Virginia Is For Lovers (And Also The Reproductive Rights Of Said Lovers)
Some days it seems like all the news is bad news. That has been the case for the past couple months concerning, well, everything, the past few years concerning the government, and pretty much my entire adult life concerning reproductive rights.
But guess what? We actually have some good news!
This past Friday and over the weekend, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed into law two bills concerning reproductive rights, and neither of them was a terrible Atwood-ian dystopia bill! In fact, they were both very good bills — one reinstating some abortion rights that had been lost in prior administrations, and another protecting pregnant workers from employment discrimination. Hooray!
The first bill Northam signed into law is the Reproductive Health Protection Act, which will repeal some of the really terrible anti-choice and TRAP (Targeted Regulations Against Abortion Providers) laws Virginia had going on prior to Northam taking office.
Senate Bill 733 and House Bill 980, sponsored by Senator Jennifer McClellan and House Majority Leader Charniele Herring, respectively, repeal Virginia's mandatory ultrasound law and 24-hour waiting period prior to abortion. The legislation also rolls back politically motivated "TRAP" restrictions on women's health centers, which are designed to force their closure and make it more difficult for Virginians to get access to the healthcare services.
Upon the repeal of those laws, the legislators said:
"No more will legislators in Richmond—most of whom are men—be telling women what they should and should not be doing with their bodies," said Governor Northam. "The Reproductive Health Protection Act will make women and families safer, and I'm proud to sign it into law."
"This is about protecting Virginians' health, rights, and basic dignity," said Senator Jennifer McClellan. "Today, we have finally put an end to these medically unnecessary barriers to women's reproductive health care. Politicians should not interfere in women's personal medical decisions, period."
"Virginia women deserve access to healthcare free from interference from politicians," said House Majority Leader Charniele Herring. "Simply, this bill rolls back restrictions that are not evidence-based and presume that women have an inability to make their own healthcare decisions. I'm glad to see this bill signed into law."
And thank goodness, because boy were those laws stupid. They serve literally no other than to prevent people from being able to access their reproductive rights and to push the narrative that the ability to get pregnant goes hand in hand with being an idiot who doesn't know how to make personal decisions.
The second law, the Pregnant Worker's Fairness Act, will ban discrimination based on pregnancy status and require employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers, just like they are required to provide for accommodations for employees with temporary disabilities. Additionally, workers may sue if they do not get those accommodations.
Now, you may be thinking. "But isn't it already illegal to discriminate against pregnant people?" And the answer to that question is "Sort of!" Federally, it's only technically illegal to fire someone for discriminatory reasons if your company has more than 15 employees. In Virginia, it has long only been illegal to fire an employee for discriminatory reasons if you have more than six employees. So, say you own a shop in Virginia that employs four sales associates and one manager, your old manager leaves and is replaced with someone new, that new manager can fire people for totally discriminatory reasons — gender, race, sexual orientation, age, pregnancy status, etc. They can also refuse to hire people for those reasons, if they so choose.
Granted, they can do that regardless of the number of employees so long as they don't actually tell anyone they are being fired for discriminatory reasons (and even if they do, a Title VII lawsuit will often cost a claimant more than it's worth in lawyer's fees and time unless it's a class action), because unless you have buttloads of money, discrimination laws are mostly for decorative purposes only so long as we continue to have at-will employment.
Still, this gives employees slightly more recourse than they had before, which is nice. It also allows workers who aren't being fired for their pregnancy status more leeway to request accommodations without being fired. This law is as important as the law concerning abortion rights, because true reproductive justice means not only allowing the choice not to have a child, but also the choice to have one without facing economic ruin.
Northam also signed House Bill 1049, which "prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in a number of areas of law, including employment, public contracting, and apprenticeship programs," along with several other worker's rights bills regarding wage theft, worker misclassification, raising the minimum wage, and prohibiting employers from requiring low-wage employees to sign non-compete contracts.
Which is all, frankly, really, really awesome. Clearly, Virginia is also for workers!
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse