NORFOLK, Va. — Not long after the Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling Friday morning, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin called on lawmakers to change the state's abortion laws.
The ruling by the high court's conservative majority is expected to lead to abortion bans in roughly half the states, due to trigger laws or near-total bans, the Associated Press reports. The issue of abortion will remain a contentious debate in the remaining states.
Abortion is lawful in Virginia within the first and second trimesters, but the procedure is more restricted afterward. When Democrats held the state government in 2020, they lifted some restrictions on abortion, including a mandatory ultrasound law and a 24-hour waiting period prior to the procedure.
Youngkin, a self-described pro-life Republican, said he asked Virginia Sens. Siobhan Dunnavant and Steve Newman and Dels. Kathy Byron and Margaret Ransone to head efforts on bills changing those laws.
"We can build a bipartisan consensus on protecting the life of unborn children, especially when they begin to feel pain in the womb, and importantly supporting mothers and families who choose life," Youngkin said in a statement.
Youngkin added that he wants the four officials to be prepared to introduce legislation when the General Assembly returns in January 2022.
While Youngkin's statement wasn't specific on policies, his spokesperson Macaulay Porter said in a statement he will seek a 15-week threshold on abortion.
Virginia Speaker of the House Todd Gilbert, also a Republican, released a statement answering the governor's call to take action.
"This [Supreme Court] decision places an enormous responsibility back into the hands of the General Assembly," Gilbert said. "As Speaker of the House, I do not take this burden lightly, especially given the extreme pro-abortion policies that were enacted over the last few years."
In his statement, Gilbert accused Democrats of using scare tactics on the issue of abortion but hoped they would work with Republicans on legislation. Democratic leaders in the General Assembly are pushing back, though.
"We will not allow Virginia to turn back 50 years of progress of women's reproductive rights," Virginia Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw tweeted. "We will stridently defend a woman's right to choose."
Louise Lucas, the chair of the Virginia Senate Education and Health Committee, said she would block any bill that restricts abortion rights.
"Virginia will remain open for choice," Lucas tweeted.
In response to Youngkin's statement on the Supreme Court, Lucas vowed to "teach this Governor what a brick wall is," referring to the slim majority the Democrats hold in the Virginia Senate.
House Democratic Leader Del. Don Scott said his party will work to defend legal access to abortion.
"I stand with all those who are experiencing grief, anger, and fear today, Scott tweeted. "Know this: Here in Virginia, the fight is far from over."
After the Supreme Court announced its decision, the Democratic Party of Virginia Chairwoman Susan Swecker released a statement strongly condemning it:
“Today is a sad day for women across our Commonwealth and our Country. The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade is the biggest attack on women’s rights in my lifetime and will set women back decades. Over 49 years ago, Roe v. Wade established a woman’s constitutional right to make decisions about her own health and body, and now after relentless Republican attacks, the Supreme Court has overturned this landmark ruling – allowing states to criminalize abortion, even prosecute women and doctors.
One thing is clear: we must elect those who will protect that right and stop those who try to turn back the clock to the 1950s. Virginia Democrats are 100% deeply committed to protecting Virginians' right to an abortion – and ensuring that the Commonwealth will not be pushed back to the restrictions of the 1950s when it comes to women’s equality. We will fight every single effort put forward by Governor Youngkin and Republican leadership to criminalize abortion in the Commonwealth and will ensure that Virginia remains a safe haven for reproductive health care. Virginians will have access to the health care and reproductive health care they need.”
The Democratic Party of Virginia and partner organizations held a press conference Friday afternoon in Richmond to discuss the Supreme Court's decision.