Virginia Democrats seek to expand abortion protections in upcoming legislative session

(AP photo/Steve Helber)

By Carolyn Fiddler

December 14, 2023

In this year’s fight for majority control of the General Assembly, abortion emerged as a key election issue in races for the Virginia House and Senate. By electing Democratic majorities in both chambers, voters in the commonwealth told lawmakers that they wanted reproductive rights in the commonwealth to be protected.

Now that Virginians’ reproductive freedoms are no longer under immediate threat, the incoming Democratic majorities in the General Assembly are looking to expand abortion protections.

Democratic Sen. Barbara Favola, who represents part of northern Virginia, is acting on voters’ wishes by introducing legislation aimed at protecting those who travel to Virginia to access abortion care and those who assist these efforts from attempts by other states to punish them.

Senate Bill 15 – which is being co-sponsored by eight other Democrats – would prohibit Virginia’s governor from recognizing demands for extradition of any person charged with criminal violations of another state’s anti-abortion laws. This prohibition applies not only to those who obtain or assist with obtaining abortions in the commonwealth, but also to anyone who violates a state’s anti-abortion law in that state and then seeks refuge in Virginia.

Virginia is the only state in the South whose legislature hasn’t passed abortion restrictions since the US Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision that protected abortion rights nationally in 2022.

“We are now a destination state,” REPRO Rising Virginia executive director Tarina Keene said in an interview. “And we want to make sure that we keep it that way.”

When asked about her bill, Favola said she wasn’t aware of anyone currently facing extradition for accessing or assisting with abortion care in Virginia, but she stressed the importance of being proactive.

“I don’t want to wait until situations happen, and then you’re like, ‘Gee, I wish we’d had law on the books,’” she said.

The measure is likely to pass the Democratic-majority legislature, but it will inevitably face the obstacle of Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s veto pen. Youngkin, who spent millions of dollars in November’s election promoting his 15-week abortion ban, has given no public signal that he’s received and understands Virginia voters’ message in support of reproductive rights.

Democratic lawmakers have also introduced a constitutional amendment to establish a fundamental right to reproductive freedom in the state constitution – a process that will take at least three years to bring to fruition but can move forward without interference from the governor.

  • 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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