Women’s rights activists unveil legislative agenda

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Speakers of the 2016 Women's Equality Coalition Conference

RICHMOND, Va. – Women’s right advocates on Tuesday called for legislation they said would improve women’s health and safety, economic opportunities and electoral participation.

Introducing its agenda for the General Assembly’s 2016 session, the Women’s Equality Coalition advocated repealing the ban on abortion coverage in the state’s health insurance exchange.

“The current ban on insurance coverage for abortion discriminates against women who work for small businesses and working families who simply can’t afford insurance on their own,” said Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.

She urged the General Assembly to pass Senate Bill 183, sponsored by Sen. Don McEachin, D-Richmond.

“By abolishing the current ban on insurance for abortion, this bill will allow Virginians once again to purchase a comprehensive health plan that covers the wide range of health insurance they need,” Keene said.

The coalition also proposed that state-sanctioned insurance plans include 12-month supplies of oral contraceptives. Keene said this proposal would help prevent unwanted pregnancies.

“Birth control is essential health care, and it must be affordable and accessible,” Keene said. “Virginia women can only truly have economic security, opportunity and equality when they are able to decide for themselves” when to have children.

Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia, introduced the next agenda topic – economic opportunities for women. Among other ideas, the coalition called for the General Assembly to set Virginia’s minimum wage at $15 an hour. (It’s currently $7.25 per hour.)

“Six in 10 individuals who would benefit from raising the wage are women, and many of them are raising families,” Scholl said. “This is an important tool in closing the wage gap and supporting women and families with bigger economic opportunities.”

Janell Lankford, a single mother with four children, also strongly advocated for raising the minimum wage.

“Even with a degree in early childhood, [my wage] only goes up to $11.50,” said Lankford, a child-care provider in the Richmond area. “That’s not enough money to provide for a family. We can’t live off of minimum wage.”

Carol Noggle, a vice president of the League of Women Voters of Virginia, stressed the importance of women participating in the democratic process.

“We need more choices in who is going to make decisions about reproductive rights and reproductive health, child care and equal pay for equal work,” Noggle said.

“In the 2015 election, there weren’t many choices on the electoral ballot. There were 80 races in the Senate and the House where there was only one candidate on the ballot. That’s not a choice.”

Geneva Perry, a single mother from Williamsburg, also stressed the importance of making it easier for busy working women to vote.

“Voting is a responsibility that I do not take lightly,” Perry said. “You can understand my anger and frustration when I learned the federal court decision finding that the General Assembly unconstitutionally tried to reduce the impact of black voters by packing them into the 3rd District. We have to do more to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”

By Kyle Taylor and Sterling Giles/Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South.