Birth control protections await action by Youngkin

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin has until May 17 to act on two measures that would strengthen legal protections for birth control access in Virginia. (Image Source via Getty Images)

By Michael O'Connor

April 30, 2024

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin has until May 17 to block or sign into law stronger legal protections for people to access contraception

The fate of two measures to strengthen protections for birth control access in Virginia sit with Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin after state lawmakers did not accept changes the governor proposed to the bills.

Two bills would establish a right to access in Virgina for birth control like condoms, birth control pills, and IUDs. After approval by the General Assembly, Youngkin proposed amending the bills in a manner that backers of the legislation say effectively gutted the measure. The General Assembly earlier this month sent the bills back to Youngkin without taking action on his amendments.

The bills’ sponsors, Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, (D-Chesterfield) and Del. Cia Price (D-Newport News), have consistently criticized Youngkin for not signing the legislation into law.

“Governor Youngkin continues to live under the delusion that he can play both sides of this issue because he doesn’t want to anger the loud extremists in his party who equate contraception to abortion,” Hashmi and Price said in a joint statement on April 26.

Two other bills would require health insurance carriers to provide coverage for similar contraceptives. Youngkin had proposed changing the legislation to allow for an exemption for people who object to contraception coverage “based on sincerely held religious or ethical beliefs.” After debating the merits of the governor’s recommendation, the Virginia Senate rejected his amendments.

While Youngkin has maintained that he supports contraception, he is quick to add that First Amendment rights have to be taken into consideration. The First Amendment of the US Constitution protects peoples’ right to practice their religion. Setting aside the constitutional questions, reproductive freedom supporters argue the “ethical beliefs” Youngkin wants protected in his amendment is too broad.

Groups and politicians who want to deny contraceptive coverage have for years tried to argue that a federal right to refuse health care based on religious beliefs exists, when in fact it doesn’t, said Kelsey Grimes, a lawyer at the National Women’s Law Center who worked on the contraception bills.

“What we’re seeing through amendments like (Youngkin’s), is sort of a backdoor way to get that into law in Virginia,” Grimes said.

Youngkin has until May 17 to take action on the bills when he can either veto them or sign them into law.

It would be surprising if Youngkin were to sign the bills into law.

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  • Michael O'Connor

    Michael is an award-winning journalist who has been covering Virginia news since 2013 with reporting stints at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Virginia Business, and Richmond BizSense. A graduate of William & Mary and Northern Virginia Community College, he also covered financial news for S&P Global Market Intelligence.

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