Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin shakes hands with his cabinet before delivering his State of the Commonwealth to a joint session of the General Assembly inside the House chamber of the State Capitol Building in Richmond, Va. on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023. (AP Photo/John C. Clark) Virginia Legislature
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin shakes hands with his cabinet before delivering his State of the Commonwealth to a joint session of the General Assembly inside the House chamber of the State Capitol Building in Richmond, Va. on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023. (AP Photo/John C. Clark)

Restricting or outright eliminating reproductive rights has emerged as a top priority for Virginia Republicans in 2023’s legislative session.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin recently took to the floor of the Virginia House of Delegates to deliver his State of the Commonwealth address, where he used the platform to continue to push his anti-abortion rights agenda—something his Republican allies in the legislature have made a top priority for 2023. 

Youngkin has been pushing his proposed ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy since the summer, and in his agenda-setting address to the legislature, he gave new urgency to his proposal.

The governor has also said that he’s willing to go further: in June at a gathering shortly after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Youngkin said he believes life begins at conception and said he would “gleefully” sign “any bill [to protect life] that comes” to his desk.

Youngkin has no shortage of allies in the legislature to join his attack on reproductive rights. Del. Kathy Byron and Sen. Steve Newman, both Republicans, introduced identical bills in both chambers that would make it a felony for doctors to perform abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say that the bill has little chance of passing with a Democratic-majority state Senate–a majority that was expanded just before session started when Democrat Aaron Rouse prevailed in a special election for a key Hampton Roads-area Senate seat.

Republican Del. Marie March has also introduced House Bill 1395, which would establish that life begins at conception, making abortion illegal in the commonwealth and potentially impacting the ability of women to use the birth control method of their choice. Republican Sen. Amanda Chase also introduced a measure that would establish that life begins at conception.

Jamie Lockhart, Executive Director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, said that these bills are “incorrect in that they take away the power of the people to make decisions about their own bodies, lives, and futures.”

“Not only would these ‘life begins at conception’ bills ban abortion, but they also have implications for contraception, especially emergency contraception and in vitro fertilization,” she said. According to Judith Darr, a law professor at Northern Kentucky University, such laws would “pose a concrete threat to the practice of IVF.” The concern is that these laws consider a frozen embryo a human life and that doing things such as genetic testing or discarding it could become illegal. 

Republican Del. John McGuire has also introduced House Bill 1488, which seeks to strip away provisions that authorize the use of state funds to pay for qualifying abortions in cases of rape, incest, and totally incapacitating physical deformities or mental deficiencies. And House Bill 1795, introduced by Republican Del. Nicholas Freitas, unnecessarily mandates that doctors, in the incredibly rare case in which a fetus survives an abortion procedure, provide medical care for the fetus after it is born (which they already are and have always been required to do). Freitas is also pushing a bill that allows pregnant drivers to count as two passengers for HOV/HOT lane purposes, reinforcing his clear contempt for reproductive freedom.

While Virginia Republicans have made restricting abortion access a top priority this legislative session, Democrats have called for the right to abortion to be enshrined in the state’s constitution. This is something that Lockhart says her organization is advocating for. She also emphasized the importance of voting, and talking to legislators about sexual and reproductive health. Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia is hosting a Lobby Day on Jan. 26 at the State Capitol to do just that: they already have supporters ready to testify. 

“I think that’s a great way to get involved and show the power of our movement,” she said. 

There are also other opportunities for reproductive rights lobbying: on Jan. 23, there will be a Repro Advocacy Day with REPRO Rising Virginia, the Virginia Reproductive Equity AllianceThe Latina Institute VA and, Hampton Roads Reproductive Justice League.

Lockhart also said that it’s important to pay attention to the legislation that lawmakers have their names attached to. For example, Republican state Sen. Steve Newman is one of four state lawmakers tapped by Gov. Youngkin to work on legislation that bans abortion after 15 weeks. He introduced the legislation earlier this month. But, he’s also a patron of a complete abortion ban

“Republicans and Gov. Youngkin are trying to say that this 15-week abortion ban is in some way a compromise,” Lockhart said. “In fact, all abortion bans are extreme because they take away the power of people to make their own health care decisions. We know that the real goal…is to completely ban abortion.”