Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) said he will seek to ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, moving quickly following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Friday overturning the constitutional right to an abortion.
The moves were a contrast to guarded reactions in deep-blue D.C. and Maryland, where Democratic leaders criticized the ruling and pledged to safeguard abortion access rights. But District Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said in an interview that the decision posed a “unique risk” to the federally controlled city, warning that a Republican takeover of Congress next year could lead to new restrictions.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said via email that his state passed laws 30 years ago to protect access to abortion. “I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution and the laws of Maryland, and that is what I have always done and will continue to do as governor,” Hogan said, as calls mounted for the legislature to enshrine the protections in the state constitution.
In Virginia, Youngkin welcomed the high court’s ruling as an “appropriate” return of power to the states.
“Virginians do want fewer abortions as opposed to more abortions,” Youngkin said Friday morning during a meeting with reporters, editors and editorial writers at The Washington Post moments after the court’s decision was announced. “I am not someone who is going to jump in and try to push us apart … There is a place we can come together.”
But the ruling and Youngkin’s policy announcement — his most explicit policy statement to date on an issue he tried to sidestep during last year’s campaign — only seemed to aggravate the partisan divide.
“We hope our Democratic colleagues will reconsider their extremism on the issue of life, and join us in restoring practical, sensible, and reasonable policies that ensure the health and safety of mothers and protect the lives of our most vulnerable Virginians,” the Senate Republican caucus said in a written statement.
A ban after 15 weeks is “out of step with what a majority of Virginians want,” state Sen. Jennifer L. McClellan (D-Richmond) said Friday at an abortion rights rally in Richmond. “We’re going to say no. We’re going to say to the party that professes to care about parental rights, you will not insert yourself into the decision whether to become a parent in the first place.”
“No matter what the law in Virginia says, I will not prosecute a woman for having an abortion, or for being suspected of inducing one,” Fairfax County commonwealth’s attorney Steve Descano (D) tweeted.
The developments drew condemnation from Democrats. “This is the beginning of this Governor’s attack on freedom,” House Minority Leader Don L. Scott Jr. (D-Portsmouth) said via text message.
Youngkin said he realizes there is a spectrum of beliefs in Virginia. He said he would like to see abortion outlawed at the point at which a fetus feels pain, saying he believes that to be 15 weeks — similar to recent laws passed in Florida and Mississippi. Others have put the pain threshold at 20 weeks, he added, suggesting that might be a point of compromise between the Republican-controlled House of Delegates and Democratic-controlled Senate.
Some conservatives said they’d like to see Youngkin push a harder line. Don Blake, president of the Virginia Christian Alliance, called a ban at 15 weeks “a good start,” but said going beyond that was a no-go. But Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, said Youngkin’s approach makes sense given the state’s politics.
“I don’t think it goes quite far enough,” Del. Wren Williams (R-Patrick), one of the most conservative members of the legislature, said of Youngkin’s proposal. “I’d like to see a full ban in the commonwealth … But if he can get that bill through, I’ll completely support him. We have to continue to push incrementally.”
U.S. Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), who opposes abortion without exception, said there was “no point” in such a modest proposal. “In Virginia, let’s not pretend the Democrats will agree to ANY restrictions on abortion,” he wrote on Twitter. “No point in working alone so modestly for ‘pain capable’ legislation. Life begins at conception.”
Abortion is currently lawful in Virginia during the first and second trimesters of a pregnancy, through about 26 weeks — a time frame that has been in place through years of both Republican and Democratic control in the General Assembly.
The procedure is allowed in the third trimester only if the life or health of the pregnant person is at serious risk, as certified by three doctors. Parental consent is required for minors seeking to terminate a pregnancy. Public funding of abortions is allowed for low-income pregnant people only in cases of rape or incest, if the pregnant person’s life or health is at risk, or if the fetus has “incapacitating” physical or mental deficiencies.
Youngkin has asked two Republican state senators and two Republican delegates to work on new legislation. They are Sen. Siobhan S. Dunnavant (Henrico), an obstetrician; Sen. Stephen D. Newman (Bedford); Del. Kathy J. Byron (Lynchburg) and Del. Margaret B. Ransone (Westmoreland).
When it was suggested that Youngkin’s effort could disappoint some conservatives who might want further restrictions, he said he was being realistic about the political moment. Republicans control the House of Delegates and Democrats control the Senate, and any legislation coming before the General Assembly when it convenes in January would have to pass both chambers.
“We’ve got a process in Virginia to work through,” Youngkin said. “I am a pro-life governor, I also am very, very aware of Virginia. … A governor can’t do it on his own. And it’s going to require … work across the aisle. And so we’ve got to work over the next few months to find a place that we can land.”
The governor’s security detail cut short his scheduled 45-minute session with The Post’s editorial board once news of the high court’s decision broke, whisking Youngkin out about halfway through. He said he had work to do to help maintain order and security in Virginia as protests began to take shape over the court ruling.
“We’re going to protect people’s rights to express dissatisfaction or support,” Youngkin said. “And so if people want to gather and protest or demonstrate, we’re going to protect that right today. And we are also going to protect property. We’re going to protect safety … We’re going to have zero tolerance for infractions.”
By midafternoon, there were few signs that protests outside the Supreme Court building in the District had spread across the region or caused disorder.
In D.C. and Maryland, officials touted policies ensuring safe access to abortion and pledged to resist any efforts to weaken them.
But because D.C. is not a state and is subject to federal oversight, officials there have warned for months that a Republicans takeover of Congress in November could lead to efforts to restrict or ban abortion in the city.
“Women and girls now and of the future will have fewer rights than our mothers,” Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who has a young daughter, said at a news conference at Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington on Friday afternoon. “We are worried because we know we are vulnerable as a jurisdiction because of our lack of statehood.”
Norton said that congressional action codifying Roe nationwide would be “the very least the District needs.” In the absence of such legislation, she predicted Republicans would move to ban abortion in D.C.
Congress already bans D.C. from using local taxpayer dollars to subsidize abortion for low-income women on Medicaid — a budget rider that Norton and D.C. leaders have been trying to get removed for years to no avail, even with a Democratic-controlled Congress.
On Friday evening, the House Appropriations Committee once again debated whether to include the rider in the appropriations bill moving through Congress. Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa) offered an amendment to include the “D.C. Hyde Amendment” in the bill — but she also went further, proposing federal employees who live in Washington, and anywhere in the nation, also be prohibited from using their health insurance to access abortion.
Democrats on the committee forcefully defended D.C. in opposition to Hinson’s amendment, which failed by a vote of 31 to 24. But even if House Democrats prevail in keeping the abortion rider out of the budget, just like last year, the Senate is likely to keep the rider because Republican votes are needed to pass the budget. And Republicans have repeatedly said they will not support a budget that allows taxpayer money to be used to pay for abortion.
The D.C. Council, which uniformly supports abortion rights, is slated to hold a hearing July 14 to consider several bills that would further strengthen D.C.’s abortion laws — including a bill from Council member Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1) that would create a “human rights sanctuary” protecting the rights to abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage, partnerships and consensual sex. It would restrict D.C. from cooperating with out-of-state investigations into people who come to the District from other states to receive an abortion.
D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D) said his office “will do everything in our power to fiercely defend and strengthen the right to abortion in the District so that everyone can create their family how and when they choose.”
“We will stand up for the rights of District residents and those across the country who come here to access care,” he said. “And we will defend abortion providers who offer needed care to support the health, safety, and dignity of their patients.”
In Maryland, Democrats who lead the legislature vowed to further strengthen abortion laws, which for decades have been enshrined in state law and allow the procedure until viability with no restrictions. Afterward, it’s permitted for the health of the mother.
House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) said she would “use the full authority of my office” to put abortion rights into the state constitution.
“It is a dark day for our country,” Jones said. “We cannot and will not give up. Now is the time to mobilize for the country we all deserve.”
The issue immediately heated up the race to succeed Hogan as governor. Del. Daniel L. Cox (R-Frederick), who is running for the Republican nomination and is endorsed by former president Donald Trump, praised the ruling as a “historic” day, called for a stop to “genocide” and vowed to work to “make sure that we in Maryland stop the taxpayer funded abortions” in a video posted to Facebook.
His GOP primary opponent, former Maryland commerce secretary Kelly Schulz, who’s been endorsed by Hogan, tweeted that the ruling “changes nothing with regard to abortion in Maryland. As I have repeatedly said, while I am personally pro-life, the issue is settled law in Maryland … Despite fear-mongering from others, as governor, I’ll do nothing to change current Maryland law.”
Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former U.S. education secretary John B. King Jr., who was endorsed by Pro-Choice Maryland, called upon leadership to hold a special session and “begin the process of enshrining the right to an abortion in our state constitution NOW.”
Erin Cox, Karina Elwood, Meagan Flynn, Jenna Portnoy and Julie Zauzmer Weil contributed to this report.