Dec 19, 2022 - Politics

Virginia's abortion fight begins

Illustration of the Virginia State Capitol with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Language tucked into Gov. Youngkin's proposed budget sets aside $50,000 to pay to incarcerate people who violate a 15-week abortion ban he is pursuing.

Why it matters: It's the opening salvo in the fight over abortion rights in the coming legislative session, which begins Jan. 11.

What's happening: Democrats blasted Youngkin for not mentioning or otherwise noting the appropriation when he formally presented his budget last week.

  • The allocation is required under procedural rules in the General Assembly, which require a minimum of $50,000 in new corrections funding for any new laws that could increase the state's prison population.

What they're saying: "The Governor will not sign a bill which imprisons women, that’s pure political posturing," Youngkin's press secretary, Macaulay Porter, said in an email. "There is a technical requirement to include any legislation that may expand a felony in the budget, even before it passes. And the democrats know this."

State of play: While Youngkin has pledged to sign any new abortion restrictions that get to his desk, Democrats and Republicans alike say they consider the passage of any new abortion bans unlikely.

The intrigue: That has not stopped Democrats from emphasizing the possibility as they campaign to fill the Virginia Beach state Senate seat vacated by Republican Jen Kiggans when she was elected to Congress.

  • They note flipping the seat would boost their majority in the chamber from one seat to two, effectively neutralizing Sen. Joe Morrissey, a Democrat who has voiced support for new restrictions in the past.

What we're hearing: That campaign messaging has put Republican operatives in the General Assembly in the unusual position of privately insisting that their own governor's abortion legislation is already doomed.

  • Among other things, they note Sen. Louise Lucas, the Democrat who chairs the committee that will hear any abortion bills in the Senate, has repeatedly promised to block any new restrictions.

Yes, but: There are procedural maneuvers available to bypass Lucas' committee, but they're almost never successful and GOP Minority Leader Tommy Norment has gone on record opposing the step.

Reality check: Morrissey flaunts his swing-vote status on abortion, but so far he's stuck with his party on the issue, including by voting against budget language Republicans sought last session that would limit state Medicaid funding for abortions.

What's next: It remains an open question whether a new abortion ban will even pass the House, where Republicans hold a four-seat advantage and are eager to protect members in swing districts from taking a stance on the issue in an election year.

  • A spokesman for GOP House Speaker Todd Gilbert did not respond to a request for comment, but Republicans in the chamber said last session they didn't bother advancing a 20-week ban because they said it had no chance of passing the Senate.

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