February 18, 2013
In 2012 Virginia found itself the object of national ridicule and outrage after launching an onslaught of attacks on women's health -- including an unprecedented and unnecessary forced ultrasound requirement. After the embarrassment of late-night mocking and the unmitigated fury from protesters on the Capitol steps, it appeared that at least for this year, the General Assembly would mostly keep its war on women in check.
Apparently, no amount of outrage or scrutiny can stop Gov. McDonnell and his colleagues from attacking Virginia women's health. I was deeply concerned to learn last week that McDonnell is planning to attach an amendment to health care reform legislation that would severely restrict Virginia women's access to comprehensive reproductive health care.
As part of President Obama's health care reform law, Virginia is in the process of constructing and implementing a statewide health care exchange. This exchange will function as a virtual marketplace, and will allow families, citizens and small business to shop for the most affordable health insurance plans. The exchange is intended to increase the number of Virginians with health coverage, and ensure that more Virginians have access to the basic health care they need. Unfortunately, if McDonnell gets his way, the women of Virginia may find their coverage slashed -- not enhanced.
McDonnell's proposed amendment, if enacted, would prohibit insurance providers from offering policies in the exchange that cover abortion. In other words, McDonnell's plan would make it virtually impossible for small businesses and individual Virginia women to purchase health insurance coverage for abortion -- even with their own private, personal, money.
As a physician, I firmly believe that every Virginia resident deserves access to the safe, legal, medical care they choose. We see no bill to limit physical therapy, acupuncture or plastic surgery, yet women's health is consistently singled out, stigmatized and restricted. Reproductive health care -- including family planning, cancer screenings and safe and legal abortion -- is a critical part of comprehensive health care for women. It must be treated as such.
Despite the stereotype perpetrated by McDonnell and his ilk, no woman plans on having an abortion. But should a woman face an unintended pregnancy complication or sudden health deterioration, it is important that she can count on her insurance to cover a full range of health care options. As a doctor I have seen firsthand the devastation of patients driven into debt by an unexpected health crisis. No woman -- no person -- should have to choose between financial stability and medical care.
The governor's continued attacks on women's health, including this extreme amendment, also fly in the face of the classic free-market principles he claims to espouse. It is important to note that this is not a matter of eliminating public funding for abortion. The Affordable Care Act is careful to restrict any public money, including insurance subsidies, from being used to fund or assist in abortion. Instead, McDonnell's amendment would restrict Virginians from spending their own private dollars to purchase an insurance policy with abortion coverage. This is government intrusion at its most obvious and easily recognizable -- telling Virginia businesses and citizens what they can and cannot sell or buy.
Ironically, this attempt at heavy-handed government oversight comes from the man who has an ongoing "regulatory reform" initiative, and who has publically argued that "all regulatory activity should be undertaken with the least possible intrusion in the lives of the citizens of the commonwealth." It is both telling and troubling that the governor so easily excludes women from this maxim.
I am appalled that despite overwhelming backlash from the people of Virginia, Gov. McDonnell is once again attempting to inject a partisan political ideology into women's basic health care. I urge McDonnell to get his administration out of Virginia bedrooms, doctor's offices and exam rooms, and leave women's health where it belongs -- between a woman, her physician, her family, and her faith.
Ralph Northam, who represents the 6 th District (D-Norfolk), is a children's doctor and the only physician in the Virginia Senate. Contact him at District06@senate.virginia.gov.