PETERSBURG, Va. (WRIC) — State Senator Joe Morrissey (D-Petersburg) is clashing with the Democratic women of the Virginia senate over the issue of abortion — an issue that could be key in an upcoming primary battle for his seat.
In a joint statement issued Wednesday, the six Democratic female senators of Virginia — Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), Janet Howell (D-Fairfax), Barbara Favola (D-Arlington), Jennifer Boysko (D-Herndon) and Ghazala Hashmi (D-Chesterfield) – blasted Morrissey for his position on abortion and endorsed his primary opponent, former delegate Lashrecse Aird.
“One member of the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus has leveraged his votes on this issue as a cudgel against fellow caucus members,” they wrote.
In response to the criticism, Morrissey issued his own statement, saying it was unfortunate that the Senate Democratic women were trying to make abortion the “central issue” of the primary contest.
“Sadly, if you don’t agree 100% with their position on Abortion, then, you’re out,” he wrote.
Morrissey’s position on abortion has long been a source of controversy within the party. Earlier this year, he suggested he might support Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin’s proposal for a 15-week abortion ban.
Abortion is currently legal in Virginia through the second trimester — until 26 weeks — with abortion during the third trimester allowed only when three physicians confirm that there is a substantial risk to the health of the mother.
“I am a practicing Catholic who is personally opposed to Abortion,” he wrote in a statement Thursday. “However, I believe it is a private decision between a woman and her physician and that legislators should not be telling women what to do with their bodies. Finally, there needs to be exceptions in the case of rape or incest.”
But in the past, Morrissey has described himself as “unapologetically pro-life” and repeatedly spoken in support of a 15-week ban with exceptions for rape and incest.
That puts him to the right of Republican Senator Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico) who earlier this year broke from her party to float her own bill that would have banned abortions after 24 weeks.
“During Joe Morrissey’s tenure in the Virginia Senate he has repeatedly demonstrated a lack of care and concern on a number of core Democratic values, but in particular on abortion,” Aird wrote in a statement. “This issue is not up for debate.”
Morrissey himself took aim at Aird’s position on abortion in his response to the endorsement, writing that when she was in the House of Delegates, she supported a bill that “allowed women to elect to have an abortion up until the day before delivery.”
But that bill — HB 2491 — did no such thing. It maintained the already-existing requirement that a third trimester abortion be performed only for threats to the health of the mother but would have allowed that decision to be made by one doctor, not a panel of three.
It also would have removed requirements — since repealed under a different bill — that a woman view a sonogram before receiving an abortion.