Candidates’ Abortion Rights Stances Clear Divide in Key Fredericksburg-area House Race

Lee Peters and Joshua Cole (photos via Facebook)

By Carolyn Fiddler

September 26, 2023

Two candidates in a key Fredericksburg-area Virginia House seat faced off recently in a lively debate that brought Republican Lee Peters’ views on banning abortion to the forefront. In the forum with Democratic candidate Josh Cole, Peters committed to the 15-week ban and seemed to question whether everyone is actually interested in “women’s rights.”

Reproductive rights – a crucial issue in this year’s General Assembly elections – received a great deal of attention at the event, leaving no doubt as to Peters’ willingness to ban and criminalize abortion.

If Republicans win full control of Virginia’s legislature this year, Gov. Glenn Youngkin has pledged to ban abortion at 15 weeks, and he has previously stated that he’ll “happily and gleefully” sign any bill restricting or banning abortion rights.

Peters makes no mention of his position on reproductive rights on his campaign website, although he touts the endorsement of Youngkin and other Republicans who oppose and have voted against abortion.

But in his debate against Cole, Peters made his support for abortion bans clear.

Peters not only outright said that he will support a 15-week abortion ban, but he also downplayed the importance of women’s rights in November’s elections.

While responding to the moderator’s question about what his highest priority would be if he gets elected, Peters told the audience, “Everybody is not concerned or worried about women’s rights, even though there are many, many women who are. Some people worry about public safety. Some people worry about their schools.”

A Washington Post-Schar School poll from the spring suggests that Peters’ positions are contrary to what most Virginians want. The poll finds that most Virginia voters oppose the idea of tightening access to abortions, which currently allow the procedure through the second trimester. Overall, 34% said the state’s abortion laws should “remain as they are,” and 41% say they should be “less strict;” just 17% say abortion laws in the commonwealth should be made “more strict.”

A Roanoke College poll from August found that just 12% of Virginians support a total abortion ban, while 86% believe abortion should be legal in all (36%) or some (50%) cases.

Virginia House District 65, which includes the city of Fredericksburg and part of the surrounding counties, is considered a must-win for Democrats as they seek to win a majority in the GOP-controlled House of Delegates in November.

Democrat Josh Cole served one term in the House before losing reelection in 2021. He’s running in a newly drawn district against a new opponent, Republican Lee Peters, a local law enforcement officer.

During the debate, Cole said that he believes that the most pressing issue the General Assembly will face next year is “absolutely women’s rights.” In a statement released by the campaign after the candidates faced off, Cole said, “We finally know where Lee Peters stands: he wants to criminalize a decision that should be between a woman and her doctor. I’m running to stop Lee Peters’ and the MAGA Republicans’ attack on women’s rights. We will not move Virginia backwards.”

  • Carolyn Fiddler

    Carolyn Fiddler is Dogwood's chief political correspondent. She is also the nation’s foremost expert in state politics with almost two decades of experience in statehouse machinations, and her comic book collection is probably bigger than yours.


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