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Opinion Voters in Virginia’s 7th District should be wary of Yesli Vega’s ignorance

Yesli Vega, the Republican nominee for Virginia's 7th Congressional District, with Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) on June 22 in Woodbridge, Va. (Steve Helber/AP)

“The left will say, ‘Well, what about in cases of rape or incest?’ I’m a law enforcement officer. I became a police officer in 2011. I’ve worked one case where as a result of a rape, the young woman became pregnant.”

So began Yesli Vega’s ill-informed comments on abortion, pregnancy and rape, caught on tape at a May event in Stafford County, Va., and published by Axios Richmond. Ms. Vega is the GOP nominee running to unseat Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District. The two candidates differ dramatically: Ms. Spanberger is deliberate and moderate. Ms. Vega is bombastic and far-right — and, as evidenced by the tape, careless toward a key issue she’s running to have the power to legislate on. In the recorded conversation, Ms. Vega minimized the likelihood of pregnancy resulting from rape. An unidentified person asked Ms. Vega whether she’s heard it’s more difficult for a rape victim to get pregnant, since “the body shuts down in some way.” To which Ms. Vega replied: “Yeah, yeah. And the individual, the male is doing it as quickly — it’s not like, you know — so I can see why maybe there’s truth to that.”

Let’s be clear: Rape victims can and do get pregnant. Almost 3 million women in the United States became pregnant as a result of a rape, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in a 2018 report. A 1996 study on rape-related pregnancy followed more than 4,000 women for three years; among the rape victims, 5 percent became pregnant, and almost one-third of the victims didn’t realize they were pregnant until the second trimester.

A good legislator shouldn’t write or vote for legislation using anecdotal evidence and ignorance. But on the issue of rape-related pregnancy, it seems that’s where Ms. Vega would be coming from. The Supreme Court’s consequential overturn of Roe v. Wade has made fraught access to abortion nationwide. Given these stakes, Virginia’s 7th District should elect a congresswoman who is clear and knowledgeable on their stance about abortion, which Ms. Vega has yet to be.

Identifying as pro-life on her website, Ms. Vega celebrated the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling, tweeting a statement that she’s “glad [the issue of abortion is] returning to the state where we have a pro-life Governor at the helm.” Beyond that, she has not shared specifics. Ms. Vega expressed support for a 15-week ban at the state level that Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) is pushing for, according to Axios. But she hasn’t answered questions from multiple news outlets about whether she’d support a nationwide ban. She didn’t respond to our inquiries. Meanwhile, Ms. Spanberger’s position is clear: She was one of 215 co-sponsors of the Women’s Health Protection Act in 2021, which was blocked by the Senate and would have codified the right to abortion into federal law.

This race is one of the most closely watched in the country, key to which party will control the House. In 2012, GOP congressman Todd Akin tanked his Senate run by doubting the possibility of pregnancy resulting from rape, becoming a cautionary tale for future Republican candidates. Now in 2022, with all eyes on Virginia’s 7th District, voters should ask themselves: Is it really time to send the message that a candidate’s ignorance on rape-related pregnancy doesn’t matter anymore?