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Kiggans talks up 15-week abortion ban but won’t say if she’d vote for it

Virginia state Sen. Jen A. Kiggans (R) talks with a voter outside Malibu Elementary School in Virginia Beach in June. (Kristen Zeis/For The Washington Post)

State Sen. Jen A. Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach), who is running against U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) in one of Virginia’s most competitive congressional districts, called a national ban on abortion after 15 weeks a “common-sense” restriction but did not say whether she would vote for it.

Asked to clarify whether, if elected, she would vote for the 15-week ban put forth by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and House Republicans on Tuesday, Kiggans’s campaign spokesman said in a statement Wednesday to The Washington Post: “The vast majority of Virginians — and Americans — support common-sense restrictions on abortion such as protecting babies from 15 weeks on.” The statement was first reported by Virginia Scope.

The spokesman, Bryan Piligra, added, “While Sen. Kiggans believes the states should make these decisions, Rep. Luria voted for her extreme position to have Washington tell Virginians what to do,” apparently referring to Luria’s support for the Women’s Health Protection Act that would codify abortion rights conferred under Roe v. Wade before it was overturned by the Supreme Court in June.

Graham introduces bill to ban abortions nationwide after 15 weeks

The spokesman did not respond to follow-up questions seeking clarity on how Kiggans would vote on the 15-week ban if elected. National polling shows Americans are mixed about a 15-week ban, with a poll from the Public Religion Research Institute finding 44 percent of Americans in favor and 52 percent opposed, and another from Marquette Law finding 53 percent of Americans favored a ban on abortion after 15 weeks except in cases of medical emergencies, while 46 percent were opposed.

The House and Senate legislation has complicated the messaging on abortion for Republicans running in moderate districts like Virginia’s 2nd, especially as Democrats seize on abortion as a central issue in the midterm elections. Kiggans applauded the overturning of Roe v. Wade but maintained that she believed the ruling meant abortion policy would be left with the states, repeating the sentiment in a recent interview with The Post. Now, Graham’s and Rep. Christopher H. Smith’s (R-N.J.) legislation changes that, ensuring a debate on national abortion legislation and no doubt leaving voters on both sides wanting to know where their representative or candidate stands.

Ad attacks leave Kiggans trying to reclaim image: ‘I’m not an extremist’

Graham introduced the legislation Tuesday flanked by representatives of the Susan B. Anthony List, an antiabortion group that endorsed Kiggans, and said that if Republicans take control of Congress he expects that they would push for a floor vote on the legislation.

In the absence of clarity, Democrats interpreted Kiggans’s statement as “promising to support a nationwide federal abortion ban.”

“Jen Kiggans is an anti-abortion extremist. Full stop,” Democratic Party of Virginia Chairwoman Susan Swecker said in a statement. “After attempting to hide and lie about her anti-abortion agenda, Kiggans has finally told Coastal Virginians the truth. Her unwavering support of a nationwide federal abortion ban is a danger to women and out of touch with Coastal Virginians.”

In a statement, Luria echoed Swecker and said “politicians like Jen should have no place in a woman’s right to choose. Her abortion extremism threatens the health of women across the country, and Jen is too dangerous for Coastal Virginia.”

In Virginia’s other two more-competitive districts, Republican candidates Yesli Vega in the 7th and Hung Cao in the 10th similarly demurred on staking a clear position when asked whether they would vote for the 15-week abortion ban, while each seeking to paint their opponents as extreme.

Vega, who is running against Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), closely hewed to the sentiment she expressed the day Roe was overturned that the issue is left with states, even though if elected she will be expected to take a position.

“More Virginians are in line with Yesli, who is pro-life with exceptions in the case of rape, incest, and the life of the mother,” Sean Brown, a spokesman for Vega, said in a statement. “Yesli stands firmly on the belief that the Supreme Court correctly ruled in their decision to leave the issue up to the states and the people.”

Asked to clarify how Vega would vote on the federal legislation, Brown continued to say she supports the Supreme Court ruling “leaving it to the states.”

Cao was even less clear, only noting that if elected “I’ll be responsible for my votes on bills that come before me” before pivoting to talking about his Democratic opponent, Rep. Jennifer Wexton.

Cao said on the day Roe was overturned, “I am thrilled to see the justices stand by their careful reading of the law, sending this matter back to the people of Virginia to decide for ourselves through our elected representatives. In Congress, I will always support life.”

Kiggans has been trying to swat back against a slew of attack ads that Luria has run on abortion, accusing Kiggans of wanting to ban abortion without exception. Kiggans said in a previous interview with The Post that she does support exceptions and “I’m not here to make abortion illegal.” She accused Luria of lying about her and said that she does not like divisive politics.

But on Wednesday, Kiggans’s campaign used extreme language to attack Luria. The campaign’s statement Wednesday said, “What Virginians don’t support is the inhumane and extreme position taken by Rep. Elaine Luria who believes babies should be killed all the way through pregnancy, up until the moment of birth,” which the spokesman then compared to China and North Korea, where abortion is widely accessible.

Luria has not said she supports abortion up until the moment of birth. Kiggans had previously pointed to Luria’s vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act to claim Luria supported that, but that bill would only prohibit states from enacting abortion restrictions past fetal viability — the ill-defined point when a baby would survive outside the womb — if a mother’s life were at risk. The bill would ensure access to abortion before that point.

Kiggans used similar tactics in her successful campaign for state Senate in 2019, accusing her Democratic opponent of supporting “infanticide” after a different Democrat, Del. Kathy Tran (Fairfax), answered affirmatively when a Republican asked her if a bill she put forth would allow abortion up to when a woman was dilating. Tran later corrected herself to note that such abortions were illegal in Virginia. But Republicans including Kiggans have reverted to the comments in campaigns ever since.

Scott Clement contributed to this report.