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Virginia Democrats say they'll resist Republicans' announced plans to limit abortion in the Commonwealth

Abortion advocates and politicians at capitol bell tower
Jahd Khalil
/
Abortion advocates and Democrat elected officials gathered on Virginia's State Capitol grounds Friday, June 24, 2022, following a supreme court decision removing federal protections for abortion.

Republicans said they would move to restrict abortions in Virginia in light of the Supreme Court’s decision Friday, with Democrats vowing to fight any such changes.

“I'm proud to be a pro-life Governor and plan to take every action I can to protect life,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin in a statement. “We can build a bipartisan consensus on protecting the life of unborn children, especially when they begin to feel pain in the womb.”

Youngkin has previously expressed support for a so-called fetal pain threshold for abortions. Previously introduced, but unsuccessful, legislation in the General Assembly had sought to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks citing fetal pain.

Youngkin later told the Washington Post that he favors banning most abortions after 15 weeks, but 20 weeks could be a compromise.

Speaker of the House of Delegates Todd Gilbert also backed similar regulations in a statement Friday.

“Our Caucus is ready to work with Democrats to protect the life of unborn children, particularly those who science has proven can feel pain in the womb,” he said.

Senate Jennifer McClellan, a Democrat representing Richmond, dismissed the question of compromising on abortion restrictions at 20 weeks instead of 15 weeks.

“There's not a consensus, in most abortions after 20 weeks something has gone terribly wrong,” she said. “I think a majority of Virginians want abortion to be legal. They support expanding access and not restricting it. And that is bipartisan.”

Currently abortion is legal before the third trimester in Virginia.

“I know people are very passionate about this issue, but if you really sit down and think Virginia has just gone too far,” said Delegate Emily Brewer, a Republican who represents a significant portion of southeast Virginia. “We get the opportunity now in the states to decide. The Supreme Court has ruled, it will come back to us.”

Democrats have vowed to fight any new restrictions on reproductive healthcare.

“Virginia Republicans have been chomping at the bit to criminalize our most personal and intimate decisions regarding healthcare,” said Delegate Angelia Williams Graves of Norfolk, at a press conference at on Virginia Capitol grounds Friday. “Virginia Democrats must continue to stand as a brick wall against any and every attack on personal choice.”

While Democrats at the capitol told supporters they needed to elect like-minded candidates, protestors already started to circle the capitol Friday. Several people set up a makeshift printing station, and were making t-shirts for demonstrators ahead of another planned gathering at a Richmond federal courthouse.

“While I understand that people across the nation have strong beliefs about this ruling, Virginians must always respect the rule of law and I appeal to their civility on this historic day,” Youngkin said in a statement. He said he’s in contact with mayors and state police. “Virginia will not stand for lawlessness or violence.”

Friday's ruling also has advocates for LGBTQ causes worried. Narissa Rahaman, the executive director of Equality Virginia said shared legal issues between abortion and the LGBTQ movement make Friday's ruling threatening to recent gains for LGBTQ people.

“We know that the LGBTQ movement an the abortion movement are intertwined. Our movement and our rights are founded on our rights to privacy and bodily autonomy, No one should be surprised that they're coming for marriage equality,” she said.

In his opinion in the Dobbs case, Justice Clarence Thomas said that the court case that legalized same-sex marriage across the US should be revisited.

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

Jahd Khalil is a reporter and producer in Richmond.
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