20-week abortion ban proposed as part of Republican shift in Virginia’s abortion stance

On the cusp of the annual March for Life hosted in D.C. on Friday, Virginia Republicans are signaling a potential shift in favor of stricter state laws on abortion.

Just in the last week, a law was presented in the House that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks and the office of the attorney general released a statement saying that the issue of abortion should be left to the state’s to decide.

Setting the stage

Virginia’s recently inaugurated Republican leadership combined with a majority for House Republicans, sets the stage for Virginia to take a different approach to the issue of abortion.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin is Virginia’s first Republican governor in nearly a decade. Attorney General Jason Miyares and Lieutenant Governor Winsome Sears, both former state delegates and Republicans, also took office in January.

All three have spoken out in favor of tightening access to abortions with some exceptions.

In September, Youngkin said during a debate that he is opposed to abortions with the exception of cases involving rape, incest or where it is necessary to save a mother’s life. He also said that he wouldn’t have signed Texas’ law banning most abortions but indicated he would support a “pain threshold bill.”

Attorney General changes stance

Miyares announced in a statement Friday that Virginia’s stance in a Mississippi abortion case has changed in favor of leaving the issue of abortion access up to the states.

Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization challenges Mississippi’s law, which bans abortions after 15 weeks’ gestation, except for in cases involving a medical emergency or severe fetal abnormality. It poses a question to the Supreme Court: whether all pre-viability bans on elective abortions are unconstitutional.

Back in September, Virginia joined 22 states and D.C. in arguing that Mississippi’s law is unconstitutional based off of a number of cases, including Roe v. Wade.

But a letter from the office of the newly elected attorney general reverses that stance.

“Virginia is now of the view that the Constitution is silent on the question of abortion, and that it is therefore up to the people in the several States to determine the legal status and regulatory treatment of abortion,” the letter states.

The letter goes on to say that other laws unrelated to abortion have been distorted in order to make abortion a constitutional issue.

“The letter cites that despite efforts to settle hotly contested political questions through the court our political divisions and debates over these issue wage on,” Miyares said in a statement.

“As a result, other areas of the law have become political, and the court should remove itself, leaving decisions up to the states.”

The full letter from the office of the attorney general can be found online.

Abortion bill proposed in Va. House

Virginia House Delegate Nick Freitas proposed a bill that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks.

The exceptions would be in cases where the woman has a medical condition making an abortion necessary to avoid her death or serious, irreversible injury. Psychosocial or emotional conditions don’t qualify.

The bill doesn’t mention exceptions for rape or incest.

The possibility that the bill will pass is unclear at this time. Though Republicans hold the majority in the House, Democrats have a narrow majority in the Senate of 21-19. And The Associated Press reported that Democrat Joe Morrissey has voted against legislation to expand abortion rights in the past.

But if Senate Republicans manage a tie, the bill will be bounced to the tiebreaker, the lieutenant governor; Sears advocated for restrictions on abortions during her campaign.

The bill can be read in its entirety online.

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Jessica Kronzer

Jessica Kronzer graduated from James Madison University in May 2021 after studying media and politics. She enjoys covering politics, advocacy and compelling human-interest stories.

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