sterilization procedures.

“This is not a conversation about abortion,” she said in a committee hearing.

During discussion on the Senate floor, Sen. David Suetterlein of Roanoke, a Republican with an independent voting streak, said that while he supports the “spirit” of the legislation, he had concerns about creating an “affirmative legal right.”

“I think that we need to continue making sure that we expand contraceptive coverage and access. I think abortion is a tragedy, and I think one of the greatest things we can do to reduce the likelihood of those occurring is make sure that we have contraceptives available to people across this Commonwealth,” he said.

The measures are supported by associations representing health care providers — the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American College of Nurse Midwives — along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia.

The bills are almost certain to reach final passage in the coming weeks. But it’s not clear how Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin will act on them. Asked for comment, his press office said only that he will review all legislation that reaches his desk.

If Youngkin does not sign the legislation, “he’ll need to explain to Virginians why he thinks contraception ought not to be protected,” Hashmi said.

​Latest Political News on Fox News