Under normal circumstances, I’m someone who spends time in the General Assembly advocating for reproductive rights and abortion access with other activists throughout the year. The security guards at the entrance to the General Assembly building are basically my best friends at this point because we see each other so often.
Unfortunately, supporting reproductive rights legislation can be disappointing at times. When our bills are heard in committee, we come out in droves to advocate for them and offer testimony about why protecting our reproductive rights is important. Despite the overwhelming support, our bills are usually killed by anti-family Republicans in committee.
Flipping the Script
That’s why it’s so refreshing to have events like “Joining the Charge––Prioritizing Gender Justice.” Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy approached the Women’s Equality Coalition (WEC) and The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) with a proposal to put both advocates and legislators in the same room to have an unfiltered, honest conversation about the issues that matter most to us.
I was pumped. Finally, after tons of conversations with activists after disappointing hearings, advocates who work face-to-face with community have a chance to sit shoulder to shoulder with policy movers and shakers.
Great idea, right? We thought so too.
So, we hosted a bipartisan policy roundtable in Fairfax that focused on womxn’s* and girls’ rights. The project worked as a collaboration with the three of us, with the WEC leading the recruitment of advocates and Delegate Foy aiding us in gathering busy legislators at the end of July.
The panel themes were health and economic justice, women and girls, and working families. The discussions explored intersecting topics and questions, ranging from paid maternity leave and flexible work schedules to inclusive sex education and affordable healthcare access. The panels were followed by roundtables, where everyone had the opportunity to speak and respond. We flipped he script ––advocates sat on the panels and led the conversations.
There were many poignant moments, including one where we discussed how often Black girls’ bodies are seen as disruption simply for existing. A student activist shared how she had been reprimanded at school for wearing a headwrap, even after expressing the cultural significance.
That’s a reality we experience everyday. What we don’t experience everyday is the opportunity to explain that experience to someone who is voting on a bill in the General Assembly.
Even though we know Republicans will probably still vote against us, we don’t let that stop us.
For hearings, we bring out activists, advocates, and impacted folks to tell their personal stories about reproductive healthcare. Facts and figures appeal to some, but it’s proven that people respond better if they can attach a face and a story to a situation. When talking about reproductive healthcare, personal storytelling aids in easing the stigma that surrounds reproductive healthcare.
We need to tackle the shame around abortion with culture change.There’s this idea that only specific types of people get an abortion. That’s not true and in fact, abortion is pretty common. Did you know that by the age of 45, one in four women in the U.S. will have an abortion?
Despite the commonality, a lot of people resort to shaming those who seek out this healthcare, and this shame makes it into legislation. What can we do to combat this? We talk about abortion! With as many people as we can, as often as we can, in as many public forums as we can. Increased frequency of abortion conversations that include both facts and impacted people result in a lowered stigma.
Interested in learning more about robust policy agendas? Click here to read about our Virginia For All of Us Campaign.
*womxn is used to denote different genders, from cis-gender women, to trans women, to folks with reproductive systems that identify as a different gender, to feminine identified non-binary people
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