RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- Many fear abortion rights are at risk following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg but a conservative Supreme Court could mean different restrictions depending on where a woman lives.
President Donald Trump has pledged to nominate a justice to fill Ginsburg’s seat by the end of this week. If the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate confirms his appointment before the 2020 Election, experts say it could lock in a conservative majority for generations.
University of Richmond Law Professor Corinna Barrett Lain said this would make it easier to overturn Roe v. Wade–the landmark decision protecting access to the procedure.
“Anyone who thinks that Roe v. Wade is safe is just not paying attention,” Lain said.
In addition to overturning the decision, Lain said a conservative Supreme Court could undermine abortion access by upholding increasingly restrictive state laws that previously would’ve been struck down.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled a Louisiana law requiring doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at hospitals put an undue burden on women seeking the procedure, as it could’ve left just one clinic operating in the state. Tennessee lawmakers recently passed a bill that seeks to ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur as early as six weeks into pregnancy.
“The Constitution sets a floor below which no state can go,” Lain said. “Without a Constitutional protection, your ability to get an abortion depends on the vagaries of state law.”
For the first time in more than two decades, Democrats control both chambers in Virginia’s General Assembly. If that continues, Lain said abortion rights would be protected in the Commonwealth even if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
Virginia Democrats recently rolled back years of Republican-led abortion restrictions. Party members argued that the measures were not medically necessary and only served to block women from exercising their right to choose.
A new law that took effect on July 1 says a woman no longer has to attend counseling on possible alternatives and an ultrasound 24 hours before going through with the procedure. It also expands who can give an abortion, eliminating requirements that providers must be designated as hospitals if they perform more than five per year.
In a debate on the House floor, Republican Caucus Chair Kathy Byron condemned the legislation. “It establishes standards so lax, so casual, that anyone, at any time, almost anywhere, can have an abortion performed by just about anybody,” she said.
Backlash to the bill brought more than one thousand pro-life advocates to the Virginia Capitol earlier this year. Victoria Cobb, President of The Family Foundation, helped organize the March for Life.
“Certainly this moment is pivotal for America and for conservatives,” Cobb said on Monday. “We reversed over 50 years of solid public policy on the issue of human life and abortion in just one bill this year and that was incredibly devastating.”
Cobb said Virginia is a long way from an outright ban on abortion but an additional conservative justice could pave the way for more incremental restrictions on the procedure if Republicans regain power in the legislature.
Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia Executive Director Jamie Lockhart is urging voters to prevent that from happening.
“Virginians should be afraid about their rights,” Lockhart said. “It is all the more critical that we elect reproductive rights champions at the state level.”