Republican Glenn Youngkin is slated to take office as Virginia’s governor on January 15 alongside a Republican controlled-house and Virginia’s senate Democrats are apparently going to do nothing to protect abortion access before that happens.
Youngkin, who defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe in the Virginia governor’s race in November, something I wish to forget but is nevertheless still true, was caught on video this summer saying he couldn’t talk much about restricting abortion on the campaign trail because he’d lose independent voters, but that he would go “on offense” on abortion if he won and Republicans took the state house.
On Friday, Virginia Senate Majority leader Richard Saslaw told the New York Times that yes, the Senate Democrats could call a special session to take up a bill to codify abortion rights into state law, but it’s simply too late now as people are away for the holidays. Saslaw said this from California, where he was stopped en route to Hawaii. Other state senators are apparently away in Europe and Africa.
Democrats’ state senate majority is a razor-thin 21-19, including one anti-abortion Dem
ocrat, so they need basically everyone to show up, and it appears they are unwilling to even try. Saslaw told the Times that “we discussed it,” but “there are too many people out of town.” This comes on the heels of Democrats previously considering acting on abortion shortly after the gubernatorial election, but decided against it. “They didn’t want to do it,” he said. This is the bravery voters love to see. One liberal activist said this reluctance is borne out of overconfidence that McAuliffe would win. “There was no plan to go big and go bold, because they didn’t plan on losing,” said Katherine White, who runs Network NoVA.
While the state legislature did pass a slew of abortion access reforms during Governor Ralph Northam’s tenure, without a right to abortion codified in state law, Youngkin could sign bills undoing a lot of it.
Protecting abortion in state law isn’t just a matter of urgency for Virginia residents, but for people across the South. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade in June, as it seems likely to do (yes, this is for real), Virginia had been set to be somewhat of an access point for people across the Southeast whose home states would severely restrict or outright ban abortion.
In this map from the Center for Reproductive Rights looking at state laws in the absence of Roe, red is hostile to abortion, coral is not protected, and yellow is protected. If you locate Florida and look straight up you see Virginia in coral—not protected. That’s better than hostile, but passing state legislation to codify Roe would have moved it to the yellow/protected category. Now, with Youngkin’s win and state Democrats’ inaction, that’s much less certain. (FYI: Florida is no longer a safe bet either as state lawmakers have introduced a Texas-style ban for next session.)
If Roe falls and there’s no state protection, it could affect far more than just Virginians. People in states like North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and more who may have gone to Virginia for abortions will have to travel even farther—which, as we’ve seen with the Texas ban, will lead to overwhelmed clinics in other states.