Reversal of Roe v. Wade has political implications for Tidewater Region
Published 5:56 pm Wednesday, July 13, 2022
By Joe Banish
With the Supreme Court’s June 24 reversal of Roe v. Wade — the landmark 1973 decision establishing a federal right to an abortion — states now have significant leeway to set their own policies.
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Some states that had bans prior to Roe plan to immediately criminalize abortion, while others remain steadfast in their protection of the procedure. Politicians in Virginia have highly divergent views on abortion, and have expressed the desire for policy change, both in support and opposition.
Currently, the right to an abortion is codified in Virginia. According to the Code of Virginia, abortion is legal under any circumstance in the first two trimesters of pregnancy. Furthermore, it is permitted after this gestational limit if allowing the pregnancy to proceed endangers the mother’s life, and all other medically viable options have been exhausted.
Immediately following the reversal of Roe, Gov. Glenn Youngkin expressed a desire for Republican lawmakers to introduce legislation that at a minimum caps the gestational limit at 15 weeks for on-demand abortion. This limit is what Youngkin refers to as a “pain threshold bill,” designed to ensure an abortion cannot occur after the time when a fetus can feel pain.
Appearing on “Face the Nation”, Gov. Youngkin described himself as a staunch pro-life governor, who believes that “life begins at conception,” and only personally supports abortion in the cases of rape or incest. However, he conceded that barring a Republican majority in both legislative chambers, compromise would be essential to passing any legislation restricting abortion.
Local legislators’ view
Republican Del. Emily Brewer, who represents the 64th District in the Virginia House of Delegates, is in favor of restricting abortion and believes that Gov. Youngkin’s 15-week gestational limit is “…a step in the right direction.” In a statement issued through her office, Brewer stated: “As a child of adoption and strongly pro-life, I believe we must do more to promote a culture that encourages adoption over abortion, especially with so many children that truly need loving parents and safe environments.”
On the other side of the ideological spectrum is Democratic Sen. Louise Lucas of the 18th District. As the most senior democratic senator, she serves as president pro-tempore, presiding over the Virginia Senate in Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears’ absence. A staunch supporter of abortion rights, she stated that “the reversal of Roe v. Wade is the biggest setback for women’s equality and reproductive rights in the history of the United States and relegates women to second class citizens.” She was dismissive of potential House bills restricting abortion, arguing that any such efforts would be “dead on arrival” in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
2023 17th Senate District Election
Upcoming elections in Suffolk could prove critical in determining the future of abortion laws in Virginia. Del. Brewer faces incumbent Del. Clinton Jenkins (76th District), for the newly drawn 17th Senate District, which will include the city of Suffolk. Democrats hold a slim 21-19 majority, which for the time allows senators to prevent anti-abortion legislation from advancing to Gov. Youngkin’s desk. A Brewer victory in 2023 however, coupled with Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears as the tiebreaking vote, and maintaining their majority in the House of Delegates, would shift the balance of power in favor of the Republicans.
While the governor said he is interested in a pragmatic approach toward abortion policy, a change in the political composition of Virginia’s legislature may change his strategy.
Abortion is certainly a contentious issue in the state and nation, one that is sharply divided among partisan lines. With Virginia’s current political reality being a “purple” state, much will hinge on the November 2023 elections in both chambers.