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Texas Abortion Law Creates New Flash Point In Virginia Governor's Race

For many supporters of Republican candidate for governor Glenn Youngkin, this year’s election for governor is a watershed moment. They fear if former Governor Terry McAuliffe returns to the Executive Mansion, he'll support partial birth abortion or late term abortion.

Julie Duncan of McLean is one of those voters. "Those are extremes that I don't think a lot of people, even moderates, would recognize that is a part of the current Democratic agenda," she said after a Youngkin campaign event.

Youngkin hasn’t said all that much about his positions on reproductive rights. In a written statement, he says he supports funding for women’s health centers. But he says he believes “fewer abortions is a good thing.” He also says he supports exemptions for rape, incest, and when the life of the mother is at risk — something the new Texas law does not.

His position remains unclear on a number of key policy questions — bringing back the ultrasound requirement before a woman can get an abortion, or the requirement that a woman has to wait 24 hours or the hospital construction standards that were once required of the abortion clinics. Youngkin has declined repeated requests to talk about his position on those issues.

But Julie Duncan, at that event in McLean, she says she’s pretty sure she knows where Youngkin stands. “We recognize life from beginning to end, so part of that is protecting it from beginning to end. So I think his stance on pro-life encompasses everything that’s going to protect that.”

Former Governor Terry McAuliffe says he would be a brick wall against anything threatening reproductive freedom.

I asked him if there are any boundaries that he could see for restrictions on any kind of abortion? "Terry McAuliffe as governor, as I was before, will be a brick wall to protect women's individual rights to make their own decisions about their own reproductive health care," McAuliffe responded.

McAuliffe opposes the ultrasound requirement, and he’s against the 24-hour waiting period. As governor he helped overturn the hospital construction standards for abortion clinics. When he was in office, none of Virginia’s 16 abortion clinics closed their doors.
And he says the idea that Youngkin won't tell voters what his policy positions are on those issues is outrageous. "I got to tell you, Michael, I've been in politics a long time. It sickens my stomach that a politician will not tell the voters the truth. Terry McAuliffe will tell you straight the way I feel about issues, and I never will tell you something I wouldn't tell someone else.”

The issue of reproductive freedom has taken on a new sense of importance now that the Supreme Court has allowed a Texas abortion law to stand.

Quentin Kidd at Christopher Newport University says this issue will become one of the most important in this campaign. “This is going to be an issue going through election day. There’s nothing that Republicans or Democrats can do about it," Kidd says. "It happens to probably favor Democrats because of where Virginia is and who the critical middle group of voters are who will decide who the next governor is going to be.”

He says that critical middle group of voters has shifted in the era of Donald Trump. “It is those very suburban moderate voters, largely women, who shifted pretty dramatically to Democratic voting after the 2016 election who are going to be most upset about this ruling, this new law in Texas and about the anxiety that abortion rights are going to be taken away.”

That Texas law may very well now be a powerful motivating force for voters on both sides of this issue here in Virginia.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.