Infertility, Infertility Advocacy

Reason Prevails: Personhood bill defeated in Virginia

February 24, 2012

Yesterday, Erick and I went to the General Assembly with RESOLVE to attend the Senate Committee on Education and Health, as HB1 (the personhood bill) had made it to their docket. It was a crazy day with ups and downs, but ultimately at the end of the day, the bill was killed in a special Senate vote on the floor!

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

Check out the fabulous article in the The New York Times about RESOLVE’s efforts.  This is a testament to effectively making change and fighting for something in an organized and educated manner. I’m so proud of all of us! Go team RESOLVE! (Also, I’m quoted. WHATTTT!!)

The start of our day

We met at 7 am in the hotel lobby and Rebecca Flick of RESOLVE said that a local embryologist was coming to meet us.  He showed up and I recognized him and introduced myself as a former patient.  It was great to see him and know that the medical community, especially my care-givers, were there.

We had to be at the General Assembly at about 7:30 to line up to get in the room.  It was a crazy atmosphere as there were tons of other groups and people there to speak.  Evidently, this committee meeting garnered more attention and the largest crowd than any in recent memory.  And, besides the personhood bill,  the widely controversial ultrasound bill (HB462) was on the docket as well.

Then, we saw another familiar face — my doctor!  It was so good to see him there to fight this bill, as well.  It just felt really good having him there and one of my clinic IVF nurses was there, too.

We got into the room and got a seat. We hoped our bill would be up first since we had heard that they go in order of bill numbers sometimes.  But, it wasn’t and I was afraid they might not even discuss HB1 and push it to another day. We got to hear testimony for the ultrasound bill, which got kind of heated.

Time for HB1

Then, our bill was up.  Delegate Douche-Bag, umm I mean Delegate Robert Marshall, got up to spew a bunch of inapplicable nonsense.

Delegate Robert Marshall talking about his bill.

His main argument was trying to convince the committee that IVF would not be affected and comparing his bill to the bill in Missouri. Newsflash: this isn’t Missouri and a bill here would have to work in conjunction with other Virginia laws.  Experts (Marshall not included) agree that this bill would indeed affect infertility treatments and make them unlawful.  We knew that they were afraid of our testimony — 1. They contacted RESOLVE last week to try to change the language and get RESOLVE’s endorsement. It didn’t happen. 2. They spent all of their time talking about the infertility angle.

As this was happening, we had to stand up, line up and get ready.  Each side got 8 minutes to talk.  The supporters go first and then the those who oppose.  There were many people and groups there to speak in opposition all for different reasons, some pro-choice, some to protect contraception and then us to protect infertility treatments.

The other groups allowed RESOLVE to go first because they thought we had the best chance at defeating the bill.  So, after some shuffling on the side and everyone clamoring to be close to the front of the line, we were set. Jane Castanias, who is on the Board of Directors for RESOLVE, would go first and then I would speak.  After that, there was a long line of people including Planned Parenthood, doctors, the ACLU, others from our RESOLVE group, etc.

Jane spoke first for the opposition and eloquently addressed the supporters’ comments with facts.  Then, it was my turn.

I felt a little sick to my stomach, but it was easier for me going into it, knowing that I would be speaking directly to the Senators.  I WANTED to speak to them and dammit, I had something to say.  So, that helped outweigh my nervousness.  Also, it helped that the press and their cameras were off to my right and not directly in my face. My Senator, Senator Ralph Smith, is on the committee, so I was happy for him to finally lay eyes on me and hear me directly.  (I had called his office numerous times and spoken to his legislative aide and sent several emails. I also sent him a private Facebook message that went unanswered, like the rest of my communications.)

I prepared a similar speech to the one from last week for the RESOLVE press conference, but there were some changes.

Giving my testimony

My Testimony

Hi, my name is Whitney Anderson and I am from Salem. My husband and I just want to be parents, but we can’t because I have a disease.  I’m here today with the support of men and women across Virginia touched by this disease and who do not feel comfortable speaking about it. Many people don’t even tell their own parents, so some of you could have children struggling with this and not even know it.  I’m asking you to vote NO to HB1 because Section 7 does not protect infertility treatments.   It doesn’t take a lawyer to plainly see that this language is full of loop-holes.

We have dedicated the last six years of our lives to trying to conceive. Here is an glimpse of what we’ve been through:  2 surgeries, 3 inseminations, 6 in vitro cycles, 256 self injections, 45 ultrasounds, over 7,000 miles driven, $30,000 out of pocket and 6 doctors.  Now, after all of that, to think that because of this bill, the care we need could be ripped away from us, is devastating.

You have the responsibility to do the right thing, for women and men diagnosed with infertility.

While IVF helped me get pregnant, I miscarried every time — 5 in all.  With several cycles we had to cryopreserve embryos as I developed a life-threatening condition called ovarian hyperstimulation and could not proceed.  Under HB1, cryopreservation would not be lawful.  Trust me, nobody cares more about our embryos than my husband and I.  The Virginia legislature is not my physician.

Currently we are pursuing gestational surrogacy. I want our doctor to provide us with safe and effective treatment. I do not want them to say:  We can’t help you because the treatment you need was outlawed in 2012 by the VA legislature. Please don’t take away our right to have this important care that we need and deserve, right here in our home state of Virginia.

Isn’t it ironic that this legislation aimed at those who don’t want children, would also take away my rights and my dream of having a child?  Me. The person who has fought and clawed her way through this disease for over six years. Me. The person that would move heaven and earth to have a child.  I will be the innocent bystander that becomes the casualty of this legislation, so remember me when you vote.

After I spoke, I returned to the back of the room to stand in the aisle where my seat had been.  A Capitol police officer asked me leave.  What?!?! I told him my bill was still being debated, but he didn’t care and told me that because I had finished speaking, I needed to leave.  I was quite upset about this.  I had to traipse across everyone back to the middle of aisle to look for my bag, but couldn’t find it.  It was just lovely to be standing in the middle of the room in front of everyone bending down around everyone’s legs looking for my bag.  Finally someone found it and passed it down the aisle and then I had to leave. I was not happy!  Nobody else was asked to leave. I became fair game because of my unfortunate location standing next to the officer. Ugh!

My doctor, Dr. Chris Williams speaking before the committee

Out in the lobby

So, Erick and I had to leave and I was dying to know what was going on in there.  Well, thank goodness for Twitter!  I was able to keep up with everything through RESOLVE’s live tweets and other tweets from press that were in the room.  I even tried to get back in line and they wouldn’t let me in. Boo!

The Bill Passes 

Finally, the doors opened and everyone came spilling out, but it was bad news!  The bill had passed 8-7, on party lines, so no surprise.  But, it was very disappointing.  It was kind of rowdy as some of the others there were yelling and shouting in the lobby and even started screaming at the top of their lungs, “THANK YOU INFERTILITY PEOPLE.  YAY FOR THE INFERTILITY PEOPLE!”  pointing to us.

Outside

We went outside and were greeted with hundreds of people protesting and chanting.

Protesters at the Capitol

We took a quick group photo holding our signs.

RESOLVE staff and volunteers

We grabbed a reporter and they interviewed Jane Castanias about the infertility aspect of what was going on.

Jane Castanias, RESOLVE Board member, speaking to the press.

Then, Joe Dashiell from WDBJ7, approached me and asked if he could interview us.  We agreed and set up away from the crowd.  I was disappointed and didn’t have my thoughts together and really have no idea what I said.  Then, after that, we were interviewed by someone else and I don’t even know who they were with.

The bill is killed!

We checked out of our hotel, made a stop for lunch and then headed back for Roanoke.  On the way, I got a call from Rebecca (with RESOLVE) that the Senate had just killed the bill in a special vote on the Senate floor.

Senators Thomas Norment, R-James City County, and Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax County, proposed that the bill be sent back to the Senate Education and Health Committee and be passed by for the year, which effectively kills it. Their proposal passed 24-14, with four Republicans voting yes.

From the Richmond Times-Dispatch: “Norment, the Republican leader, said on the Senate floor that the bill’s complexity and the issues raised by physicians, constitutional scholars and others who testified during the committee hearing warranted further study before the Senate acts.”

Did we make an impact?  You bet we did!

Delegate Marshall, the bills’ sponsor, said the move “could not have taken place without the tacit agreement” of Gov. Bob McDonnell and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling. It is rumored that the Governor did not want to have to make a call on this bill.

From the New York Times:

Mr. Marshall said Resolve was being “disengenuous” about the impact the measure would have had on infertility treatments. He said the bill contained language that would have addressed the concerns of infertility patients and their doctors. “They have a nerve saying my bill would affect treatments,” he said.

But Sean Tipton, a spokesman for the American Society of Reproductive Endocrinologists, which submitted testimony against the legislation, disagreed. He praised the Senate’s decision to stop the bill from winning approval in Virginia this year.

“This so-called personhood bill would have endangered the ability of Virginians to get the medical help they need to build their families,” Mr. Tipton said.

What you can do

This was a huge victory!  I am thankful that there is an organization out there (RESOLVE) that supports all of us.  Consider making a donation to RESOLVE to aide them in supporting all of us struggling with infertility.

Press that mentions us:

Other Press:

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  • Dad

    That’s our girl. Strong will, passion, emotions,and intelligence gets the job done!

    Love, Mom and Dad

  • Kim Blair

    I am proud of you Whitney! Congratulations! You have indeed made an impact. Keep up the good fight … and finish strong!

  • Wow Whitney! That must have taken a lot of courage but you really made a difference. Thank you for what you are doing and good luck. You so deserve to have your family!! I really hope it happens soon for you.

  • Sandy

    Thank you for doing this, for having a voice, and for sticking up for all of our rights!

  • Tracie

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for doing this doing this. And I wish the best of luck to you and your hubby!!

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  • Vickie

    Whitney, I’m so proud of you and very impressed. Vickie