Oct 3, 2023 - News

Virginia Republicans embrace Youngkin's 15-week abortion ban in new ads

Illustration of two elephants facing a caduceus between them

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Republicans in some Virginia swing districts are taking their support for a 15-week abortion ban sought by Gov. Youngkin to the airwaves.

Why it matters: Abortion has been a losing topic for the GOP since the Supreme Court overturned Roe.

  • With a presidential election looming, all eyes are on how they navigate the issue in purple Virginia.

What's happening: Virginia Republicans appear to be gambling that they can overcome the headwinds by voicing clear support for restrictions that they frame as a commonsense middle ground.

  • In an ad for Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, that's aired more than 400 times, an actor tells viewers "15 weeks is reasonable."
  • "She has a compassionate and reasonable position on abortion," another actor says.
  • The ad has run more than 400 times, per the Virginia Public Access Project.

The ad followed a spot by her opponent, Democratic Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg, which itself ran more than 500 times, warning that "Republican Siobhan Dunnavant wants to ban abortion."

Context: The Virginia GOP has coalesced around a 15-week ban first proposed by Youngkin, which includes exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother. (Though Dunnavant, a practicing OBGYN, has also pushed for additional exceptions for severe fetal anomalies.)

Of note: Elective abortions are currently available in Virginia up to 26 weeks and six days of pregnancy, after which three doctors must sign off on any procedure.

What they're saying: Democrats say they doubt Republicans would stop at 15 weeks if they were to win total control of Virginia government, noting that Youngkin told a conservative audience last year he would "happily and gleefully" sign "any bill … to protect life."

The other side: Republicans have been voicing anger and frustration over Democratic attacks accusing GOP candidates of supporting total bans, with Youngkin's PAC accusing Democrats of "overt falsehoods and flagrant fearmongering" in a statement last week.

  • They've also hit back with ads accusing Democrats of being the extreme ones, resurrecting a messy 2019 debate over a bill that would have loosened restrictions on abortions in the third trimester.

Between the lines: It's unlikely the new ads are a sign of GOP confidence on the position, UVA political scientist Larry Sabato told Axios. Instead, he says the party is backed into a corner.

  • "It's an old technique in politics called an inoculation ad," he said.
  • Sabato doubts many voters would find the effort convincing given the restrictive legislation that has passed in other Republican-led states.

The bottom line: Polling in Virginia has uncovered sometimes contradictory views on abortion.

  • In one survey last year, a majority of respondents said they thought abortion should be legal in "all or most cases" and opposed the decision to overturn Roe.
  • But a slim majority also said they'd support the 15-week ban with exceptions sought by Youngkin.
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