Glenn Youngkin. Courtesy of Appalachian School of Law.

RICHMOND – Within an hour of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to send abortion back to the states, Gov. Glenn Youngkin said that he asked four Republican lawmakers – including two from Bedford County – to draft legislation that would “chart the most successful path forward” for the commonwealth on this issue.

“The Supreme Court of the United States has rightfully returned power to the people and their elected representatives in the states,” Youngkin said in a statement. “I’m proud to be a pro-life governor and plan to take every action I can to protect life.”

In one of the most momentous and controversial decisions in decades, the court ruled Friday in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that the Constitution does not guarantee a right to abortion. By a 5-4 vote, the court’s conservative majority overturned the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that had stood as one of the most debated rulings in the court’s history, allowing states to decide if abortions should be sanctioned.

The group of lawmakers Youngkin tasked with preparing legislation for the 2023 General Assembly session include state Sen. Steve Newman, Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, Del. Kathy Byron and Del. Margaret Ransone. All four are staunch opponents of abortion. Youngkin said that they would join his administration in an effort to “bring together legislators and advocates from across the commonwealth on this issue to find areas where we can agree and chart the most successful path forward.”

In a meeting with reporters, editors and editorial writers at The Washington Post Friday morning, Youngkin said that he will seek to ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, but he added that setting the cutoff at 20 weeks might be necessary to attract more consensus in a divided legiuslature. He also said he supports exceptions for rape, incest and cases where the life of the mother is at risk.

Under current law, abortions are legal in the commonwealth in the first and second trimesters. They are only legal in the third trimester if continuing the pregnancy “is likely to result in the death of the woman or substantially and irremediably impair the mental or physical health of the woman.” Any changes to the law must pass in the Senate, where Democrats still hold a one-seat majority. 

Newman, in a statement, echoed Youngkin’s proposal. “I will work with the governor’s administration and other pro-life legislators to craft a bill that is viable to pass a Democrat-controlled Senate,” he said. “It will be a major victory to limit abortions in Virginia to 15 weeks of gestation. I invite both Democrats and Republicans to join the governor in taking this clear step toward protecting children and their mothers.”

Other Virginia Republicans rejoiced when the news of the ruling broke on Friday. “The Supreme Court of the United States today corrected a nearly five-decades old decision and returned power to the states as it relates to abortion,” said Del. Todd-Gilbert, R-Shenandoah County, the Speaker of the House of Delegates. “All Virginians want fewer abortions, not more, and House Republicans stand ready to achieve that goal. Our Caucus is ready to work with Democrats to protect the life of unborn children, particularly those who science has proven can feel pain in the womb,” Gilbert said.

In a joint statement, ​​Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment, Jr, R-James City County, Caucus Chairman Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover County, Caucus Co-Chairman Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham County, and caucus whips Bill Stanley, Jr., R-Franklin County, and Bryce E. Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, said that the court’s ruling returns to the people – through their elected representatives in the states – decisions regarding the protection of human life, specifically unborn children and their mothers.

“This reversal of the court’s previous decisions undoubtedly will result in lawmakers of both parties introducing legislation for the General Assembly to consider during its 2023 regular session. Senate Republicans stand ready to fulfill our duty by giving a fair hearing to legislation related to all perspectives on this and every issue,” the statement said. 

Del. Wren Williams, R-Patrick County, called the historic ruling “the biggest win for life, liberty and limited government” since the Emancipation and the fall of Jim Crow. “I applaud the justices for standing firm in their opinion, in the face of a historic leak attacking SCOTUS’s integrity, a failed assassination attempt, and relentless pressure and threats from the media, Democrat politicians, and far-Left activists,” Williams said.

Del. Marie March, R-Floyd, who will face Williams in her district’s GOP primary next year based on the recently redrawn maps, said that “life has won a major victory” Friday. “This is much more than a political issue, it is a moral obligation that we have to protect the most innocent among us. I stand humbled and honored to lead the fight to protect life with this important legislation next session,” March said.

But Del. Sam Rasoul of Roanoke – the lone Democrat from Southwest Virginia in the House of Delegates – said he is “deeply troubled” by the ruling handed down by the Supreme Court. “It is apparent that the court is no longer an a-political branch of our government. The Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling is blatantly political in overturning Roe v. Wade. The impact of this ruling is going to be immense, likely overturning decades of precedents and causing harm to millions of Americans,” Rasoul said. 

And Jacqueline Woodbridge, a spokeswoman for the Senate Democrats, said that while the court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has been expected, Senate Democrats are “shocked and saddened” that nearly 50 years of precedent has been destroyed that protected a person’s right to medical privacy in reproductive health. “The whiplash and lack of judicial integrity on the part of the six Justices who voted to revoke the constitutional right to an abortion is staggering,” she said.

Woodbridge added that efforts by Republicans in Virginia and across the nation to restrict a person’s right to medical privacy relating to abortion and reproductive health services will “no doubt be redoubled with the fall of Roe v. Wade today,” Senate Democrats remain strong to protect the right to choose in the commonwealth and will not back down “Make no mistake – we will protect a person’s right to choose in Virginia.”

Josh Throneburg, the Democratic nominee in Virginia’s 5th congressional district, said that he was “deeply disappointed” with the ruling. “Women who are pregnant should make decisions about their pregnancy, not the government,” Throneburg said. “And let’s be clear: this decision will do nothing to end abortion in this country. It will make it more dangerous, and the burden will fall heaviest on the people who are least able to shoulder it: poor women, women of color, victims of assault, and young women with limited resources.”

Throneburg’s opponent, Rep. Bob Good, R-Campbell County, took to Twitter: “Thank God for the SCOTUS’s courage. May Republicans in Congress match that courage by demanding a vote on the Life at Conception Act, and finally bring an end to the atrocity of abortion in America.”

In Washington, Good’s colleague Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, said that Roe v. Wade was a “constitutional error” that has produced decades of tragedy. “The Supreme Court got the law right today in Dobbs,” Griffith said. “The court has returned to the individual states the ability to make their own decisions on this issue. Our task going forward from this decision is to carry on the hard but rewarding work of building a culture that protects, respects, and cherishes life.”

But the two U.S. senators from Virginia – both Democrats – scolded the court’s decision. “I am deeply disturbed that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, upsetting decades of precedent protecting the right of women to make fundamental personal decisions about contraception and abortion without unnecessary government interference,” said Sen. Tim Kaine. “That’s why I’ve been engaged in efforts in the Senate to codify the basic framework of Roe v. Wade and related cases into federal law. We’re not going to give up on the fight to protect the right to choose.”

Sen. Mark Warner said that the ruling jeopardizes the health and autonomy of millions of American women and “turns back the clock on nearly 50 years of settled and reaffirmed law” – reflecting a court that has “increasingly issued politicized rulings that undermine the fundamental rights” of Americans. 

“This decision will take control over personal health care decisions away from individuals and give it to politicians in state legislatures across the country. I am heartbroken for the generations of women who now have fewer rights than when they were born, many of whom will be forced into life-threatening or prohibitively expensive circumstances to access health care as a result of this radical decision,” Warner said.

Markus Schmidt

Markus Schmidt is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach him at markus@cardinalnews.org.