With Majority on the Line, Abortion Mobilizes Both Sides in Virginia

Oct 30, 2019

 

A group of anti-abortion marchers carry signs and balloons as they march to the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, April 3, 2019.
Credit Steve Helber / AP

 

With just a few days before the election, Jackee Gonzalez is out knocking doors in western Henrico County. This is one of those close races that could determine party control of the statehouse. 

And Gonzalez has one issue at the top of her mind -- abortion. 


“We are in a moment in history where we have to decide whether human life is valuable enough regardless of who you are, what you look like, whatever as long as you carry the human DNA, are you valuable just because you are human,” said Gonzalez. 

There’s a lot at stake this November, when all 140 state lawmakers are up for election, and one issue that’s energizing voters is abortion. 

Democrats are on the verge of winning a majority, and they say if they do they’ll push to improve access to healthcare, including abortions. 

That has opponents of abortion rights, like Jackee Gonzalez, working overtime for Republican candidates. 

“Voters Were Aghast” 

Virginians are split on the issue of accessing abortions. 

In a recent Washington Post poll, 63% of respondents said abortion should generally be legal in the first three months of pregnancy. But only 19% still felt the same about abortions during the last three months of pregnancy. 

Those procedures, though, are rare. According to the state health department, there have been only two in the past 20 years in Virginia.

But that hasn’t kept them from becoming a salient issue for many Republicans. 

Victoria Cobb is President of Virginia’s Family Foundation, a religious lobbying group. They recently sent out an email with the subject line “What You Can Do to Save Virginia’s Pro-Life Majority.”

Cobb says abortion hasn’t always been at the top of minds for voters.

“This year we are really finding it has had staying power,” Cobb said. “It wasn’t just a January, February thing.” 

She’s referencing this past legislative session, when Democrated faced blowback for a bill that would have loosened restrictions on abortions - including some during the third trimester. 

"The stakes are really high in Virginia for healthcare and for abortion rights."

The Governor, a pediatric neurologist, commented on the bill during a radio interview. He described the process of a difficult medical decision made between parents and doctors in language many viewed as callous.  

“I would say voters were aghast, they were shocked. And they should be shocked,” said Cobb. 

Megan Getter was one of them. The home-schooling mother, and former member of the state board of health, was inspired to knock doors for the first time ever. As a member of the board, she voted to increase regulations on clinics that provide abortions.

 

She says she feels like Virginia Democrats are radical, and extreme.

 

“We have such a family-oriented state that a lot could change in this next election that would just make us become like New York or a California. Which Virginia is not,” Getter said.

Volunteers with the Family Foundation have knocked almost 8,000 doors in competitive races. A partner organization, Students for Life, has knocked another 10,000. 

“The Stakes Are Really High” 

Still, the numbers pale in comparison to what abortion rights supporters have done.

Paulette McElwain, chair of Virginia Planned Parenthood’s political committee, says they’ve knocked more than 50,000 doors so far - with plans to make it to 60,000 by Election Day. 

McElwain says they haven't struggled to find volunteers.

“The stakes are really high in Virginia for healthcare and for abortion rights,” McElwain said. 

In the past decade, abortion rates have fallen dramatically in Virginia. Abortion rights opponents say that’s a sign of success for restrictive policies put in place under Republican leadership. 

In those years, two of the state’s largest healthcare clinics that provide abortions have closed. 

Advocates of abortion rights say that’s a sign women haven’t been able to safely access healthcare, and that Democratic leadership would turn things around.

 

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

 

This story was updated Thursday October 31st to include additional information about Megan Getter's background.