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Virginia Gov. Youngkin eyes new abortion ban if GOP wins legislative majorities in 2023

Democrats say elections in Virginia in November present a clear choice on reproductive rights.

By Josh Israel - May 09, 2023
Glenn Youngkin
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks during a news conference, April 27, 2023, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File)

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin said Monday that should his fellow Republicans win majorities in both chambers in this November’s legislative elections, they would work to pass a 15-week abortion ban. Youngkin’s comment comes weeks after a poll showed little public support for new abortion restrictions in the commonwealth.

According to VPM public radio in Richmond, Youngkin, who was recorded on a hidden camera during his 2021 gubernatorial campaign saying that he couldn’t speak openly about his views on abortion because they might drive away voters, was asked by reporters after an event what he would do about abortion if Republicans were to keep their majority in the House of Delegates and regain control of the Senate. 

According to VPM, Youngkin said, “There seems to be substantial support across Democrats, across Republicans, men and women, for a bill that would protect life in 15 weeks.” Norfolk ABC affiliate 13NewsNow reported that Youngkin said: “I think we can come together around a 15-week bill and that’s what I have been very clear about. I think we should continue to work on that.”

Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Mamie Locke blasted Youngkin’s remarks on Twitter on Tuesday, saying, “Virginians have a clear choice in this year’s elections: Republicans’ plans to interfere in their personal health care decisions or Democrats’ commitment to protecting their freedoms.”

House Democratic Caucus Chair Charniele Herring said in a press release: “It’s never been clearer how much is at stake this November. Reproductive healthcare is on the ballot. … Throughout my time in the General Assembly, I have been fighting to protect access to reproductive healthcare and I am committed to continuing to protect a woman’s right to make her own medical decisions.” 

Youngkin had hoped to enact new abortion restrictions in the 2023 legislative session. “Any bill that comes to my desk I will sign happily and gleefully in order to protect life,” he told abortion rights opponents in June 2022. But after a one-seat gain in a January 2023 special election gave Democrats a 22-18 majority and what Democratic state Senate President Pro Tempore L. Louise Lucas called a brick wall in the Senate, not a single reproductive rights rollback reached his desk during the session.

Polling shows little popular support for new abortion restrictions. A Washington Post-Schar School survey taken in late March found that just 17% of Virginia voters and just 36% of Virginia Republicans want stricter state abortion laws. Forty-one percent of Virginia voters want abortion laws to be less strict, and 34% want them to remain as they are.

The same poll found just 33% of voters approve of Youngkin’s handling of abortion, while 45% disapprove. 

Still, with all 100 House of Delegates seats and all 40 Senate seats up this November, advocates say the right to choose is on the ballot.

“If anti-abortion legislators are the majority in both chambers, we should expect to see a 15-week ban or an all-out ban move through the General Assembly,” Breanna Diaz, policy and legislative counsel at the ACLU of Virginia, told the American Independent Foundation in April.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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