We, the undersigned members of the Virginia Reproductive Equity Alliance, write to oppose the proposed anti-abortion ordinance which is under consideration before the county on December 14, 2023. Our membership includes organizations across the Commonwealth on a mission to build power across differences to secure and protect access to critical reproductive healthcare, without interference, and to advance racial equity for all people in Virginia. We are doulas and doctors, patients and abortion fund volunteers, workers rights and civil rights organizations, community and policy advocates, gender equity and LGBTQ+ rights and justice organizations. We cross demographic and geographic boundaries throughout the Commonwealth and bring together a robust membership of grassroots advocates across the socioeconomic and cultural spectrum. And we are appalled by this example of targeted interference with access to legal care.
The proposed ordinance in Grayson County is a dangerous example of overreach and should be rejected by the Grayson County Board of Supervisors. In an extremist attempt to declare the county an “Unborn Sanctuary,” criminalize the receipt of medication abortion through the mail, and punish anyone who assists in this care, the proposed ordinance demonstrates not only a blatant disregard for the rule of law, but an even more disturbing disregard for the reproductive and overall health and well-being of county residents, including patients and families seeking critical care.
Most Americans believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. The vast majority of Virginians, 77%, believe that politicians should not interfere with personal healthcare decisions. Virginians want their rights and access to be protected and respected.
Abortion restrictions like the one proposed for Grayson County do not stop abortions. They do not prevent people from finding themselves in circumstances where a termination of a pregnancy is the best, healthiest option for themselves and their families. Restrictions like the one proposed push abortion healthcare further out of reach for those who are not endowed with enough wealth and power to circumvent medically unnecessary barriers.
Virginians, including residents of Grayson County, already face significant barriers to accessing affordable and comprehensive reproductive healthcare, including abortion, contraception, and other pregnancy-related care. Within 100 days of the Dobbs decision, 66 abortion clinics in 15 states were forced to close, increasing the time it takes for a person to travel to an abortion clinic. Grayson County is 81.8 miles away from the nearest abortion clinic. Reducing abortion access even further for residents of the county will not reduce a need for abortion care, it will only lead to pain, suffering and tragedy.
Restricting access to abortion has detrimental financial repercussions for those seeking care. Data shows that low-wage workers are less likely to be able to bear the cost of carrying an unintended pregnancy and having children when they are not ready to do so. And because their jobs are less likely to have paid leave and schedule flexibility, low-wage workers are less able to meet their own and their families' economic costs. Furthermore, studies show that pregnant people who desired but could not obtain an abortion were 4 times more likely to live below the federal poverty line. With a little over 15 thousand people, a median annual income of just over 43 thousand and 17 percent of residents living below the poverty line, Grayson County has every reason to ensure that its population has access to the full range of necessary healthcare, including abortion care. More abortion restrictions will only hurt those already struggling on multiple fronts to make ends meet.
Abortion bans disproportionately harm marginalized communities. Studies also show that where abortion care is restricted, maternal mortality increases, a reality that targets Black women and Women of Color nationally. With Latines comprising about 33% of the immigrant population in Virginia, the second largest demographic, and the largest demographic of women of color living under bans nationally, it is imperative that we continue to fight for expanded access to care. We cannot allow our most marginalized communities to be vulnerable to such attacks because historically, it is our families and communities that have faced the brunt of these attacks, and that has often meant targeted criminalization.
Galax, as a nearby example, is a city in Southwest Virginia that is located just 20 miles east of Grayson County and one that has a booming and rapidly increasing immigrant Latine population - like in a lot of other parts of the Southwest region. In 2018, NPR reported that one-third of all public school students in Galax are Hispanic, with a population of 7,000 people that were once largely White/Caucasian-identifying. This trend is indicative of how fast the area of Galax, and communities around it, are growing. We need local lawmakers to strategize around how to best support the needs of increasingly diverse communities, including areas where diverse immigrant communities are growing. Intersectional access to healthcare without interference is a critical need.
We hope that this harmful ordinance is rejected. In a state like Virginia, with a shortage of rural health care providers, an anti-abortion ordinance like this will only create confusion and stigma, and may have a chilling effect on access to safe and legal abortion for Grayson County’s most vulnerable populations. Instead of punishing patients and providers and further stigmatizing and restricting healthcare, Grayson County’s leaders should focus on improving access to childcare, the full range of reproductive healthcare, including contraceptive access for all, sex education in schools and the overall socio-economic well-being of its residents.
*Please see attached PDF for citations.