RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- The March for Life returned to the Virginia Capitol on Friday as early voting kicked off in statewide elections.

At the top of the ticket this year are races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. All 100 members of Virginia’s House of Delegates are also up for re-election and the outcome of those races could have an impact on abortion rights in the Commonwealth.

The event led to road closures surrounding Capitol Square for much of the afternoon but those streets have since been reopened. Capitol Police estimated 600 people attended the march.

(Above: Marchers gathered at the state capitol Friday to protest against abortion and call for restrictions on its availability.)

The event started surrounding the steps of the State Capitol where the crowd heard from a line up of pro-life speakers.

“The stakes are so high and the battle is reaching a fever pitch but we’re also at one of the most hopeful moments ever for the pro-life movement,” said Susan B. Anthony List Vice President of Communications Mallory Quigley, referencing a pending decision in the Supreme Court that could roll back federal abortion protections.

Leslie Davis Blackwell said she had two abortions before joining the movement. “My heart wouldn’t settle because those abortions were haunting me and living a lie was killing me,” she said.

Republican Del. Emily Brewer called on rally-goers to head to their registrars office to support pro-life candidates.

“When you go to the ballot box make sure you are standing up for the voiceless and defenseless with me,” Brewer said.

As marchers paraded through downtown Richmond, they chanted anti-abortion slogans, calling for a repeal of Roe v. Wade and for laws abolishing abortion.

(Photos: Jackie Defusco/WRIC)

The issue of abortion rights has emerged as a focus in the Virginia governor’s race. That was on full display at Thursday night’s debate between former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic nominee, and Republican Glenn Youngkin, a former business executive.

Youngkin was previously accused of hiding extreme views on abortion after a secretly recorded video was released in which he raised concerns about alienating independent voters. In the recording, he said he would go on offense if he is elected and Republicans take back control of the House of Delegates. 

The GOP nominee didn’t directly respond during the debate when asked if he would support a bill banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected–about six weeks into a pregnancy–if it includes exceptions for rape, incest and when the life of the mother is at risk. He said a bill banning abortions when a fetus can feel pain “would be appropriate. “

Youngkin also made it clear that he would not sign a more restrictive bill like the one that passed in Texas, in part because it doesn’t include explicit exceptions for rape and incest.

“The Texas bill also was unworkable and confusing,” Youngkin said.

Jadyn Cooper, 18, is a first-time voter. She supports the Texas law and wants to see the Republican nominee be more aggressive in his stance on the issue.

“I would like to see him comment more on it. I just feel personally he needs to have more of a stance on it rather than staying in between,” Cooper said.

Others in attendance said the Texas law is too extreme.

“It’s a little radical,” said Cathy Ritzo, who traveled from Virginia Beach for the march.

“We need to Defund Planned Parenthood. We don’t want any of our tax dollars going to that,” Ritzo furthered when asked what she does want to see in Virginia.

McAuliffe said he supports his party’s recent efforts to roll back Republican-led abortion restrictions in Virginia, including removing requirements for state-mandated counseling, ultrasounds and a 24-hour waiting period before proceeding with an abortion. 

McAuliffe said he would want to go even further and enshrine Roe v. Wade into the State Constitution. He also doubled down support for a bill that would decrease the number of doctors needed to sign off on a third-trimester abortion and reduce the standard for authorizing that procedure to when a mother’s health is in danger. 

McAuliffe rejected the notion that he generally supports late-term abortions. 

“I support a woman’s right to make her own decisions up through the second trimester, that’s what I support,” McAuliffe said. “To every woman watching tonight, I will protect your rights.”

In a statement responding to the protest, Ashleigh Crocker, Communications Director at Progress Virginia, said, “Despite what a small group of people would have you think, people in our community overwhelmingly support access to abortion.”

“People who have abortions deserve our compassion, and to have access to the best health care available — not to be stigmatized or villainized. Anti-abortion groups and politicians have tried to restrict access to abortion using medically unnecessary restrictions meant to shame and coerce people. We should be working to expand access to health care, not take health care away,” said Jamie Lockhart, Executive Director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia.