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How would Virginia prosecutors respond to a 15-week abortion ban?

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Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin is calling on lawmakers to ban abortion in Virginia after 15 weeks of pregnancy. But, that might be a bit more complicated than it seems.

Assuming Virginia's Republican governor is able to get his 15-week abortion ban through a Senate controlled by Democrats, he'll face another problem. What happens if he signs a law that many prosecutors refuse to enforce?

"As long as I'm commonwealth's attorney, in Fairfax County we will not prosecute a woman or a provider for making her own healthcare decisions," says Steve Descano, the elected commonwealth's attorney in Fairfax County.

"My obligation is to public safety, and I know that abortion bans don't keep our community safe," Descano adds. "All they do is actually lead to more loss of life because abortion bans just force women into back-alley abortions, which leads to greater death. So, by taking this step, I actually am upholding my oath to keep our community safe."

Steve Aden at Americans United for Life says prosecutors should not exercise their discretion to thwart Virginia law.

"This prosecutor is talking about ignoring the law and vaunting his own view of what the law should be over what the Commonwealth’s law actually is," Aden says. "That's not appropriate."

If Republicans are able to pass a new abortion ban, Virginia might end up having a patchwork of local laws and practices – places where abortion is punished and places where any future law banning abortion is overlooked.

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. He has reported for NPR, the New York Daily News and the Alexandria Gazette Packet. He has a master's degree in American Studies from Florida State University, and he is a former adjunct professor at Tallahassee Community College. He is the author of four books.