Abortion activists and Virginia lawmakers react to Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Pro-choice activists and abortion providers say Virginia could see a large influx of people seeking an abortion in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.
Beyond that, the future of abortion in the commonwealth is uncertain. Groups like the Blue Ridge Abortion Fund are preparing to help more people than ever from across the country in the short-term.
“We had every indication it was going to happen, and it still felt like a gut punch,” Deborah Arenstein, the fund’s development director, said. “We will do whatever we can to get them here. We are raising money as robustly as we can to pay for people’s not just their abortions, but their travel, but their lodging, their childcare, whatever else they need.”
That work could be criminalized in the long-term. States like Alabama have passed laws criminalizing assisting others in finding an abortion.
“That is actually really hard to think about, that providing health care for people would become illegal,” Arenstein said. “It’s hard to wrap my brain around that.”
Virginia is not one of the 13 states with abortion “trigger” laws – laws that immediately take effect now that a right to abortion is not constitutionally protected. Any new abortion restrictions in the commonwealth would have to be passed through the General Assembly. Battle lines are being drawn on both sides of the aisle.
“There is never anyone who is going to know more about the circumstances they’re facing than the person carrying that pregnancy,” 57th District Delegate Sally Hudson (D) said. “That’s why it’s so important that when we have to make the toughest calls, they’re the people who get to make that decision.”
”The Supreme Court of the United States has rightfully returned power to the people and their elected representatives in the states,” Governor Glenn Youngkin said in a statement. “I’m proud to be a pro-life Governor and plan to take every action I can to protect life. The truth is, Virginians want fewer abortions, not more abortions.”
A spokesperson for Governor Youngkin confirmed that he will seek a ban on abortions after 15 weeks.
“I think we should all want fewer abortion procedures to take place after 15 weeks, because the procedure is safer and less disruptive earlier in a pregnancy,” Del. Hudson said. “We do that by making early abortion care accessible and affordable to every patient who needs it. Right now fewer than 10% of Virginia counties have a clinic that can perform abortions.”
At this time, it does not appear likely that the Governor will try to address the issue this year – but the Governor is already working with Republican legislators with an eye on the next General Assembly session in January.
“I’ve asked Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, Sen. Steve Newman, Del. Kathy Byron and Del. Margaret Ransone to join us in an effort to bring together legislators and advocates from across the Commonwealth on this issue to find areas where we can agree and chart the most successful path forward,” Youngkin stated. “I’ve asked them to do the important work needed and be prepared to introduce legislation when the General Assembly returns in January.”
Democrats in the General Assembly are already gearing up for a fight.
“I can assure you that any bill that intends to restrict the rights of a woman to choose is gonna be dead on arrival when it gets to my committee” Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Pourtsmouth) said. “We’re just not going back, not going to turn it back in the hands of time.”
Sen. Lucas, the President Pro Tempore of the Virginia Senate, also serves on the Education and Health Committee that would be the first stop for abortion bills through the Senate. She is wary to see the return of illegal abortions.
“During my time as a young woman, women had no opportunity to have a right to choose, and a lot of women were injured and died as a result of that,” Lucas said. “We’re just not going to go back to those dark, draconian days when we’re losing the lives of women because they don’t have a right to make decisions for themselves.”
Virginia’s General Assembly is divided. Republicans hold majorities in the Governor’s Mansion and the House of Delegates, while Democrats hold a one-seat majority in the Virginia Senate.
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