Thirty-one protesters were arrested Saturday afternoon after they refused to leave the steps of the Virginia Capitol in Richmond during a rally to oppose legislation curbing abortion rights.
Those who were arrested were charged with either trespassing or unlawful assembly and were taken to the Richmond City Jail, Capitol Police Capt. Raymond Goodloe said. Both are Class 1 misdemeanors.
The demonstrators had a permit to rally at the Bell Tower, but Goodloe said rallies are not allowed in other locations in Capitol Square, including the steps.
The event, organized by activists who call themselves Speak Loud with Silence, started with a march through downtown Richmond and ended with a rally outside the Capitol. They originally gathered at the Bell Tower but later moved to the steps.
Goodloe said most people left after being asked. Those who did not were arrested.
Virginia has been in the national spotlight in recent weeks for some of its anti-abortion legislation. Several bills have already died during the 60-day session — including those that sought to define a fertilized egg as a person, deny state-funded abortions to poor women with grossly deformed fetuses and ban abortions after 20 weeks.
But at least one — requiring women to get an ultrasound before an abortion — is on its way to Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s desk after being amended to no longer mandate a vaginal probe.
Protesters have been required to have a permit for rallies at Capitol Square since 1970s.
In both previous instances, protesters gathered in parts of the square where demonstrations are not permitted. The first time they were allowed to remain, but the second time they were told to move.
Capitol Police were assisted by Virginia State Police, but Goodloe declined to say how many officers were present.