Here’s What’s to Come in Virginia for Women’s Rights in 2018

Reproductive health, equal pay and paid family and medical leave are a few of the issues supported by the Women’s Equality Coalition, announced today in a press conference. Last year, many women’s rights bills were left on the table early with little debate. Yet this year, with a Democratic sweep in Virginia General Assembly during last year’s state elections, more time is likely to be spent on the issue. Here are a few bills to keep an eye on during this year’s session.

Whole Woman’s Health Act

The act would ensure that a woman has the fundamental right to get a lawful abortion. No statute or regulation would be able to prohibit the performance of an abortion unless it was necessary to protect the life or health of the woman.

Last year a similar bill, introduced by Del. Jennifer Boysko, was not given a hearing in the Committee for Courts of Justice and therefore died early in the session. This year, with more balance between Republican and Democratic representatives, the bill is likely to make it further in the legislative session.

“For the first time in my 15 plus years of coming to the General Assembly, the House and Senate are both balancing on razor-thin power margins,” said Tarina Keene, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia. “Virginia women finally have an opportunity to finally pass badly needed legislation to improve reproductive health and freedom here in the Commonwealth.”

No-Cost Birth Control

This bill would put protections on birth control, already in place with the Affordable Care Act, in Virginia law to ensure free birth control no matter the fate of the ACA. Under the current ACA mandate, contraceptives are a required preventive health service for women.

“This year we are asking the General Assembly to take a reasonable step already taken by several other states and ensure that insurance companies continue to cover birth control without a co-pay or other extra charges as they are currently required by the affordable care act,” said Keene.

Currently, the Trump administration is rolling back regulations put into place by the ACA, some of which have focused on access to birth control. Last month, a federal judge in Pennsylvania blocked the administration’s new rules that would allow employers to claim a religious or moral objection to the ACA’s birth control coverage mandate.

Paid Family and Medical Leave

Paid family and medical leave bills would require employers to give employees paid time off to care for themselves or family members at home.

“Virginia women and families are struggling right now as they are faced with aging parents, sick children or even new additions to their families,” said Margie Del Castillo, Director of Field and Advocacy at the Virginia Latina Advocacy Network. “Many jobs in Virginia today do not offer paid sick days for when their workers fall ill or for when they’re forced to stay home to take care of a loved one.”

The state of Virginia does not currently require employers to offer paid maternity or sick leave benefits. Both parents work in roughly 70 percent of Virginia family households and 44 percent of Virginians are eligible or able to afford unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families.

Equal Pay Act

The gender pay gap is narrowing but still exists. In 2015, it would take an extra 44 days of work for women to earn the same amount men did, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.

In an effort to further close the gap, the Equal Pay Act would prohibit employers from using past salary details to determine a person’s salary for a new or current position. Since women have historically been underpaid compared to men, using previous salaries as a guide would negatively affect their chances to make better wages.