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Governor Youngkin hopes to change Virginia abortion laws: 'A 15-week threshold'

Posted at 1:22 PM, Jun 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-24 19:12:46-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Governor Glenn Youngkin (R - Virginia) will push Virginia lawmakers to outlaw abortions once a woman reaches the 15-week mark of her pregnancy.

"Virginians elected a pro-life governor and he supports finding consensus on legislation," Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter said. "He has tapped Senator Siobhan Dunnavant (R - Henrico County), Senator Steve Newman (R - Craig County), Delegate Kathy Byron (R - Lynchburg), and Delegate Margaret Ransone (R - King George) to do so and prioritize protecting life when babies begin to feel pain in the womb, including a 15-week threshold."

Youngkin told the Post that although he favors banning most abortions after 15 weeks, a cutoff at 20 weeks might be necessary to build consensus in the divided Virginia legislature. He reiterated his support for exceptions in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is at risk.

In a statement, he said he’s asked for legislation to be introduced when the General Assembly convenes in January.

More than 90% of abortions take place in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, and more than half are now done with pills, not surgery, according to data compiled by the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.

Youngkin's statement came hours after the U.S. Supreme Court ended the nation's constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place for nearly 50 years. The decision is expected to lead to abortion bans in roughly half the states.

As of right now, abortions are still legal in Virginia. According to Virginia Code 18.2-72, an abortion can be performed up until the third trimester of a patient's pregnancy. After that, it can only be performed if the patient's life is in danger, as certified by three doctors.

"The Supreme Court of the United States has rightfully returned power to the people and their elected representatives in the states. I'm proud to be a pro-life Governor and plan to take every action I can to protect life," Youngkin said in a statement. "The truth is, Virginians want fewer abortions, not more abortions. We can build a bipartisan consensus on protecting the life of unborn children, especially when they begin to feel pain in the womb, and importantly supporting mothers and families who choose life."

Youngkin urged calm among Virginians who disagree with the court's ruling.

"While I understand that people across the nation have strong beliefs about this ruling, Virginians must always respect the rule of law and I appeal to their civility on this historic day. Our administration is committed to protecting individuals' constitutional rights and ensuring Virginians are safe," Youngkin said in a statement. "I am in regular contact with the Supreme Court Justices and my administration is in coordination with our mayors, and local and state police to ensure we are ready to take appropriate action if need be. Virginia will not stand for lawlessness or violence."

Senator Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), who was instrumental in passing the Reproductive Health Protection Act in Virginia in 2020, said she was outraged by Friday's Supreme Court ruling.

"It's the first time in my life that rights were taken away by the Supreme Court," she said. "As someone who's fought to make Virginia a safe haven for access to abortion, that fight's coming back to the states, and I'm ready to keep fighting."

Sen. Dunnavant, an OBGYN who the governor named to help craft new abortion laws, said she hoped changes would help women.

"Overturning Roe v. Wade was the right thing to do constitutionally. This decision should have always been made by the states and now it will be," she said. "It’s time to take a deep breath and have an authentic conversation in Virginia. I am committed to having tough conversations, listening, building consensus and doing the right thing."

Some Senate Republicans meanwhile expressed support for legislation that would provide protection at the moment of conception, including Sen. Travis Hackworth (R - Tazewell County) who announced he would introduce legislation next year and Sen. Amanda Chase (R - Chesterfield County).

"We will make those decisions come in January, we'll come together as legislators that will give us time to talk to the folks back home, who we represent," said Chase. "They know where I stand on issues. 100% I'm going to stand with life. I do believe life begins at conception, 100%, and I will do everything I can to protect innocent life and ensuring that due process and the constitutional rights of the unborn are also protected."

Meanwhile, Democratic Senator Joe Morrissey (D - Petersburg), who said he is "personally opposed to abortion" said he continues to believe that governments should not tell women what they can or cannot do with their bodies.

“As many know, I am personally opposed to abortion, just like Senator Tim Kaine. 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," said Morrissey in a statement. "Just to be very clear: I do not believe the government, whether Federal or State, should be telling women what to do with their bodies.”

Morrissey added because of the current split government, with Democrats in control of the Senate and Republicans in control of the House and Governor's mansion, "it is highly unlikely that our abortion laws will change come January, 2023, when the next General Assembly Session begins.”

McClellan seemed to indicate that would be the case, when attending a rally Friday at the State Capitol decrying the Supreme Court's decision.

"I have fought these proposals in the past. I'll keep fighting these proposals, and we're going to make sure they don't pass in January or after January," said McClellan.

With the likelihood of no action in the next legislative session, Radford University Assistant Professor of Political Science Dr. Allison Yankle, said the ruling will be a political motivator for both sides heading into the next election cycle.

"So, Democrats are going to go, of course, say, 'In order to protect the right to abortion, we need to enshrine this either in law or in a constitutional amendment at the state level.' And Republicans are going to be motivated to say, 'We need to have control of both of the chambers in order to pass legislation to really solidify the fact that we don't want abortion or we want to limit abortion rights in Virginia.'"

'A sad day'

Commenting on the ruling Friday, President Joe Biden said “it’s a sad day for the court and the country.”

“Now with Roe gone, let’s be very clear, the health and life of women across this nation are now at risk,” he said from the White House.

He added that "the court has done what it’s never done before - expressly taking away a constitutional right that is so fundamental to so many Americans,” he said.

The White House has been preparing for this moment since a draft of the decision leaked in May. Officials have been huddling with state leaders, advocates, health care professionals and others to prepare for a future without Roe v. Wade.

Now Biden’s plans will be tested in terms of politics and policy. Biden said his administration would defend a woman's right to cross state lines to seek an abortion.

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

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