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Opinion The Reproductive Health Equity Act is the next step for Virginians

A one-month dosage of hormonal birth control pills. (Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press)

Sarah Flores Shannon is the senior coordinator at the Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice Virginia.

When I got my start in Virginia politics, the General Assembly made national headlines for considering a medically unnecessary measure that would have required patients undergo a transvaginal ultrasound before having an abortion. Today, nearly 10 years later, our state has become a catalyst for change in the South, as Virginians have fought for and won expanded voter rights, broader access to health care, increased protections for LGBTQ+ people and proactive measures to support immigrants and migrants in our communities.

Last year, our state passed the groundbreaking Reproductive Health Protection Act, which repealed years of politically motivated antiabortion restrictions, including a 24-hour waiting period and the mandatory ultrasound requirement. Though this law removed medically unnecessary barriers, Virginians still struggle to afford reproductive health care.

At the Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice Virginia, we know that community members face difficult decisions when it comes to accessing reproductive health care. Coupled with fears around documentation status, lack of health insurance drives many Latinas to forgo essential reproductive care altogether, as they are forced to decide between paying out of pocket for health care or putting food on the table for their families. These disparities have been further exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and the economic devastation it has disproportionately wrought in communities of color.

After years of community-centered work with incredible partners, dedicated activists and reproductive justice champions such as Delegate Marcia “Cia” Price, we are proud to continue to lead the charge to pass the Reproductive Health Equity Act (RHEA). If enacted, RHEA would protect and expand access to the full range of reproductive health care — including abortion care, well visits, contraception, prenatal care, childbirth and postpartum care — regardless of someone’s income, immigration status, gender identity or type of insurance.

Virginia is leading in the fight for reproductive justice thanks to our state’s diversity and our peoples’ commitment to work together to advance our goals. The progress we’ve made shows the power of organizing across our communities. By working with LGBTQ+, immigrant rights and reproductive health, rights and justice organizations, we can collectively advance compassionate, people-centered policies. We built RHEA together to reflect the diversity of our state, the diversity of our needs and to support the full range of pregnancy and family planning decisions each of us may make.

RHEA sets forth a bold example for many states at a time when, even as abortion care has been legal for decades, restrictions, stigma and cost have pushed care out of reach for too many of us. We need more than the legal right to abortion. For abortion and reproductive health care to be truly accessible to all, we need bold solutions such as RHEA. We need legislation that requires reproductive health care be covered like all health care, not singled-out and stigmatized.

We built this Virginia together, as people of color, immigrants, young people and LGBTQ+ folks, because we know better than anyone else what we need to map out our lives and care for our families. Our growing movement for RHEA has proven that Virginia isn’t just for lovers — it’s also for reproductive justice.

Read more:

The Post’s View: Virginians have a chance to improve abortion rights in November

Amy Hagstrom Miller: Virginia’s abortion fight shows how conservatives will weaponize reproductive rights in 2020

Sara Imershein: Virginians deserve to make their own health-care decisions

Daniel Grossman and Gail Deady: Virginia is wrong to target a woman after an abortion

The Post’s View: Virginia’s abortion end run