RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to end the constitutional right to abortion puts states in the position to ban or restrict the procedure nearly 50 years after the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling.
With the court’s ruling Friday, 13 states with so-called “trigger laws” are set to ban abortions, and about half of the states in the country are expected to impose some form of ban or restriction moving forward.
In Virginia, Republicans signaled intentions to propose a ban on abortions in the wake of the decision. Gov. Glenn Youngkin has tapped four Republican state lawmakers to work on legislation for 2023 with a 15-week threshold, but a spokesperson acknowledged Friday that a compromise could be after 20 weeks.
A 20-week abortion ban was introduced earlier this year in the Virginia General Assembly, but Democrats’ slight majority in the state Senate quashed that effort.
A measure from state Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) never made it out of a Democratic-controlled Virginia Senate committee and House Republicans decided not to move its version of the bill due to the long odds of it passing.
The one-seat majority Virginia Democrats have in the state Senate will stay in place until new elections in November 2023, but one Democrat in the closely divided chamber has previously voiced support for an abortion ban.
That lawmaker, state Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond, said Friday that while he opposes abortion he doesn’t believe the government “should be telling women what to do with their bodies.” But he didn’t close the window for a potential ban.
“As many know, I am personally opposed to abortion, just like Senator Tim Kaine,” Morrissey said in a statement. “Still, I defend the position that women should have safe access to the procedure, at the very least, up to the moment a fetus can feel pain which many agree is 20 plus weeks of a pregnancy; in cases when a mother’s health or life is at risk; in cases of rape that result in a pregnancy; and in cases of incest that result in a pregnancy.”
Similar to Morrissey, Gov. Youngkin (R) has repeated that he’s against abortions but that he supports exceptions in cases of rape, incest and where the mother’s life is in danger.
The governor has also previously shared support for a “pain-threshold bill” in Virginia. Other states have passed similar laws, which prohibit abortions after about 20 weeks of gestation based on the argument that a fetus can feel pain at that point.
Virginia allows abortions during the second trimester and only after the second trimester in circumstances when three doctors conclude “the continuation of the pregnancy is likely to result in the death of the woman or substantially and irremediably impair the mental or physical health of the woman.”
State Democrats have vowed to fight efforts to restrict abortions in the commonwealth, but they will need to rely on the 21-19 majority in the Virginia Senate with Republican Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears having the authority to break ties in the chamber and the House of Delegates in control of the GOP.
“For decades, Republicans in Virginia and across the nation have done their best to restrict a person’s right to medical privacy when it comes to abortion and reproductive health services,” Virginia Senate Democrats said in a statement. “While these efforts will no doubt be redoubled with the fall of Roe v. Wade today, Senate Democrats remain strong to protect the right to choose in the Commonwealth and will not back down in the face of these incoming threats—any others that might come next. “Make no mistake—we will protect a person’s right to choose in Virginia.”
Republicans in the state Senate and House of Delegates praised the court for sending the decision on abortion rights to states, with House Speaker Todd Gilbert (Shenandoah) saying it puts “an enormous responsibility back into the hands of the General Assembly.”
“This reversal of the Court’s previous decisions undoubtedly will result in lawmakers of both parties introducing legislation for the General Assembly to consider during its 2023 regular session,” Virginia Senate Republican leaders wrote in a joint statement. “Senate Republicans stand ready to fulfill our duty by giving a fair hearing to legislation related to all perspectives on this and every issue.”