May 23, 2022 - Politics

Abortion’s precarious state of play in Virginia

Data: Guttmacher Institute, Axios research. Cartogram: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

The potential overturning of Roe vs. Wade has thrust abortion to the forefront of the battle for the Virginia state legislature.

Why it matters: Even if Democrats hold onto their one-seat majority in the state Senate during next year’s election, the party could still lose on abortion if one of their members — the notoriously unpredictable Senator Joe Morrissey — sides with the GOP, Axios Richmond’s Ned Oliver writes.

  • Morrissey already co-sponsored a GOP bill earlier this year to ban most abortions after 20 weeks.
  • “I believe that there is a period when the fetus can feel pain and I remain open to legislation that would prevent an abortion when the fetus is so far along it feels pain,” he tells Axios.

Flashback: Morrissey served three months in jail in 2015 on charges stemming from a relationship with his then-17-year-old receptionist, whom he later married. He also did time more than a decade earlier, after getting into a courthouse fistfight with an opposing lawyer while serving as the city’s chief prosecutor.

  • Morrissey was in the news again earlier this month after he grew visibly enraged during his radio show when the producer pressed him to clarify his position on Roe vs. Wade.

What’s happening: Morrissey’s abortion stance is fueling interest in his challenger in the primary, former Delegate Lashrecse Aird, a Democrat from Petersburg.

  • “We talk a lot about the brick wall in the Virginia Senate,” Aird tells Axios. “Well, that brick wall has a huge crack in it right now, and it’s him.”

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, party leaders have made it clear they don’t see abortion as a winning issue in a state where elections rise and fall in moderate, suburban districts.

  • Governor Glenn Youngkin was secretly recorded on the campaign trail last year saying that he had to downplay the issue if he wanted to win.
  • In February, GOP leaders in the House of Delegates killed their own 20-week abortion ban bill, a procedural move that protected Republican delegates in swing districts from taking a formal stance on the issue.
  • Speaker Todd Gilbert has been silent on abortion since SCOTUS’ draft opinion leaked.

The issue is nonetheless pitting members of the party’s MAGA wing against each other.

Delegate Wren Williams recently attacked Delegate Marie March for a 2019 Facebook comment supportive of abortion rights. The lawmakers, both representing parts of southwest Virginia, reside in the same legislative district under new maps approved earlier this year — meaning one will lose their seat come the next election.

  • “Everyone loves babies and would never want to terminate their pregnancy,” March wrote on Facebook. “However, many of my friends don’t want Big Brother deciding what they can do with their bodies and I GET IT!”

March walked back the comment per the Roanoke Times, promising to both introduce and support state legislation limiting abortion rights.

Williams, a lawyer who represented Trump in one of his failed election lawsuits, said in a statement that she should drop her bid for the seat.

What’s next: Republicans and Democrats will nominate candidates for the Virginia House and Senate next summer, but that timeline could change depending on how a judge rules in a pending lawsuit calling for new elections this November to make up for redistricting delays.

Axios Richmond launches on May 31. Click here to subscribe.

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