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Fact Sheet: Abortion Is on the Ballot in Virginia

This November, every seat in the Virginia legislature is up for election, and as a result, so is the future of abortion access in Virginia and across the South. Virginia honors abortion rights in most instances, only imposing strict limitations in the third trimester of pregnancy at about 26 weeks. The razor-thin majority Democrats hold in the state Senate has prevented Governor Youngkin and Republican legislators from sharply restricting access to reproductive medical care, as every other state in the South has now done. We must retake the House of Delegates and bolster our majority in the Senate if we are to keep Republicans from eroding Virginia’s abortion rights.

You can help take back the House of Delegates and strengthen our Senate majority by donating time and money to Democratic candidates around the state. Volunteer for the Arlington Democrats’ affiliate Beyond Arlington and find out where you can be most effective.

During the last legislative session, Governor Youngkin proposed banning abortions after 15 weeks, with very few exceptions. Under his proposal, a physician who performed a banned abortion would have faced 2-10 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. The proposal failed only because Democratic legislators remained united in opposition. Youngkin supported this legislation because it appeared it might pass the legislature as then constituted. He personally favors a much stricter ban and has promised that if Republicans take control of the legislature, he will seek one. He believes life begins at conception and has said “Any bill that comes to my desk I will sign happily and gleefully in order to protect life.”

Several Republican candidates for the legislature have avoided the subject of abortion in their speeches and campaign literature but have admitted in more informal settings that they support extreme restrictions or even a total ban. Among them are a candidate in a purple House district that includes parts of Prince WIlliam County and a Senate candidate from a purple Senate district in Fredericksburg.

People who seek an abortion typically need support—financial, child care resources, healthcare, or otherwise—despite anti-abortion advocates attempting to shame abortion patients as irresponsible or worse. In fact, sixty percent of abortions are obtained by a parent with at least one child already; many seek an abortion so as not to jeopardize the quality of care they can provide to the children they already have. Seventy-five percent of those obtaining an abortion live below or close to the poverty line. They lack the resources to provide good care and in some cases even provide adequate food for a child.

Abortion access remains popular in Virginia by wide margins, with some polls indicating up to 86% support for abortion being legal in at least some cases. Polls also indicate that it is easier to condemn strangers than acquaintances, showing opposition to abortion as lower among those who know someone who has had an abortion. About two-thirds of Americans believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases; the percentage rises to 78% among people who have a “close friend” who has had an abortion.

Republican attempts to limit when it is legal to have an abortion can have cruel consequences. Some serious fetal abnormalities are not, and cannot be, discovered until late in a pregnancy. Bans on late-stage abortions can require a mother to suffer the emotional and physical strain of carrying to term a fetus that cannot survive. Gov. Youngkin opposes abortion even in these tragic situations. After Dobbs, he twice tried to get the Virginia legislature to cease funding abortions for low-income patients who learn that their fetus suffers from an “incapacitating” condition.

Some Republicans, including Gov. Youngkin, imply that their anti-abortion legislation is humane because it contains exceptions for cases of rape or incest or a life-threatening pregnancy. In fact, these exceptions often fail to achieve their ostensible purpose. Doctors facing a loss of their medical license or even imprisonment often refuse to provide care when there is any uncertainty about whether an exception applies. For example, the only evidence that incest has occurred may be the statements of a pregnant child, and a doctor may be unwilling to stake his or her freedom on the accuracy of the story. Often the legislation is vague, and few doctors are willing to risk their futures on the hope that a prosecutor will later agree that its terms were met in a particular instance. And despite the existence of exceptions, patients may face delays or even denials of life-saving medical care, such as treatment for cancer or sepsis, that could later be judged to have violated the law. One common problem is that a patient may be desperately ill and getting worse, but not yet on the verge of death within the arguable meaning of a statute that permits an abortion only to preserve the life of the patient. In these cases, many doctors and hospitals wait until the patient is extremely sick before providing care.

Anti-abortion legislators also seek to ban medication abortions, which constitute over half of abortions in the first 15 weeks. Medication abortions are induced by a two-pill regimen of mifepristone and misoprostol. Obtaining these medications is inexpensive, convenient, and in Virginia does not require a trip to a doctor or medical facility. Medication abortions have been an escape valve for many since the Dobbs decision, particularly because it is not possible for others to tell the difference between a natural miscarriage and one induced via pill. The future availability of medication abortions is threatened by litigation about the validity of agency actions permitting the procedure. These cases are currently proceeding in the lower courts but will ultimately be decided by the same Court that overruled Roe v. Wade. Even if medication abortions remain available as a matter of federal law, states can ban the procedure within their borders. Currently 14 states do. The then-Democratic Virginia legislature voted to expand access to medication abortions via mail in 2020, but the procedure could be on the chopping block in Virginia if Republicans take control. By eliminating the procedure used in over half of abortions within the first 15 weeks, the usefulness of a 15-week period would be sharply diminished for many patients.

Help protect reproductive rights in Virginia. Volunteer with Beyond Arlington today to secure Democratic control of the Virginia legislature.

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