Ralph Northam is a champion for women’s health — I saw it five years ago

By Senator Barbara Favola

2012 was my first year in the General Assembly. It was also the year of one of the most offensive attacks on women’s health our commonwealth has seen.

Just days after I was sworn in as a member of the General Assembly, Senate Republicans introduced a bill that would have mandated women have an invasive, humiliating, and medically unnecessary procedure before having an abortion. In fact, the procedure was so invasive, it would’ve met the statutory definition of rape.

What made it even more disgusting was that it was pushed by male legislators without medical degrees — most of whom probably couldn’t tell you the difference between an ovary and a fallopian tube.

Whatever our individual views on abortion may be, Virginians can agree that no woman should ever be forced to undergo a medically unnecessary procedure. That’s all the more true when it comes to regulations that are solely intended to shame and dissuade a patient from accessing healthcare.

That’s where Ralph came in. At the time, Ralph was the only physician serving in the state senate, and lucky for women across the commonwealth, he was also a fierce advocate for women’s health and freedom and preserving the doctor-patient relationship.

First, despite efforts by some Republicans to sugarcoat the bill, he called the procedure what it was: a transvaginal ultrasound. Naming it helped clarify just how invasive the bill was — and gave Democrats something to rally against.

Second, he used his medical experience to illustrate the intent of the GOP plan: to shame and judge women who make the personal decision to have an abortion. His leadership led to Virginians across the commonwealth uniting in opposition to the bill. Because of the uproar, then-Governor McDonnell urged Republicans to change the bill from requiring a transvaginal ultrasound to a traditional — ”jelly on the belly” — ultrasound. Realizing that such a procedure wouldn’t even be able to detect a fetus at the early stages in which most abortions are performed, Ralph picked up a Gatorade bottle from his desk on the senate floor and said, “I might as well put the ultrasound probe on this bottle of Gatorade!”

Ralph’s passionate defense showed the world that Virginians would fight for a woman’s right to make personal decisions free from politicians’ judgment. We may not have won the war on that mandatory 24-hour ultrasound bill (it passed by a single vote), but we did remove the most invasive of its medically unnecessary requirements so that no woman in Virginia has to undergo a mandatory transvaginal ultrasound. Afterwards, Virginia received national and international attention for the bill, and that year, other similar bills in 13 states across the country were all defeated or pulled from consideration.

That fight was a formative experience for me — both as a woman and a legislator — and today, I serve as the chair of the women’s health caucus. The Virginia General Assembly is still just 19% women, so I know very well how important male allies are. That’s why I can say, without a doubt, that Ralph Northam is one of the fiercest, strongest allies we have in Richmond.

That strength is more important than ever. Today, a man who said women should be punished for having an abortion is president — and one who would like abortion to be “banned” is the Republican nominee for the governorship.

It’s more important than ever that we elect a governor who won’t just have our backs, but who will fight every day to advance the rights of women to make their own decisions and chart their own destinies for themselves and their families. Ralph Northam is that candidate, and I’m proud to support his campaign for governor.