Jamie Lockhart serves as the Executive Director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, a statewide advocacy organization whose mission is to preserve and broaden access to reproductive healthcare. In this interview, Jamie reminds us how critical it is for us to participate in the Nov. 7th election by detailing what exactly is at stake– and what we have to lose.
Thank you for being here today, Jamie. I’m curious, how did you become involved in Planned Parenthood?
I’ve been with Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia for almost four years, but my Planned Parenthood journey started as an 18 year old when I visited Planned Parenthood in Richmond for emergency contraceptives. Throughout my life, I’ve been a strong supporter of people’s ability to make their own healthcare decisions, so I’m honored to now advocate for all Virginians to have access to the reproductive healthcare that they need.
That’s extremely important work. How would you say that things have changed for Planned Parenthood in Virginia since the overturn of Roe v. Wade?
So, as of right now, not too much has changed in Virginia since Roe was overturned about a year and a half ago. But that’s why this election is so important because so much could change as a result of this election.
The one thing that we have seen is an increase in patients coming to Virginia from other states, particularly states in the South, where abortion access is now heavily restricted or banned. We anticipate that could get could get even worse, depending on what happens in a couple other southern states.
I’ve been hearing that some southern states are attempting to pass legislation which would make it illegal to travel to different states to gain access abortion-related care. Is that affecting your work at all?
So yes, there are definitely lots of attempts. Though it seems like those attempts haven’t been successful thus far. But it is extremely troubling. I just saw that another county in Texas is attempting this, but are we really going to get to the point where people have to be stopped at state borders to leave a state? Hopefully not.
And, you know, when when Roe was overturned, we had a lot of anti-abortion politicians saying, “Now this is a state’s issue, and the states can decide,” but it’s very clear, it’s all about controlling people’s bodies, and they’re not going to stop until they’ve totally banned abortion.
You’re right. Election Day is coming up on November 7th. What do you think is most important for voters in Virginia to know?
It’s most important that Virginians know that abortion is on the ballot. The results of Tuesday’s election will determine whether people have the ability to make their own healthcare decisions, or whether Governor Youngkin can join with anti-abortion politicians by banning abortion here in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
It’s absolutely critical that all Virginians turn out to vote either early through Saturday, or they vote on Tuesday, November 7.
Absolutely. So, there’s been a bit of a downturn in registered voters actually showing up to vote in Virginia. Last year, only 49% of registered voters showed up at the polls. In comparison, in 2020, that number was around 75%. What would you say to eligible voters who are abstaining from state elections? What is especially at stake this year?
Well, we know that more people show up to vote in presidential years. It’s everywhere. You can’t really go anywhere, or even turn on the TV without getting away from a presidential election. I know that’s not always the case for state elections.
This year is what some people call an off-off-year election– because we don’t have any statewide races. We just have our Virginia General Assembly races and then local races. But arguably a lot of the more local races are the ones that impact people the most. Here, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, we have all 140 state legislative seats on the ballot. This is our first state legislative election since Roe v. Wade was overturned.
We know that who is elected is going to determine what Governor Youngkin can do as far as passing an abortion ban in Virginia, but we also know it’s going to impact a whole host of issues– from voting rights, education funding, what happens on environmental protections, and gun safety. There’s so many issues at stake in this election: it’s critical that Virginians vote and that they vote all the way down the ballot. Look at who’s running for school board. Look at who’s running for city council.
Yeah, I think it’s easy to forget that government really starts on the local level. It’s important to vote for your president, of course, but it’s also just as critical to vote for your local representatives, because that’s really where change starts happening.
I think a lot of people across the United States are feeling discouraged in response to decisions by the Supreme Court and legislation that’s popping up federally and across the country. Have you seen anything lately in your field that’s helped you remain motivated?
Yeah, I love that question. One of the things we’ve looked at is how many people we have volunteering with us this year versus a couple of years ago. And we have seen a huge spike. We’ve seen double the number of volunteers knocking on doors, through Planned Parenthood advocates of Virginia, this election cycle.
I think it’s one of those things where– you don’t expect your rights to be taken away– but it does give me hope to look at how many people are standing up and fighting back and saying, “You know what, we’re not going to allow this to happen. And we’re going to make sure that Virginia remains a protected, key-access state for abortion.”
I remember before Roe v. Wade was overturned, but after those documents had been leaked, I was at a march in DC, and there was a lot of anger in the crowd– but a productive sort of anger. There was some sadness too, but I feel like, you can react with a sense of hopelessness or you can get angry. And you can use that anger to get motivated, to get involved, and remind yourself that we can still change things.
Yeah, I think, sadly, this is going to be a longer fight. It took 50 years for anti-abortion activists to overturn Roe v. Wade. It’s going to take us some time to work our way back to where everyone across the country has the right to access healthcare. So we just have to be prepared and willing to be just as steadfast in our beliefs as those who want to take away our rights.
Besides voting in the upcoming elections, what can we do to help abortion in Virginia stay illegal and accessible?
The biggest fight right now is this election, and we want people to join us knock on doors and make phone calls. We want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to win majorities in both the House and Senate.
But after that, the next thing we’ll be looking towards is our legislative session that kicks off in January. So, every January to early March, the Virginia General Assembly is in session here in Richmond. That’s the time to ensure that people who support abortion rights are making their voices heard here at the State Capitol. We’ll be hosting a lobby day, and we will be there testifying. When we have majorities, we can start the process of advancing a constitutional amendment to protect reproductive freedom for generations to come. That is one of our top priorities– but first we need the majorities to get that process started.
Yes, absolutely. I had read on the Virginia Planned Parenthood website that VA Planned Parenthood is, at this time, unable to accept new patients for hormone care. Could you speak on some of the challenges Planned Parenthood is facing in that arena?
I will say that I’m on the advocacy side; I don’t provide any healthcare. So, I can’t speak to all of the health-related challenges, but what I can say from an advocacy standpoint, is, states across the South are restricting access to trans healthcare. And anytime you restrict access, you push people who are looking for care elsewhere.
So, not only does that make it harder for people who live in those restricted states, and force them to travel to access care, but it also makes it harder for Virginians to continue to have the same access to care due to the huge increase in patients. So, there’s both a provider shortage, and there’s all these restrictions that are putting additional pressure on providers.
Did you want to share any additional information about the upcoming election, or remind us of anything we didn’t cover?
Well, I would say that we know that the majority of Virginians are with us. In poll after poll, over 70% of Virginians support access to safe, legal abortion. It’s very important for the majority to speak up, to vote, and to be engaged, because it’s a small number that’s against this. I think, in the latest poll only 24% of Virginians said that they want to see further restrictions. We can’t allow a very vocal, small minority to be the one that’s making decisions for everybody else that wants to protect access to this healthcare.
Right. Because that’s really not how democracy should work.
Just as another reminder, this election is critical. Abortion is on the ballot. If we want to protect abortion rights for generations to come and pass a constitutional amendment, the first step is winning majorities on November 7th. That’s how we start this multi-year process. If we’re not successful this year, not only are we at the risk of having Governor Youngkin, an anti-abortion politician, ban abortion in the Commonwealth, but we have to push out the ability to add those protections way into the future.
Photo by Kimberly Frost @kimberlyfrost