Virginia Democrats vowed Friday to defeat portions of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s (R) budget plan that would further limit abortions, adding energy to next month’s special election to fill a vacant seat in the state Senate, which is narrowly held by their party.
The governor also reintroduced a previously defeated proposal to prohibit state Medicaid from covering abortions in cases of “incapacitating” physical or mental fetal deformities, including cases in which the baby would be born without parts of the brain and skull.
Democrats called both measures nonstarters in a state where their party holds a slim 21-19 majority in the Senate, though one Democrat in that chamber, Sen. Joseph D. Morrissey (D-Richmond), has said he is opposed to most forms of abortion. Republicans hold a 52-48 majority in the House of Delegates.
Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) said the amount Youngkin is proposing in the budget — $50,000 — is also the minimum amount required to offset the potential cost to the state prison system of incarcerating violators of a new law, which she took as an indication that there would be criminal penalties attached to his abortion proposal.
“This governor is purely delusional if he thinks for one friggin’ minute that we’re going to allow him to put women and doctors in jail for violating his 15-week abortion ban,” said Lucas, who is president pro tempore of the state Senate and chair of the education and health committee. “I will fight day and night to make sure it crashes and burns.”
Youngkin spokeswoman Macauley Porter called that stance “political posturing,” saying that the $50,000 amount meets a technical requirement for new legislation involving a crime and that it does not mean the governor is seeking to imprison those who violate the ban.
“Democrats are deliberately misleading people,” Porter said in a statement. “The Governor has said he wants to look for bipartisan consensus on a bill to protect life after 15 weeks, with exceptions in the case of rape, incest or life of the mother.”
Under current law, Virginia allows abortion in the first and second trimesters, up to about 26 weeks, and in the third only if the pregnant person’s life or health is at serious risk, as certified by three doctors.
Youngkin, a potential 2024 presidential candidate who was caught on tape during his gubernatorial campaign pledging to go “on offense” against abortion once elected, has said he intends to pursue a 15-week ban, with exceptions for rape, incest and to protect the life of the pregnant person.
“Any bill that comes to my desk I will sign happily and gleefully to protect life,” he said in a June online forum organized by the Family Foundation of Virginia to celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Democrats said Youngkin’s proposed abortion bans add new urgency to next month’s special election to fill the seat of state Sen. Jen A. Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach), who last month was elected to the 2nd Congressional District and, to a lesser extent, the contest between Morrissey and Sen. Jennifer L. McClellan (D-Richmond), who are vying for the Democratic nomination to replace Rep. A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) in his deep-blue Richmond-based district. McEachin died last month at 61.
If Democrat Aaron Rouse beats Republican Kevin Adams in the race to replace Kiggans, flipping the district to his party, that would add another vote for abortion rights in the chamber — nullifying the potential for a tie on Youngkin’s proposed bans if Morrissey were to side with him.
Ties in the Senate are settled by Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle Sears (R), who also supports further abortion bans.
If either Morrissey or McClellan goes to Congress, their seats would become vacant, though both are in heavily Democratic districts.
On Friday, Rouse said he plans to highlight Adams’s antiabortion stance.
“Kevin Adams has already made it clear that he supports Gov. Youngkin’s abortion bans,” Rouse said. “The voters are already aware. What they need to understand is this election is Jan. 10. Early voting has already started.”
Adams’s campaign manager, Kendyl Parker, did not answer a question about whether he would support Youngkin’s abortion proposals. In a statement, Parker called Rouse “too extreme for Virginia” and said Adams is focused on lowering taxes, creating jobs and “keeping our neighborhoods safe.”
A spokesman for Morrissey said in a statement Friday, “Senator Morrissey continued to maintain his position on abortion. He does not believe that government should be telling women, or men for that matter, what to do with their bodies. Senator Morrissey believes this decision is between a woman and her physician.”
At a Henrico County media event for her congressional campaign, McClellan predicted that Youngkin’s abortion measures will fail, saying the effort “was defeated before and it will be defeated again.”
Advocates on both sides of the abortion issue said they plan to get involved in the special election to replace Kiggans.
Caitlyn Connors, southern regional director for the Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America advocacy group, said her organization is finalizing its plans on how to help Adams.
“This race is going to be pivotal in being able to advance legislation to save unborn children from painful late-term abortions,” Connors said.
Jamie Lockhart, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, said her organization is working to make voters more aware of Youngkin’s plans.
While the idea of a 15-week abortion ban is concerning, the impact of stopping Medicaid from funding abortions related to fetal deficiencies may not be obvious, she said.
Most women who seek Medicaid coverage are low-income and predominantly from communities of color, Lockhart said, adding that just 21 women in Virginia received Medicaid coverage for abortions involving fetal abnormalities last year.
“This is a very small number of cases, but these are people who are earning very low incomes,” Lockhart said.
Gregory S. Schneider in Richmond contributed to this report.