Since Democrats took over both the House of Delegates and the State Senate in 2019, we’ve passed a flurry of progressive legislation on everything: voting rights, gun violence prevention, abortion access, economic justice, and many more. We’ve made a lot of progress in the last two years, but our work isn’t done yet, especially when it comes to abortion access.
During the most recent legislative session, we made some progress by passing a bill to lift the current ban on abortion coverage for people who get their health insurance through the state health insurance exchange. This was an important step forward, but it only applies to a small subset of people. What we really need is to pass the Reproductive Health Equity Act (RHEA), which would ensure that everyone has access to the full spectrum of reproductive health care services, including abortion, regardless of what kind of insurance they have, immigration status, or gender identity. When we say everyone, we mean everyone.
But unfortunately, RHEA didn’t even get a hearing this year during the General Assembly session. So when the legislature finished its business, we, along with our friends at Latina Institute Virginia, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, All*Above All, and Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, hosted our own People’s Hearing for RHEA. It was a powerful event that featured three storytellers sharing how their lives would be better if RHEA passed. Here’s what they had to say.
In 2019, Kat was diagnosed with a 27 centimeter tumor in her ovary. The surgery to remove it would have cost $110,000 without insurance. Thankfully, her insurance was able to cover most of the cost. But a few months after the surgery, Kat lost her health insurance. She immediately thought about what it would be like to need the surgery without that insurance. For Kat, reproductive health care is a nonpartisan matter. It is a human right. A lot of people can’t afford reproductive health care services out of pocket, and RHEA ensures that everyone can afford the health care they need.
Maria didn’t have health insurance due to her family’s immigration status. Because she was undocumented, it wasn’t possible for her to get coverage. But when she turned 18, it felt important to her to get tested for STDs to take control of her health before heading off to college. When she got to Planned Parenthood, she was told that because she didn’t have insurance, it would cost more than $200 for just the testing. Maria almost left right then unsure how to afford the health care she needed. As she turned over her credit card, she felt angry. It was going to be a big financial blow for her to get the healthcare she needed. It seemed like taking care of her health wasn’t worth it and was going to be too expensive. No one should be forced to choose between college savings and their health care. If we had RHEA, reproductive health care would be accessible for people like Maria.
Lorena got pregnant even though she was on birth control. She knew that abortion was the best choice for her, her partner, and her two other children. But getting access to abortion was more complicated. No one took her health insurance, so Lorena had to call providers and compare costs. It was going to cost $500 for her abortion. She didn’t know how she would come up with the money, but she had no idea how she would pay for the costs that come with a child. Lorena ended up choosing a clinic in Maryland instead of Virginia because their requirements were less strict than here in Virginia. With unequal access to birth control and disparities in maternal mortality, we must ensure access to equitable, all encompassing health care regardless of race, income level, gender identity, or immigration status is available to everyone.
Pass RHEA Now!
The People’s Hearing was a powerful event. But the stories that were shared were just a tiny fraction of the people who will benefit if we pass RHEA. You can help us in this fight by signing the pledge that says you support RHEA. We need RHEA because we all need access to reproductive health care, including abortion, regardless of what kind of insurance we have.
*Name changed to protect her identity.
Check out our other posts on reproductive healthcare in Virginia: