Virginia Democrats Defeat Bills Limiting Abortion Access

After a series of critical votes Thursday, Democrats in the Virginia Senate defeated various bills that would have restricted access to abortion in the state. The bills included one that proposed a 15-week ban with exceptions that was a top priority for Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin.

The votes were the first decisive ones in Virginia since the Supreme Court decision last year that overturned Roe v. Wade, handing the matter back to the states.

Barring an unprecedented procedural move, the restrictions will not likely be enacted in Virginia this year. The state currently has some of the South’s most lenient abortion laws.

“The truth is, as long as Senate Democrats have our majority, the brick wall will stand strong, and these extreme bills will never pass,” said Senator L. Louise Lucas in a news conference held after the hearing.

Similar measures are still active in the GOP-controlled House of Delegates but haven’t yet begun to move forward. Any bills that clear the House will also be defeated in the Senate.

House Republican Speaker Todd Gilbert said earlier in the year that with Virginia’s government divided, he didn’t expect significant progress on abortion this year.

According to Macaulay Porter, Youngkin’s spokeswoman, Senate Democrats had “solidified their extreme position” and were acting contrary to the will of Virginians who want “a reasonable compromise” on abortion.

As it stands, Virginia law allows abortion throughout the first and second trimesters. The procedure can also be done during the third trimester if multiple doctors certify that continuing the pregnancy is likely to “substantially and irremediably” impair the physical or mental health of the woman or result in her death.

On Thursday, the three measures were voted down along party lines and without debate by the Senate Committee on Education and Health after a subcommittee had heard testimony previously and made the recommendation they be defeated.

The Youngkin-supported measure, sponsored by Republican Senator Steve Newman, would have effectively banned abortions after 15 weeks, with exceptions for incest, life or physical well-being of the mother, or rape. Any physician who violated the order would receive a class four felony, punishable by a fine up to $100,000 and two to 10 years in prison.

Newman referred to the proposal as a meticulously crafted compromise “that supports mothers” and provides “commonsense protection for the unborn.”

Senator Newman also said the measure would not affect medical care in the cases of ectopic pregnancies, miscarriage, or stillbirth.

“In no way does this bill criminalize a woman at all,” said Newman when presenting it earlier in the month.

Other measures voted down along party lines

Additionally, the committee defeated a less restrictive measure introduced by Republican Senator Siobhan Dunnavant, who is also an OB-GYN. The senator’s bill would have added additional limits on third-trimester abortions and allowed them only in cases where the woman’s life is at risk.

Dunnavant’s measure would have allowed abortions through the second trimester before viability, defined as either 22 or 24 weeks gestation if three physicians agree to the prognosis.

The senator argued that advances in medicine since the current Virginia law was put in place have moved the date of viability to earlier in pregnancy.

“When a child can live outside of the womb, there’s absolutely no reason to abort that child in order to protect the mother,” said Dunnavant. The bill was voted down 9-6.

A third bill was also defeated. The bill, proposed by Republican Senator Travis Hackworth, would have banned almost all abortions, with exceptions for the life of the woman, rape, and incest, and made the performance of an “unlawful abortion” a class four felony.

“All three of the dangerous anti-abortion proposals before this committee represented grave threats to Virginians’ health and rights, and we are thrilled to now celebrate their defeat,” said the executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, Jamie Lockhart, in a statement.

The future of abortion laws in Virginia could ultimately be determined in the fall when all legislative seats will be on the ballot.