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Virginia House Democrats force vote on controversial abortion bill

The Virginia House of Delegates during the 2024 legislative session.
Brad Kutner
Radio IQ
The Virginia House of Delegates during the 2024 legislative session.

Virginia Democrats have spent the 2024 legislative session blocking most bills that would limit abortion access in the state, but one effort was allowed to advance to the full House floor Monday and political intrigue followed.

Bedford County Republican Delegate Tim Griffin brought the bill which would block state funds from being spent on abortion in any circumstances, including rape, incest or the life of the mother.

“The intent of this bill is that taxpayers not be forced to fund something that goes against their religion and their conscience,” Griffin said.

Griffin’s plea came after House Democrats purposefully put the bill on the floor to get a recorded vote on the controversial issue. Griffin tried to amend the effort Monday by adding those exceptions, claiming he meant to put them there originally, and putting it in line with the Hyde Amendment which blocks federal taxpayer abortion coverage with those exceptions. But the Democratic majority denied him that amendment.

Prince William County Democratic Delegate Candi Mundon King also pushed back on Griffin’s claims.

“When the patron entered this bill, he knew exactly what he was doing: targeting vulnerable survivors of rape and women who could lose their life if they have a life-threatening pregnancy,” a noticeable angry Mundon King said.

Minority Leader Todd Gilbert also tried to get Griffin’s bill struck before the floor vote, suggesting there were few examples of a patron’s request for amendments being denied. But Democrat and House Speaker Don Scott ruled against the effort.

Gilbert then tried to overrule Scott’s order, something that brought gasps from the body of elected officials. A vote was called, but the overruling was sustained.

Republican Del. Robert Orrock, who hails from Caroline County and is in his 35th session, said he could only remember one time a member wasn’t given the courtesy to strike their own bill.

“Consider the consequences,” he warned.

But Fairfax-area Democratic Delegate Vivian Watts, herself with over 20 years in the House chamber, had a follow-up question for Orrock: “In your 35 years of your experience have you ever known a speaker’s ruling to be overruled or questioned?”

More gasps creeped over the body.

“I’d have to do some homework,” Orrock said.

Still, Gilbert argued the bill vote was politicking at its worst.

“I don’t know where the absurdity of this theater ends,” he said.

Fairfax-area Delegate Marcus Simon carried out most of the procedural issues blocking Griffin and Gilbert from amending or striking the bill. Simon’s energy behind the vote fight may stem from a 2008 effort which saw Republicans bring then-Delegate, now Senator Adam Ebbin, to face a similarly forced vote. That bill sought to roll back a ban on state-employee unions.

Ebbin, a Democrat, was also denied an effort to strike, and the GOP-controlled House went on to force a vote which saw the bill die 82-0.

Simon said he had no comment on a possible connection. In a text message, Ebbin said he wasn't familiar with what was happening in the House and also had no comment on whether a 16-year-old grudge played a part in Monday's politicking.

And while Griffin’s bill failed 95-1, it achieved House Democrat’s goal, getting their Republican counterparts on record on an abortion vote they hope will impact swing seat elections in 2025.

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

Brad Kutner is Radio IQ's reporter in Richmond.