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Virginia’s Anti-Choice Floodgates Could Open if Republicans Win Governorship

Erin Heger

“[Ed] Gillespie has tried to appeal to the far right during the campaign and align himself with the religious right, and if he wins he will owe them."

Democrat Terry McAuliffe has been a self-proclaimed “brick wall” against anti-choice measures during his four years as Virginia governor, but a Republican victory in the November 7 gubernatorial election could result in a host of anti-abortion policies becoming law. 

McAuliffe, who can’t seek a second consecutive term under Virginia law, has vetoed more bills than any other Virginia governor, including two GOP-led attempts to defund Planned Parenthood.

“We’ve been very fortunate to have a governor who has vetoed more than 90 pieces of legislation that have been anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-LGBT, and threaten access to health care,” said Alexsis Rodgers, communications director for Planned Parenthood Virginia PAC.

House Del. David LaRock (R-Loudon) in 2015 and 2016 introduced 20-week abortion bans, but the measures didn’t go far because McAuliffe pledged to veto it. Both defunding Planned Parenthood and a 20-week ban would be top priorities for Republicans should they control both the executive and legislative branches, Rodgers said.

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“You can absolutely expect these same bills will be reintroduced. The only difference is we will have no way to block them,” said Rodgers, a former policy director for Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who is the Democratic candidate for Virginia governor. “Restricting access to reproductive health care is a priority for the Republican caucus. What used to be considered ‘message’ bills that wouldn’t ultimately go very far could actually become law.”

Northam has been a consistent supporter of reproductive rights, speaking during his time as a state senator about his opposition to mandating transvaginal ultrasounds prior to abortionsa GOP measure that narrowly passed in 2012 after being amended to require an external ultrasound.

The Republican candidate, Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chair who has the backing of President Trumphas been open about his desire to ban abortion in almost every case

“Anti-choice forces are strong in Virginia,” said Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro Choice Virginia. “Gillespie has tried to appeal to the far right during the campaign and align himself with the religious right, and if he wins he will owe them.”

Additional anti-choice bills of concern to Keene and Rodgers include a radical “personhood” bill that could outlaw abortion and some forms of contraception as well as a resolution to designate January 22 as a “Day of Tears” to mourn the anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wadeboth introduced by GOP lawmakers in the state’s General Assembly this year. These and several other anti-choice bills introduced over the past four years could quickly become law if Gillespie defeats Northam, Keene said.

“What we’ve seen out of the Virginia General Assembly in recent years is a real focus on restricting access to reproductive health care,” Keene said. “I think what Virginia would find itself doing is being complicit with this attempt to continue passing these later term abortion bans with the intention of setting a challenge to Roe v. Wade.”

Along with restricting access to reproductive health care, other bills aimed at disenfranchising minority groups are likely to be brought up again, Keene said, citing a religious imposition bill McAuliffe vetoed this year designed to stigmatize LGBTQ couples.

“Any bills that would roll back rights and try to legitimize discrimination are definitely bills that the General Assembly would focus on because they can,” Keene said. “With power comes empowerment.”

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