Fairfax Co.’s Descano: ‘I will never prosecute a woman for having an abortion’

If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade and Virginia outlaws abortion, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said Tuesday that he will never “prosecute women for having an abortion or being suspected of inducing one.”

Talking to WTOP after a Tuesday op-ed in the New York Times, entitled “My Governor Can Pass Bad Abortion Laws. But I Won’t Enforce Them,” Descano, a Democrat, said local prosecutors “are the last line of defense when it comes to criminalizing women for making their own health care decisions.”

With the leaked draft of the Supreme Court opinion suggesting the high court is set to overturn the landmark law legalizing abortion nationwide, Descano said he thinks “that is going to set off a torrent of anti-women laws all across the country, including potentially in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

Descano said Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, “is unabashedly anti-choice and he has made it clear that he wants to go on offense on this, so I very much see that it’s a possibility that the law in Virginia could change.”

Youngkin, who has backed states having the autonomy to create their own abortion rights laws, has not stated whether he would push for a new abortion law in Virginia.

Contacted by WTOP, Youngkin’s spokeswoman Macaulay Porter declined comment on Descano’s Times column.

Criminalizing abortion would jeopardize a woman’s privacy in many instances, said Descano.

“Officers would potentially be going through women’s trash cans to see if there are drugs or alcohol in their trash can; they can get search warrants for their emails and text messages to see their innermost thoughts,” Descano speculated. “They could be pulling in their friends and partners to get an understanding of individual women’s sexual history.”

“All of these things are an Orwellian nightmare that I don’t think that the people of Fairfax County want to be living under,” Descano said.

However, Youngkin won the office statewide, receiving votes from jurisdictions with very different demographics than Fairfax County, which supported Descano’s progressive platform of reform.

“For hundreds of thousands of American women, access to an abortion soon will depend not only on which state they live in, but also on how hard-line their local prosecutor is,” Descano wrote in the Times. “That’s why I hope prosecutors across the country will join me in choosing to lead on behalf of the women we represent.”

While the Times op-ed speaks to a national audience, Descano said voters in Virginia’s jurisdictions vary widely.

“They elect their own prosecutors, because it’s the job of the prosecutor to make sure the criminal justice system accords with the community’s values,” Descano told WTOP. “Virginia law explicitly allows prosecutors to make this type of decision — that action of discretion is the backbone of prosecution, and it is why we elect prosecutors at the local level to make these type of decisions.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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