The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Virginia’s reproductive health bill shows where power resides

To the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond. (Steve Helber/Associated Press)

Margie Del Castillo is director of field and advocacy at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.

As the Supreme Court considers a case that will have repercussions on abortion access nationwide, we must look to Virginia for guidance and hope. The fight for reproductive justice is being won on the ground here, in our communities, where women of color have been organizing and fighting for our lives and families for decades.

In Virginia, we removed politics from abortion care, centering the needs of the people in our communities instead — their health, well-being and reproductive freedom. After years of educating and holding accountable our elected officials, we won a hard-fought victory with the passage of the Reproductive Health Protection Act, which would repeal a slew of restrictions that created obstacles to abortion care, particularly for Latinas, women of color, immigrants and people with low incomes. The bill is awaiting Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) signature.

Requiring patients in Virginia to undergo biased, state-mandated counseling, medically unnecessary ultrasounds and a mandatory 24-hour delay pushed abortion care out of reach for many people of color.

The RHPA would get rid of political interference between a pregnant person and her medical provider, and it would eliminate restrictions that were put in place as additional barriers to obstruct access to care, including the targeted restrictions on abortion providers, or TRAP laws, that forced many abortion clinics in the state to close because of the number of parking spaces they offered or the width of their hallways.

Latinas are disproportionately affected by laws that shut down clinics; they often work multiple jobs that provide no sick days or insurance coverage, and they live in underserved communities. Many Latinas are unable to cover the travel expenses, child care and other arrangements necessary to visit a provider on two or more occasions to meet these baseless requirements before they can access the care they need.

These barriers, compounded by fears around documentation and the threat of family separation and deportation, have forced many Latinas to delay or forgo reproductive health care entirely, while Latinas held in immigrant detention centers face substandard care or outright denial of care altogether.

We know that despite certain media narratives that paint our community as conservative, many in our community empathize with Latinas facing decisions concerning reproductive health care. In a poll conducted a few years ago, we found that nine in 10 of Virginia’s Latino voters said they would give support to a close friend or family member who accessed abortion care.

As we celebrated our victory for reproductive justice in Virginia, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for June Medical Services v. Russo, a case that could allow states to further restrict abortion care. In other words, the court is reviewing the same sort of discriminatory, restrictive laws that RHPA would repeal.

Latino voters in Virginia played an important role in electing lawmakers who support reproductive health and justice. And when we educate Latino communities around the country about restrictions in their states, they want to organize on the issues and mobilize their people. They understand the impact these barriers have on their families and communities.

In contrast to the challenge we now face at the Supreme Court, the RHPA in Virginia reveals what we at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health have seen firsthand: Change comes from within our communities, and only by building power deeply in our communities can we create a future with real access to care.

For too long, the lived experiences and needs of Latina communities have been ignored. As the Supreme Court weighs how far states can go to restrict abortion care, it is critical that we recognize that communities of color have always shouldered additional hurdles to care.

The victory of the Reproductive Health Protection Act is the embodiment of our fight for more than just the legality of abortion. That fight failed us by leaving women of color, immigrants, people with low incomes and LGBTQ folks behind. It’s a reminder that our fight must be for real access to abortion care, laws that support us and a culture in which our decisions are met with love and comfort.

Imagine the world we could build if we organized like we did in Virginia with RHPA. It shows us what happens when we support and put women of color front-and-center, take politics out of abortion care and look to our communities to lead the fight for justice.