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Before Birth

by Grace Sparks

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Legislators' attempts at redefining "children" are designed to undermine reproductive rights. Yet they do far more. The "newspeak" that has become common among a growing number of Virginia lawmakers also places contraception on the chopping block. Within the walls of the state Capitol, life begins at the moment of conception, childhood begins before pregnancy, birth is just another birthday, and the differences between birth control pills and abortion are blurred beyond distinction. But don't take my word for it. Consider the legislation …

House Bill 1741: Lynchburg Delegate Kathy Byron has introduced a conscience clause measure that would allow pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for abortion-causing drugs. This appears to be an abortion bill unless you know that drugs intended for abortion are not legally available through pharmacists. Only a licensed physician can administer such medication. But, if a Virginia pharmacist shares the religious beliefs of Delegate Bryon that birth control pills, emergency contraception, IUDs, Depo-Provera, the contraceptive patch and other forms of contraception are really abortion agents — then the pharmacist's beliefs override the client's needs. Access to birth control pills is denied. When Delegate Byron introduced similar legislation last year, the measure even stated that the conscience clause was for "birth control pills and other medications that cause abortions." This year's bill is written so that its opposition to contraception is less open, yet the effects of the measure are the same. Delegate Byron's bill passed the House on a vote of 69-29. Fortunately a Senate committee has tabled it.

Then there are House Bill 2287 and Senate Bill 1218: These bills serve, in part, to legally redefine childhood as beginning at conception rather than birth. Childhood would begin prior to pregnancy, the point at which the fertilized egg implants in the lining of the woman's uterus. The legislation also makes the "unborn child" rather than the pregnant woman the recipient of prenatal care. By implication, the woman is reduced to a transportation device for the unborn patient. Creating tens of thousands of new people under Virginia law would drain the state of millions of additional taxpayer dollars. Due to massive state budget deficits, lawmakers had the good sense to strike this language until Virginia could afford an influx of new "children."

These three measures — and others — affect the critical period between fertilization and the outset of pregnancy (implantation). Most fertilized eggs never implant and are naturally removed during menstruation. Birth control pills and most other highly effective contraceptives work by preventing fertilization. However, in the small percentage of cases where fertilization does occur, such contraceptives prevent implantation. In the minds of the self-appointed guardians of morality, these newly fertilized "persons" are aborted through contraception. From their standpoint, contraception equals abortion.

In order to prevent Virginia lawmakers from undermining access to contraception, Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple introduced Senate Bill 1104, the Family Planning Protection Act. That bill merely states that contraception does not constitute abortion and that laws pertaining to abortion will not pertain to contraception. Happily, the bill passed in the Senate earlier this month on a vote of 22-16.

Unhappily, 40 percent of Virginia senators (16 out of 40) went on record as not only opposing abortion, but also opposing contraception. The measure is now before the more socially conservative House.

Do these legislators really believe that contraception is equivalent to murder? Do our elected representatives really believe that they themselves must abstain from sexual relations except for purposes of procreation? I suspect not. I suspect many of them are having sex and using contraceptives like most adults in Virginia. What they choose to do in their private lives, however, is irrelevant. It is only their actions as lawmakers that affect the rest of us. If, in their public lives, they continue to repeat the mantra that personhood begins at the moment of fertilization, then access to contraception as well as abortion is in jeopardy in Virginia. S



Grace Sparks has been president of the Virginia league for Planned Parenthood since 1989.



Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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