In this year’s fight for majority control of the General Assembly, abortion has emerged as a key issue and a bright-line distinction between Republican and Democratic candidates for the Virginia House and Senate.
Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, whose Spirit of Virginia PAC has donated millions of dollars to GOP candidates and supporting organizations, has promoted the narrative that his party, should they win control of the state House and Senate on Nov. 7, will implement a 15 week abortion ban in Virginia. After the US Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last year, the commonwealth is the last state in the South where reproductive rights are protected, and such a ban will make Virginia part of the bloc of states from which women flee when they need reproductive health care.
Youngkin has attempted to characterize his proposed ban as a “reasonable limit,” and both he and some GOP candidates have attempted to use this rhetorical sleight-of-hand to mislead voters. But he and his fellow Republicans have repeatedly made it clear that they plan to infringe on reproductive rights as brutally as they can.
Republican Tara Durant, who’s running in Fredericksburg-area SD-27, was recently caught on tape signaling that she may be willing to support an abortion ban that takes effect earlier than 15 weeks. Additionally, she’s on record stating that she will “always support” bills that “protect[ ] the rights of the unborn.”
In Manassas-area SD-30, Republican candidate Bill Woolf confessed at a fundraising event that Republicans themselves haven’t agreed on how far abortion bans in Virginia should go.
“I think we can start to move the needle if we’re talking about it more,” he said.
GOP House of Delegates candidate John Stirrup, who’s running in northern Virginia’s HD-21, has been caught on tape twice admitting that he “would support a 100% ban” and that he’d “like to see … [a] total ban.”
House Speaker Todd Gilbert, who will likely continue to lead the chamber if Republicans win a majority, has supported many anti-abortion bills in his legislative tenure, including a measure proclaiming that life begins at conception and that “unborn children” would have “all the rights, privileges, and immunities available to other persons” under Virginia law.
And while Youngkin has worked to divert the conversation around Republicans’ support for banning abortion to focus on his 15-week proposal, he has proclaimed publicly that he would be willing to enact bans that go much further.
“Any bill that comes to my desk I will sign happily and gleefully in order to protect life,” Youngkin vowed last June.
More than a decade has passed since Virginia government was fully controlled by Republicans – Republican governor, Republican-majority state House and Senate – and a quick look back into that era reveals how far Virginia Republicans might go with abortion bans and other restrictions if they win control of the legislature in this year’s elections.
In 2012, Virginia Republicans made national headlines (and the late-night comedy show monologues) by passing what became known as “the transvaginal ultrasound bill.” The measure would have required doctors to subject any woman seeking an abortion to an invasive medical procedure in order to produce an image of the fetus. The woman would then be forced to look at the image, which many Republicans believed would cause the women seeking the abortion to reconsider the careful and often difficult decision she’d already made.
The bill finally passed only when the requirement for transvaginal ultrasounds – in which a probe is inserted into a woman’s vagina to obtain the ultrasound image – was amended so that the procedure could be refused and could not be forced on patients who reported that their pregnancies were the result of rape or incest.
The then-Republican controlled legislature also passed a requirement that women seeking abortions must wait out a medically unnecessary – and sometimes dangerous – 24-hour period between being subjected to and viewing an ultrasound and actually undergoing an abortion procedure.
Democrats repealed these measures after winning majority control of the state House and Senate in 2019.
In the 2012 and 2013 legislative sessions, when Republicans had full control, the existence of the reproductive rights granted by Roe v. Wade prevented the GOP from passing full bans on abortion procedures. Now that the Roe decision has been overturned, there’s little reason to think that Virginia Republicans won’t resurrect some of their most extreme proposals from years past – everything from fetal personhood and long waiting periods to banning the procedure entirely.
“MAGA Republicans will ban abortion in Virginia if they win this November,” said House Democratic Caucus Leader Don Scott. “It’s happening all around us – abortion bans, women being jailed, and preventable medical emergencies. And the Virginia GOP wants to take us backwards and make us the next Florida or Mississippi. We can’t let that happen.”
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