RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Gov. Glenn Youngkin said states should have the power to make their own abortion laws but, at least for now, he’s not committing to any specific changes in Virginia.
Youngkin’s comments come as leaked documents suggest the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to strike down federal protections. In a draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, the conservative-leaning bench voted to strike down Roe v. Wade, describing the landmark decision as “egregiously wrong from the start.”
Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed the authenticity of the unfinished opinion first released by Politico but emphasized that it’s not a final decision from the court.
If Roe v. Wade is ultimately overturned, each state would decide what to do next. New Republican leadership in Virginia means restrictions aren’t out of the question.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Youngkin called the leak an “unbelievable breach of confidence” that he said was done to “create chaos and put pressure on elected officials.”
Asked whether he wants the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, Youngkin said, “I do support the fact that this should be a state decision. That state decision is one that we’re going to have to work with our legislature on what we do and, as I said, I think that there’s common ground on this.”
Youngkin didn’t directly respond when asked if a ban on most abortions after 15 or 20 weeks would be part of his legislative agenda moving forward. He steered clear of proposals like this during the 2022 legislative session.
“Until this decision is final, I’m not going to speculate,” Youngkin said.
A reversal from the Supreme Court could immediately trigger abortion bans in several other Republican-led states.
Stricter laws in Virginia are exactly what anti-abortion advocates at the March for Life last week were calling for. Protesters surrounded the State Capitol chanting “we will abolish abortion.” Governor Youngkin was in the crowd but didn’t speak at the event.
Last session, Senator Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) introduced the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.” The bill sought to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks gestation, except in certain circumstances when the life of a mother is in danger or continuing the pregnancy would cause “substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.”
“I do not believe that we should be killing babies in Virginia,” Chase said. “I believe that life begins at conception and I’m going to support all pro-life legislation that comes out of the General Assembly, one hundred percent.”
The bill never made it out of committee in the Democrat-controlled Senate and a similar bill never got a hearing in the Republican-led House of Delegates.
“We will not see a roll back if we continue to maintain a majority in the Virginia Senate,” said Senator Ghazala Hashmi (D-Chesterfield). “The stakes are so high in so many regards and this is a very clear indication, a clear wake up call to voters.”
On Tuesday evening, more than one hundred abortion rights activists gathered in downtown Richmond. They carried signs reading “my body, my choice” and “we will not go backwards.”
In Virginia, the so-called “brick wall” preventing abortion restrictions from advancing in the legislature isn’t very high. Democrats hold a slim 21-19 majority. At least one Senate Democrat is “unapologetically pro-life” and Lt. Governor Winsome Sears, a pro-life Republican, holds the tie-breaking vote in the chamber.
The pending Supreme Court decision is reinforcing the stakes of future elections as some want Congress to codify Roe v. Wade and enshrine protections into federal law. Democrats hold slim majorities in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate.
Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who currently represents Virginia’s seventh district, is among the Democrats who won re-election with razor-thin margins. She’s back on the ballot this fall.
“Safe and legal abortion is something that has been protected under law and the right to privacy for decades now. The idea that there would be a full reversal there is deeply, deeply troubling,” Spanberger said. “My priority would be to ensure that the safety and security of women is protected.”
The Supreme Court’s final decision on Roe v. Wade is expected to come out in June.
The General Assembly likely won’t consider new restrictions on abortion until the 2023 legislative session, unless Governor Youngkin decides to call a special session focused on the issue in the meantime.