RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- More than one thousand anti-abortion advocates, including Governor Glenn Youngkin, flooded the grounds of the State Capitol for Virginia’s first March for Life since the fall of Roe v. Wade.
Advocates chanted “protection at conception” as they paraded through downtown Richmond on Wednesday but their calls will go unanswered in the General Assembly, at least this year. A politically divided government is standing in the way of major changes but the balance of power could shift after an election this fall.
“We have been working for decades. We should know it is not going to happen overnight,” Family Foundation President Victoria Cobb told the crowd. “It’s up to us to keep working.”
The Democrat-led Senate Education and Health Committee rejected three different Republican attempts to roll back abortion access last week.
“The bills may have varied in specifics but they were all extreme,” Jamie Lockhart, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, said during a press conference after the votes. “They all sought to put politicians where they don’t belong, in charge of other people’s private healthcare decisions.”
The proposed restrictions ranged from a near total ban at conception to narrowing exceptions in the third trimester. Governor Youngkin threw his weight behind a ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for rape, incest and when the life of the mother is in danger.
“I’m incredibly disappointed in the Senate Democrats. Virginians elected a pro-life Governor and the one thing I do know is Virginians want fewer abortions, not more abortions. They seem to entirely reject that concept,” Youngkin told reporters during a brief interview ahead of the march.
In the lower chamber, House Republicans rejected an effort to enshrine abortion rights in the State Constitution this week. Speakers at the March for Life described it as “the most terrifying” proposal in the 2023 session.
Del. Rob Bell (R-Charlottesville), who chairs the House Courts of Justice Committee, said there will be no votes on abortion bans in his committee this year. Democrats are accusing the GOP of dodging the issue in an election year after abortion rights proved to be an effective motivator for voters in last year’s midterms.
“We don’t see a path for that bill to become law,” Bell said when asked why the Youngkin-backed abortion ban hadn’t been docketed.
The lack of change has been discouraging for Angie Bush, who drove more than five hours from Bristol, Virginia.
“With each day, with each hour, we are losing children and we are hurting women as slow as Virginia is going,” Bush said.
Bush is concerned about a spike in abortions in her community, which borders several states with stricter abortion laws, including Tennessee.
“On any given day, we’ll see Georgia, Florida, Illinois, Ohio license plates in that clinic parking lot,” said Eileen Panasewicz, who also lives in Bristol.
Looking ahead, the Senate will consider a bill from Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) that would protect the privacy of reproductive data and prevent the Governor from helping other states prosecute women who seek an abortion.
“We will be a safe haven for reproductive healthcare in the south,” Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton) said in a press conference last week.
In a speech on Wednesday, Attorney General Jason Miyares made it clear that pregnant women should not be criminalized. Bills introduced this session generally targeted abortion providers with potential penalties.
“The pro-life message is one of compassion and there have been some voices in this country saying we should prosecute women for their decision to have an abortion. That is not right,” Miyares said, prompting applause from the crowd.
The House of Delegates is still expected to advance some bills that seek to support pregnant women, including an adoption tax credit. Bills mandating informed, written consent before an abortion is performed and requiring medical aid for babies after a botched abortion are also still on the table this session.