Protesters rally for women’s rights in Richmond

Posted on April 28, 2012

Washington Post, April 28, 2012 by Anita Kumar

RICHMOND — About 300 demonstrators gathered a few blocks from the state Capitol on a cold, rainy Saturday to continue their months-long protest against proposals they say restrict women’s rights. Some protesters carried professionally printed signs that carried messages such as “Stop the War on Virginia Women.” Others waved more colorful, homemade posters: “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” and “Va. Gov. McDonnell. The Vaginal Probe Guy.”

Local police were visible, but unlike demonstrations this spring on Capitol Square, the number of officers was limited in the downtown city park outside the Richmond Coliseum. There were no arrests.

The rally, organized by Unite Women Virginia, is affiliated with a series of events across the nation Saturday to protest what activists have dubbed a war on women.

“Women are powerful — despite the way we are treated and what we are told,” said Victoria Bragunier, president of the Richmond chapter of the National Organization of Women.

Virginia has been in the national spotlight this year for legislation critics decried as designed to limit abortions.

Although several abortion-related bills did not pass — including those that sought to define a fertilized egg as a person and ban abortions after 20 weeks — a measure requiring women to undergo an ultrasound before an abortion was signed into law.

Several current and former female legislators spoke about the contentious General Assembly session, criticizing Republicans for failing to understand the measure before publicly supporting it. That includes the ultrasound bill, which as originally proposed mandated a transvaginal probe before an abortion could be performed. After an uproar over the legislation, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) asked lawmakers to drop the requirement from the measure.

“How many of the 140 legislators had a clue?” Del. Jennifer L. McClellan (D-Richmond) asked. “I guess they were too stupid to understand.”

Saturday’s protest underscores the strained relationship in Richmond — and across the nation — between Democrats and Republicans, who blame each other for an election-year focus on social issues including abortion.

The debate over social issues, once a daily occurrence in the state Capitol, has moved to the campaign trail in Virginia. The state is expected to play a crucial role in November’s presidential election and determining the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.

Former Democratic governor Timothy M. Kaine, who is running for U.S. Senate, stopped by the rally after campaigning in Roanoke, saying the issues are important to all adults, not just women. When McClellan pointed him out, the crowd erupted: “Tim! Tim! Tim!”

A series of protests this year led Democrats to blast what they called excessive police force by officers wearing riot gear and carrying semiautomatic weapons. At a rally in March, officers arrested 30 demonstrators after they refused to leave the steps of the Capitol — where protests are prohibited.

Bridget Kelley-Dearing of Lexington, who was holding one side of a banner that read “Defeat Virginia’s Sexist Politicians,” said she has been to every protest in Richmond this year. “I don’t feel like my legislators are representing me,” she said.