Smaller crowds but continued anger at Virginia’s second March for Life rally

Roughly 1,000 people took part in the second March for Life Thursday at the Capitol to protest rollbacks of abortion restrictions. (Kate Masters/ Virginia Mercury)

More than a year has passed since video of Del. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax, attempting to explain her ultimately unsuccessful, controversial late-term abortion bill ignited a furor. But outrage was still fresh at Virginia’s second March for Life rally, where many anti-abortion activists cited the legislation as their reason for attending.

“It’s infanticide,” said Noreen Rodgers, who traveled from Virginia Beach to attend the march for the second year in a row. “We hate the governor and we hate the policies he’s pushing.”

Bryant was specifically referring to a firestorm of criticism that erupted last year after Tran told a House committee that her bill would allow a woman to receive an abortion even up to the point when she is about to give birth. Gov. Ralph Northam, a pediatrician, added to the controversy when he tried to describe what would happen after a woman with a nonviable pregnancy went into labor.

Tran later said she misspoke, while a Northam spokeswoman said the governor’s words had been twisted by Republicans. But opponents at the rally said the incident proved abortion was becoming increasingly normalized in the state Capitol.

“It’s become too casual,” said Frank Rodgers of Virginia Beach who joined his wife at the rally. “It’s becoming accepted, even though a lot of us know it’s still wrong.”

Anger over the incident wasn’t enough to draw the same crowds as last year’s rally, which an estimated 6,500 people attended. Capitol Police were holding off on “hard estimates” this year, spokesman Joe Macenka wrote in an email, but said the initial crowd numbered about 1,000 before it quickly dissipated outside the Capitol as rain began to fall.

Speakers still congratulated the hundreds who gathered under umbrellas to protest efforts to loosen restrictions on the procedure. Many said there was a renewed urgency to rally after Democrats assumed the majority in both the House and Senate.

“We’re not worried about rain, are we?” said Del. Kathy Byron, R-Bedford. “That’s the least of our problems today.”

Like many other speakers, she urged the crowd not to lose sight of current legislation — passed by the House and Senate in late January — that would roll back requirements for an ultra-sound and a 24-hour waiting period prior to an abortion.

The bills would also strike restrictive building code requirements that threatened to shut down many clinics by mandating hospital-style standards including wider hallways and doorways. The state Board of Health never fully implemented the requirements, but they were heavily criticized by pro-choice groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, which argue the laws do nothing to protect women’s health.

The Senate bill would add nurse practitioners to the list of providers able to perform abortions. The House version would also add physician’s assistants and certified nurse midwives.

Supporters argue the new regulations would expand access to abortions, reflecting a six-year research study that found the procedure was just as safe when performed by those providers. But critics at the rally railed against the legislation, calling it dangerous for women.

“These are two bills that essentially decrease the requirements for women’s health in the name of abortion access,” said Jeanne Mancini, president of the national March for Life. She urged marchers to text a hotline that would allow them to send messages to their state delegate and senator about the legislation.

“The good news is that Virginia has elections every year,” Mancini said. “And we need to take back the General Assembly in November.”

The next elections for Virginia’s House of Delegates are in 2021.

Clarification: The post has been updated to add the date of the next Virginia legislative elections.