By Tarina Keene, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia for nine years.
In response to Jeff Schapiro’s column “Virginia Sheds Glitz For A Good Ol’ Boy?” on Sunday Dec. 4 regarding Lt. Governor Ralph Northam’s gubernatorial bid now underway, Schapiro accused Northam of being too accommodating of “fringe interest” groups such as organizations that support gun violence prevention, a clean environment and reproductive health and rights. These are not “fringe” issues. Here’s the proof.
First, all three issues are part and parcel of the Democratic Party platform. Lt. Gov. Northam is not taking a hard swing left to stand up for issues that his party, as well as the vast majority of the general public, strongly support.
Second, all three issues are consistently – and with ideological vitriol and distortion – targeted primarily by conservatives who want to not only thwart the progress of these important concerns, but who want to crush their very existence by maligning the organizations that advocate in favor of them and their intentions to make the world a better place to live.
Mr. Schapiro also uses disparaging language that overwhelmingly marginalizes and denigrates women. By calling abortion-rights supporters “outspoken,” he is using a euphemism that actually means strident, bossy, vulgar, ridiculously hysterical women who should be ignored because there’s really nothing to see here. It’s insulting, but par for the course in a year where a woman running for president was repeatedly called a liar, corrupt, a nasty woman, and even threatened with jail.
Yes, Lt. Governor Northam has been an avid champion of reproductive health and rights from the moment he stepped into the political arena. As a doctor, he brings a unique and much-needed perspective to the political conversation about whether a woman who has made the decision to have an abortion should have safe, affordable access to the healthcare she needs and wants free of shame, stigma and judgement and without undue government interference in the doctor-patient relationship.
7 in 10 Virginians agree with Lt. Governor Northam. Yet we have a state legislature, not representative of the majority of Virginians’ viewpoints, hell-bent on shutting off access to abortion at every turn. And they’ve had a hand in reducing the number of women’s health centers in Virginia from 21 to 14 over the last five years. Now, they have a partner in the White House who not only wants to appoint Supreme Court justices who will prioritize overturning Roe v. Wade, but who also believes that a woman should be punished for having an abortion.
People who believe in personal freedom and who want a better, safer world for our children than we have now are at a crossroads. If I, and my colleagues in the reproductive rights movement, are “outspoken,” it’s because our constitutional rights and our personal dignity in making decisions that are best for ourselves and our families are at grave risk. We will continue to be loud to protect our freedoms.
While there are many important issues the next governor should focus on – continuing to grow our economy, expanding healthcare, curtailing opioid addiction, improving public education and lowering college tuition, fixing our crumbling infrastructure, to name a few – reproductive health care access and abortion, a clean environment and reasonable limits on guns are part of the ubiquitous bread and butter issues that affect the majority of us. Maybe even more. Going forward, I strongly encourage Mr. Schapiro to be more astute in his word choices and thoughtful about what issue advocates bring to the table. However, Mr. Schapiro and I do agree: Doctor and Lt. Gov. Northam is the sensible voice in a time where little makes sense. Virginians are lucky to have Ralph Northam on their side.
Tarina Keene has been the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia for nine years. The organization is the political and policy leader of the reproductive rights movement in the Commonwealth.