An Open Letter to the Democratic Party of Virginia
Dear Charniele Herring and the Democratic Party of Virginia,
Before I begin, I want to say that this letter comes out of over a year’s worth of frustration and disappointment. You see, I used to be an intern at the DPVA. I enjoyed my time there, the people, and the experience. I am grateful and I learned a lot about the inner-workings of state-level politics.
I saw your interview on Rachel Maddow the other night, and something really struck me as being off. You mentioned that TRAP showed us just how important voting for McAuliffe will be in November. But where was the DPVA during the TRAP hearings? Why was there no DPVA assistance, promotion, or outcries against Cuccinelli’s politicizing of the Board of Health? How come NO Democrat lawmakers showed up to the Board of Health? Two Republican Senators were there advocating for the adoption of these policies. Was it too early in the morning?
How dare you force local activists to put 100% of the effort into fighting these regulations, only to use our efforts and ultimate defeat as a platform to promote the Democratic Party. How do you expect us to vote Democratic in November when we’ve seen no REAL attempts to fight for women’s rights?
On April 12, 2013, the Board of Health (now stacked with political allies of gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli) voted on regulations they knew would shut down at least 17 of the 22 abortion clinics in the Commonwealth of Virginia. According to polls, 58% of Virginians opposed TRAP regulations. The ONLY contribution that the members of the DPVA provided to help us was a joint letter from Senators informing the Board of Health that the Attorney General’s opinion on grandfathering was wrong.
This is not the first time you and the DPVA have done this. I’ve seen your and your colleagues’ interviews on the local and national news countless times after demonstrations that WE engineered. During the 2012 General Assembly, my friends and I marched 1000+ people into the Capital TWICE in protest of anti-abortion bills. Again, you all were the ones on TV speaking over b-roll footage of our efforts- efforts the Democratic Party did NOTHING to assist, promote, or even encourage until after they proved beneficial. We asked for your help. We wanted your participation. Instead, we were met with what amounted to “Good luck, we’re rooting for you!”
Virginia has been completely overrun with Republican conservatives sending us back decades on voting rights, minority equality, environmental protection, prison reform, and of course women’s reproductive rights. You blame your lack of seats as reasons for why you’re so powerless to stop these bills. I blame your lack of spine, conviction, and willingness to fight for a cause through to the last minute.
It’s time to take the white gloves off and loosen your neckties. It’s time to stop playing trivial political games on Twitter and Facebook to please your donors. You’re going to lose this election, and you’ll lose it because no one counts on someone who does nothing, despite their good intentions.
I vote. My friends vote. We just don’t know who for anymore.
Local activist and organizer
Co-operator of Active-RVA
11:13 am • 14 April 2013 • 19 notes
Virginia passed TRAP yesterday; this is what you need to know.
Yesterday, in an 11-2 vote in favor, the Virginia Board of Health passed a set of TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) rules. For a complete timeline describing the development of the regulations up until now, see this link.
These new standards are being billed by supporters as safety measures, but they are actually intentionally expensive architectural standards, pertaining to things like awnings, parking spaces, and minimum doorway widths.
Because the Board decided not to allow grandfathering- meaning, they decided to apply the rules retroactively to existing clinics built before the rules were passed, in a decision that is honestly unprecedented- this measure is expected to shut down most Virginia women’s reproductive health clinics. The current projection is that 18 out of 21 facilities will close, leaving Virginia with only three clinics which perform abortions.
Note that abortion is still legal in Virginia; people who have private doctors will still be able to be admitted to a hospital and have the procedure done. Anti-abortion factions like the Family Foundation fought for these measures, however, because it will severely restrict abortion access- and all other kinds of reproductive care, like family planning services and cancer screenings- to lower-income people.
The two Board of Health members who fought the regulations are H. Anna Jeng ((757) 683-4594, email@example.com) and James Edmondson ((703) 893-0303 x 1319, firstname.lastname@example.org). They did what they could; please thank them.
The other eleven members of the Board present yesterday voted in favor of the regulations. Some of them changed their opinion on whether or not grandfathering was acceptable- grandfathering is considered standard for new building and zoning regulations- after AG Ken Cuccinelli threatened to make them pay for their own defense, should they ever be sued during their time on the Board. You can find their names and contact information here.
In the mean time, this means that abortion care is going to be much more expensive, being that it will now include longer travel, more time off work, more child care, and longer wait times. That means that abortion funds in Virginia need our donation even more than they did last year.
There are four abortion funds in Virginia right now; three that fund by region, one that funds by provider (Planned Parenthood).
They are: the DC Abortion Fund (DC, Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William and other surrounding counties), the Richmond Reproductive Freedom Project, the Blue Ridge Abortion Assistance Fund (Charlottesville, and the counties of Albemarle, Greene, Orange, Louisa, Fluvanna, Buckingham, Nelson, Augusta, Rockingham), and the Women in Need Fund (serves patients at the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood only).
Richmonders, you can find a list of RRFP fundraising teams here. Stay tuned for a special RRFP-specific itinerary, which will be published later tonight.
12:54 pm • 13 April 2013 • 3 notes
BREAKING: Virginia Board Of Health Passes Regulations Meant To Shut Down Abortion Clinics
The Virginia Board of Health voted 11-2on Friday “to require abortion clinics to meet strict, hospital-style building codes” that many women’s health advocates say will put abortion providers out of business and prevent women from accessing essential medical services.
Pending final review by conservative state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) and Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) — which is almost definite — Virginia is now one step closer to joining other GOP-led states such as North Dakota, Mississippi, and Alabama in imposing stringent regulations meant to arbitrarily shut down abortion clinics.
Friday’s vote represents the latest skirmish in an ongoing conservative war on abortion clinics. In the past three months, states have proposed an astonishing 694 provisions restricting or rolling back women’s reproductive rights. Efforts to shutter local abortion clinics disproportionately impact low-income women and significantly increase the incidence unintended pregnancies.
h/t: Think Progress Health
This is a disaster.
The two Board of Health members who fought the regulations are H. Anna Jeng ((757) 683-4594, email@example.com) and James Edmondson ((703) 893-0303 x 1319, firstname.lastname@example.org). They did what they could; please thank them.
The other eleven members of the Board present yesterday voted in favor of the regulations. Some of them changed their opinion on whether or not grandfathering was acceptable- grandfathering is considered standard for new building and zoning regulations- after AG Ken Cuccinelli threatened to make them pay for their own defense, should they ever be sued. You can find their names and contact information here.
11:54 am • 13 April 2013 • 198 notes
Insider account what happened at the Board of Health
The final Board of Health vote on TRAP (targeted regulation of abortion providers) was today, and the Board voted to pass the regulations as attorney general Ken Cuccinelli’s office asked. There will be no clause to allow grandfathering of existing clinics, and as it stands now, most of the clinics in Virginia will close after the new regulations take effect. Here’s a writeup from William Carino:
“We all began arriving to the Department of Health building in Glen Allen this morning around 5:45am. The majority of those in the beginning of the line were from the pro-choice side, which was a relief after seeing so many anti-choice people arrive early for the last meeting (vote #2). The mood in the line was lighthearted, yet solemn. We all knew what was at stake, and what was likely to happen this day.
Heavy rain began falling about 20 minutes later, thankfully we had supporters come prepared with plenty of ponchos and umbrellas. As the friendly faces arrived, we were able to get ourselves ordered in accordance with how we needed to speak (we’d secured the first ten or so spaces in line by getting there early- it was just a matter of making sure people were in the right order).
After a few soakings, we were finally ushered in at 7:00. Security was more relaxed this time, though we were still wanded down. We moved on into the Board’s meeting room and filled out the sign-up list so we could speak. We again made sure to do this with some forethought. We signed the names of important speakers in the back of the line to guarantee them a chance to speak, essentially deferring our own slots.
Upon first glace, I thought the pro-choice side was outnumbered when we began taking our seats. Thankfully I was informed that I was wrong and we actually had a 55-40 majority, even after 7 people on our side had to leave for work.
When the Board convened, they had someone speak to them in regards to all of the health-related bills that were heard in the General Assembly this past session and their outcomes. He also briefed them on any new information related to TRAP.
Following the brief, the Board agreed to expanding the public comment period to one hour and give everyone 2 minutes each to speak. The Board wasted no time calling their first public commenter. An older lady wearing a blue JESUS hat, who identified herself as a reverend, was the first speaker, and spoke in favor of the regulations. Succeeding her, we had a wave of pro-choice speakers who gave great speeches. Their style of speaking ranged from anger, frustration, sarcasm, bewilderment, and fact-based pleas to accept the reality of the situation. Some notable speeches included Jeff Winder of the Wayside Center’s blunt and honest message causing a lot of tense and awkward looks among the Board members. Jeff called the Board out on not caring what was being said here by the public, and that this entire formality of letting the public speak was nothing more than a “pressure release valve” intended to calm tensions and create the illusion of having a say.
Local activist Whitney Whiting gave a satirical account of her experience of getting an abortion. Whitney claimed that despite the parking lot only having 12 parking spaces and no awning, she decided to go through with her procedure. Whitney then admitted she has never had any such procedure, and expressed bewilderment at the Board’s failure to see the absurdity of TRAP. The next speaker followed up with sarcastic enthusiasm for the fact that poor impoverished women will finally stop having abortions, and he looked forward to these same regulations being applied to liposuction and other cosmetic and outpatient medical procedures.
Speakers Molly Vick, a leading organizer behind the TRAP opposition, and myself (speaking under the placeholder name Joe Blanton), gave the board an explanation of their legal ability and established precedent of grandfathering in existing facilities. Using excerpts from the 2010 Facility Guidelines for Design and Construction of Hospitals and Outpatient Facilities, we showed that these guidelines clearly stated that they applied to ‘new’ facilities. Molly Vick also pointed out that numerous hospitals have been grandfathered in after new structural regulations were adopted in the past.
In all, the pro-choice speakers clearly outnumbered the anti-choice speakers. We gave them every logical and honest argument we had. The anti-choicers spoke of their concerns over the conditions inside and outside of these clinics (conveniently ignoring the logic behind the consequences of closing down the facilities altogether) or their religious opinions on the subject. It was clear that these people did not care about protecting the women in these clinics, but were instead hell-bent on closing them all. One lady used an extremely convincing argument stating that “murdering babies” leads people to commit other murders, such as shooting babies in strollers. Yeah, that happened.
After an hour, the comments ceased and the Board took a 15 minute break. When they reconvened, the same gentleman from the brief gave the Board a quick review of TRAP. The Board then agreed to begin discussions of the regulations. One member of the board who admitted to being anti-choice, gave her testimony of an abortion clinic she visited. She claimed to have a serious concern with “creaky stairs” and a consumer-grade sink being used as a hand washing station.
The sole opponents of TRAP, Jim Edmondson and Anna Jeng, seemed like they were in an episode of the Twilight Zone. Of all of the highly educated health care professionals on the Board, all of them were willfully resistant to admit to the obvious intentions and the ludicrous implications of the regulations in front of them. They both gave long, desperate pleas to the Board arguing that shutting down these clinics is no way of helping the women using them. A rather Delores Umbridge-esque lady aggressively countered their arguments, stating adamantly that TRAP was “not going to close down these clinics”, which was received with a spontaneous fit of laughter, heckling, and a couple shouts of “bullshit!”
Edmondson and Jeng presented two amendments, one to postpone the vote and another to allow the grandfathering of existing clinics. The validity of both amendments were dismissed by the Attorney General’s office representatives, and voted down 11-2. The Board then agreed to take a vote on the TRAP legislation as it stood.
The Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers was passed by the Board of Health 11-2.
Without delay, many pro-choice members of the crowd broke open fake blood capsules and smeared the red liquid over their palms. They held up their hands and small cardboard cutouts of Ken Cuccinelli’s head, yelling “you’ve got blood on your hands” and “shame”. The security immediately tried to push those demonstrating out of the room, in some cases forcefully removing individuals from the room.
Attendees from both sides stood outside after the meeting and at times began taunting one another. Eventually the anti-choicers dispersed, leaving many on the pro-choice side alone to feel defeated. After a short time of venting, we too left the premises.
Many people are asking “what now”? There are a few calling for donation drives and labor volunteers to help get what facilities we can up to code. All sorts of options are currently being considered, and over the next few months it’s likely that a plan of action will arise from those who have been working tirelessly for over two years now. Unfortunately, it is now all but certain the majority of the abortion providers in the Commonwealth of Virginia will be shut down in the near future.
It is time now to reflect on the efforts we’ve put into trying to stop this disgusting attempt to circumvent the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. We should not feel defeated, for we did not defeat ourselves. We accomplished more for reproductive rights in the past two years than the past two decades and we did it with no paid staff, no money, and no major organizations there to help us. What we’re capable of achieving is limitless. The far right has awoken a beast that it will not know how to tame. I, for one, look forward to what tomorrow brings.”
Some additional notes: there were seven police cruisers, a Mobile Command Unit, and a K9 unit, which was identified by someone as a bomb-sniffing dog.
8:46 pm • 12 April 2013 • 4 notes
Virginia Board of Health's Third and Final Vote on TRAP
On Friday, April 12th, at 9:00am, at 9960 Mayland Drive Henrico VA 23233, the Virginia Board of Health is having its third and final vote on the Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers they passed earlier this year. These regulations stand to shut down 18 of the 22 existing health clinics that provide abortions in Virginia.
This is vital, and we need the strongest support we can muster. Please invite your friends, but also follow up with personal messages or phone calls, and do so soon, because this is taking place during the work week and people will need to plan for childcare and time off. Please network for carpooling inside the event.
Doors will open around eight, but there will be a long line, and if you want to get inside, you should be there by 7:30am. Because the husband of the head of Virginia’s Family Foundation is on the Board of Health, anti-abortion proponents have a tendency to get the word about time changes sooner, so it is better to be early.
RSVP and see more information through the link. If you live in Virginia and believe in the bodily autonomy of people who can get pregnant, please share this.
4:16 pm • 10 March 2013 • 7 notes
Public Hearings on Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers [TRAP]
Tomorrow, Thursday the 9th, at 1pm, at the Virginia Department of Health Professions (9960 Mayland Drive Henrico VA 23233), Public Hearing #1 on TRAP will be held.
This is the first of two events (the second held in Arlington next week, listed in the event description) to speak against TRAP in person. The online form for submitting public comment will be open until March 30th.
These events are important; the Family Foundation is mobilizing their usual anti-abortion crew, and we need to have a strong showing. Dr. Karen Remley, a former Health Commissioner who resigned over the board’s caving to Cuccinelli’s pressure, will be there to speak.
See the comments of the event for carpooling options out of Richmond, and for the link to the online public comment form.
1:28 pm • 6 March 2013
"Virginia's Phony Concern"
A Washington Post opinion piece on Virginia’s anti-abortion efforts.
5:04 pm • 4 January 2013 • 1 note
Virginia's Board of Juvenile Justice thankfully not swayed by AG's pressure to rescind protections for LGBTQ youth.
Our own Ken Cuccinelli attempted frighten the Board of Juvenile Justice into rescinding their support for LGBTQ non-discrimination policies in their residential facilities. The AG had previously gained anti-abortion and anti-gay concessions from the Board of Health and Board of Social Services using the same tactic, but this time, it didn’t work.
Good on them for standing up to this intolerable scumbag.
11:06 pm • 19 November 2012 • 1 note
Commentary on last week’s meeting between Parents for Life, Board of Health, and RPS representative Andy Hawkin
As stated in the last post linking Chris Dovi’s report, I was also present at the meeting between activists, RPS official Andy Hawkins, and Board of Health officials.
All I have to add is to explicitly confirm what Mr. Dovi says in his report: Mr. Hawkins repeatedly denied that Norrell was built on top of the Fells Street Dump, that methane had ever been detected on the site, and that there had ever been any problems at all associated with the landfill. His primary argument seemed to be that if there had ever been any problems, some state agency would have remediated them and evacuated residents.
Although the site of A.V Norrell was excavated and administered fill dirt before the building’s construction, core borings performed after the school was built do yield debris material- A.V Norrell is indisputably builton top ofthe Fells Street Dump. Notably, Dr. Danny Avula, the health official moderating the meeting, appeared not to know this.
What’s more, there is ample documentation of methane offgassing, at Norrell specifically, and throughout the area of the dump generally. In the seventies, an apartment building exploded. During the same time, the playground of A.V. Norrell caught fire, and burned for hours. Until very recently, eight methane flares were prominently visible at Norrell, installed by consent order to mitigate the methane offgassing- they were taken down during the controversy, but had gone out of use some time ago. A FEMA report from 2007, referring to conditions tested in 2006- the same report that RPS incorrectly cites on their website, in fact- confirms that methane levels were evident at that time, at ‘explosive levels’.
By Mr. Hawkins’ physical mannerisms throughout the meeting- he was visibly shaking- and tactic of simply yelling at Art Burton, challenging Mr. Burton’s motivations and involvement, I suspect that he wasn’t given sufficient preparation for the meeting. While he was able to cite recent (2012) testing- all of which returned negative results for mold, methane, formaldehyde, and naphthalene- he appeared to have no knowledge of the history of the facility or the surrounding area. When confronted with evidence of problems in the past- for example, the playground fire, the apartment explosion, or the warning and flare systems- he simply denied that those things had ever existed. Occasionally, he’d admit that they existed, and then condemn them as evidence because they did not happen recently.
Speaking to Mr. Hawkins after the meeting, I discovered that he was relatively new to Richmond Public Schools, had apparently been given the task of preparing Norrell for students on very short notice (hence what I perceived to be his taking personal offense at allegations of RPS deceit, even when that deceit was documented and indisputable), and most recently worked in Fairfax, a comparatively well-funded school district that, notably, does not have the kind of history surrounding race and class that Richmond does.
To be absolutely clear, a while official, Andy Hawkins, came to a meeting to discuss community concerns about a facility, and then repeatedly expressed that, if there had ever been a problem in this poor black neighborhood- a neighborhood that hosted an uncapped dump in the 1940s, specifically because it was poor and majority black- government agencies would have intervened. And he didn’t understand the refusal of black activists, notably Art Burton, to accept this narrative.
I suspect that Andy Hawkins is being made to take the heat publicly for what was a Richmond School Board decision. Combined with his relative ignorance of Richmond history, and general trust in systems that residents of Battery Park have no reason to trust- see his repeated assertion that some agency would intervene in a poor, black neighborhood, if there was some environmental problem- he would make an attractive, but misdirected, sacrifice to public opinion.
The problem as I see it is not Andy Hawkins. It’s a School Board that’s interested in fighting public opinion, even as most of its problems stem from a lack of funding, an issue the public is likewise upset about. RPS failed to appropriately address the community in the reopening of Norrell, failed to effectively distribute test results (when I asked Mr. Hawkins how the results were disseminated, he said that he printed them and handed them out in hard copy to interested parties that approached him, rather than posting them online for unlimited public perusal), and is now content to pretend that the history surrounding Norrell and Battery Park never happened.
2:13 pm • 21 October 2012 • 2 notes
Chris Dovi reports on recent meeting between RPS official and Parents for Life
There was a recent meeting at the Board of Health office between Parents for Life, four public health officials (including two or three toxicologists), and Andy Hawkins, the Richmond Public Schools Site Manager. Chris Dovi reports.
I was also at the meeting, and will add my impressions in the following post.
2:11 pm • 21 October 2012 • 3 notes