Virginia lieutenant governor race could decide the fate of abortion rights in the state

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Republican Winsome Sears has compared some health clinics to the Ku Klux Klan.

A down-ballot race in Virginia could determine the future of abortion rights in the state.

Winsome Sears, a far-right activist who served one term in the state House of Delegates in the early 2000s, won the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor at the May Republican nominating convention.

Both Sears' record in the legislature and her past rhetoric reveal her rabidly anti-abortion stance.

The first item of the issues page of Sears' campaign website notes that she is "Pro-Life."

"The baby in the womb wants to live! God creates life: whether by test-tube or natural means. As a mother, I understand the importance of protecting life. As the next Lt. Governor of Virginia, I will fight to protect life, not devalue it," she writes.

"Furthermore, late-term abortion and infanticide (killing of the baby after birth) is also murder. What is happening at the hands of Democrat lawmakers (like our Governor) across this country is wicked; therefore, I will do everything in my power to stop this act from taking place in Virginia," Sears concludes, flatly misstating both Virginia law, which classifies infanticide as a felony, and Gov. Ralph Northam's views.

The governor has stated in the past that for later abortions "where there may be severe deformities [or] a fetus that’s non viable," decisions regarding the fetus should be left to the parents and doctor.

Sears is running against current Democratic state Del. Haya Ayala. The election will be held this November.

The lieutenant governor, one of three statewide elected positions in Virginia's government, presides over and breaks ties in the Virginia Senate.

The 40-member Senate — each lawmaker elected to a four-year term in 2019 — is currently controlled by a 21-seat Democratic majority. But one of those Democrats, state Sen. Joe Morrissey, has an anti-abortion voting record.

Over the past two years, the Democratic majority has enacted pro-choice legislation with the current lieutenant governor (Democrat Justin Fairfax) breaking the tie and not all members of the Republican minority were present.

If Sears won, she would potentially be the tie-breaking vote against future pro-choice bills or in favor of new anti-abortion restrictions.

Additionally, with the governorship and all 100 House of Delegates seats up this year, anti-abortion Republicans could gain control of both — leaving the Democratic Senate as the last line of defense for reproductive rights.

In 2002, while in the state legislature, Sears co-patroned one bill to require parental consent for minors to get abortions and another to grant hospitals, physicians, pharmacists, and other health care professionals a "conscience clause" protection so they did not have to provide medication abortions if they were against it.

And Sears' social media posts are full of anti-abortion messages.

In January 2020, she tweeted that it was "too bad for the innocent unborn children whose bodies will be torn apart and lives violently destroyed ... [that] Democrats will talk about caring for the poor, the immigrant, and the vulnerable, but be so callous about preborn life in the womb."

"Let's make a statue to Planned Parenthood. Responsible for facilitating Black genocide," she urged in June 2020. "Afterward, we'll tear it down."

In May, Sears appeared on a right-wing podcast and complained that her fellow Black mothers were not sufficiently pro-life and that abortion providers were waging an anti-Black genocide.

"We are not having our babies," she claimed. "And that's not to pit one minority against another. And I hate that word minority, but that’s not to pit one people, group, against another. It’s just to say, folks, we are doing to ourselves what the KKK could never have done."

She added, "What if I wrote a bill to get passed as the law that only Black women could have abortions? What would that tell you? You would start saying to yourselves, 'Wait a minute, wait a minute. Only Black women can have abortions and the government will pay for it. What are they trying to do, kill us off?' Exactly."

In June, she claimed in a tweet that Virginia Democrats "historically have used eugenics and forced sterilization on black women here in VA. Planned Parenthood uses systematic racism to target the black community. They do not want black&brown babies to make it out of the womb."

Ayala's website, meanwhile, notes her long record as a women's rights activist and promises that she "will work to expand access to birth control and contraception, and defend a woman's right to choose."

NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia gave her an "A" rating on its legislative scorecards, deeming her a "champion" for its goal "to improve access to the full array of reproductive health care services and protect and advance the health and rights of every Virginian."

In an emailed statement, Lauren Chou, a spokesperson for Ayala, noted the stark difference between the two candidates, saying Sears had "made it exceedingly clear she’ll stop at nothing to strip individuals of their right to make decisions about their own bodies, which means it’s up to Virginia voters to stop her agenda."

"With Republicans across the country launching unprecedented attacks against Roe v. Wade, access to abortion, contraceptives, and reproductive health care are on the ballot in November, there's only one candidate for Lieutenant Governor who will fight for Virginians’ reproductive rights, and that's Delegate Hala Ayala."

A 2020 Public Policy Polling survey found that 79% of Virginia voters believe that abortion should be legal, including 95% of Democrats, 79% independents, and 55% of Republicans.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.