By Aimee Perron, Legislative Director, ACLU of Virginia
Liberty (lib-ĕr-tee) n. the right or power to do as one chooses
Following in the footsteps of courageous women activists of the past, women and men are moved to take to the streets of Washington, DC on April 25, 2004 to fight for liberty at the March for Women’s Lives. Throughout history and even now in the 21st century, liberty has been a seemingly ephemeral and untenable right, never fully granted to women in the realm of reproductive freedom. Asked of the President in 1916 by suffragist Inez Milholland, “…how long must women wait for liberty?” this question is easily repeated today, referring not to the right to vote, but to a women’s right to control her reproductive health.
Reproductive freedom and justice extends beyond the question of a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy. Reproductive justice means eliminating unfair government roadblocks for women of all races, faiths, and economic classes to: family planning, early detection and treatment programs for cervical and breast cancer, pre- and post-natal care, affordable child care and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. It also means job equality for pregnant women, affordable health care, and more programs – not jail time – to assist pregnant substance abusers.
Roe v. Wade assured women’s reproduction a permanent place at the front of ongoing political debate. Year after year, Congress and state legislatures pass laws restricting a women’s liberty over her body. Reproductive health care is steadily becoming a precious commodity in this country, one accessible to fewer and fewer women. In the last eight years alone, states have enacted more than 330 measures restricting access to contraceptives, sexuality education, and other essential reproductive health services.
The picture in Virginia is no different. The recent changing of Virginia’s political guard in the late 1990s meant replacing traditional conservatives who believed in keeping the government out of citizen’s lives, with new conservative ideologues who have made it their mission to restrict reproductive rights in the Commonwealth. But the most disturbing aspect of the legislative debate is the shift in focus from abortion to contraception. The most hotly contested bills during the 2004 General Assembly session were the bills banning emergency contraception (EC) on college campuses and requiring notarized, parental consent before minor’s could access EC. In 1997, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) categorized EC as a safe and effective contraceptive method, containing a different dosage of the same hormones found in the Pill.
This disturbing shift has been the wake up call heard ‘round the Commonwealth, causing men and women alike to participate and sign up for the March for Women’s Lives because they recognize that limiting access to methods of contraception, sexuality education, and other reproductive health services threatens women’s health and lives. Without meaningful access, women cannot prevent unintended pregnancies, protect themselves and their partners from contracting sexually transmitted diseases, or obtain safe and early abortions.
In Richmond, concerned citizens, university students and representatives from the local chapters of the national co-sponsoring organizations (ACLU of Virginia, Virginia League for Planned Parenthood, Richmond NOW, Richmond Green Party, Metro Richmond Area Young Democrats) have joined together to form the Richmond Pro-Choice Coalition. For the past four months the RPCC has worked to raise awareness about the march and more importantly, sold tickets for seats on the ten buses traveling from Richmond to DC on the day of the march.
These Richmonders are marching with others around the country to ensure that women of all races and faiths—rich, poor, young, old, rural, and urban—have access to a full range of reproductive health services. As one woman from Virginia responded when asked why she was marching, “…until women have full and equal rights under the law and consciousness of all people, until women are sovereign unto themselves, I will continue to pick up the banners of women who came before me until we have won our true and just freedom.”
I am marching in Washington, DC on April 25th to fight for liberty. Will you join me?
For more information about riding on the Richmond buses, contact Planned Parenthood directly at: 804.355.4358 ext.11 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Aimee Perron is the Legislative Director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and lives in Richmond .