Virginia: An Omen of Things to Come for Anti-Abortion Candidates

On Tuesday, November 7, 2023, voters in Virginia demonstrated the importance of abortion (and thus a pregnant person’s right to choose) when Virginia Democrats retook full control of Virginia’s General Assembly. Prior to the election, Democrats were the majority in the Senate (22-18), while Republicans were the majority in the House of Delegates (52-48). All seats were on the ballot on November 7, and the legislative races for the seats were dependent on candidates’ stance on abortion. For instance, Democratic ads featured abortion more than any other issue, while Republican ads focused on the economy, education, public safety, and parental rights.

As Democrats retook full control of the General Assembly, Republicans will be unable to implement new abortion restrictions, specifically Governor Youngkin’s proposed abortion limit. Prior to the election, Governor Youngkin pledged to sign his proposed abortion limit if Republicans maintained control in the Senate and gained control of the House. Youngkin’s proposed plan is to alter Virginia’s current abortion limit to a 15-week limit after pregnancy except for rape, incest, and saving the pregnant person’s life. Virginia’s current abortion policy is that abortion is legal until viability, defined by the Supreme Court of the United States as “the capacity for meaningful life outside the womb, albeit with artificial aid… [not just] momentary survival.” Throughout the election, Democrats have promised that an abortion ban legislation will not be sent to Governor Youngkin’s desk for the remainder of his term in office. They have gone as far as to state that any legislation to limit abortions is “guaranteed to fail in the General Assembly next year.”

Two big organizations, Think Big America and the ACLU of Virginia, donated a substantial amount of money to Democratic candidates. During the week before the election, Think Big America, a nonprofit group affiliated with Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, donated $250,000 to Democrat candidates in the election. The donation was to be allocated as follows: $25,000 each to 4 Democrats running in battleground Senate districts and $150,000 to the Democratic Party of Virginia. The ACLU of Virginia donated just over $1 million to be directed toward direct mail, digital ads, and volunteer outreach to highlight candidates’ positions on abortion in the competitive 5 Senate districts and 6 House districts.

While the ACLU of Virginia’s financial investment was unprecedented in its history for this year’s election cycle, they believed it was necessary as the implications of November’s legislative races would have an effect on abortion access and policy decisions in Virginia. November 7’s election outcome determined whether abortion and reproductive rights will continue to be safe for Virginians, as well as for those from the South who are traveling to Virginia to access abortion care.

Virginia’s election results reverberated elsewhere. On November 7, Ohio voters approved a constitutional amendment ensuring access to abortion and other forms of reproductive health care. The amendment included some of the most protective language for abortion access of any statewide ballot initiative since the Supreme Court ruled on Dobbs.

As demonstrated, there are consequences at the ballot box to candidates’ stance on abortion. Overall, about two-thirds of Americans believe abortion should be legal until 24 weeks, a quarter believe abortion should always be legal, and about 1 in 10 believe abortion should always be illegal. As the 2024 presidential race is underway, Republican candidates differ on abortion, with some arguing for a national 6- or 15-week ban and others arguing that the decision should be left to the states.

Regardless of the Republican party’s course of action regarding abortion bans, Senator Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) stated, “[t]he people aren’t with us,” acknowledging that the country is not on board with extreme limits on abortion. Despite Republican candidates wavering on their abortion stance, one thing is for certain: abortion will remain a hot topic in the 2024 presidential and congressional races.

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