Reproductive rights advocates were dealt a significant blow last night when Republican Glenn Youngkin won Virginia’s gubernatorial race against former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D). Youngkin, a career private equity executive, painted himself as a moderate when convenient, but many reproductive rights activists are worried the governor-elect is harboring much more extreme views on abortion.
It’s a “worrisome issue,” said Mary Bauer, the executive director of the ACLU of Virginia. Currently, the Virginia Senate is divided 21 to 19 with a Democratic majority, but there is one Democratic senator, Bauer said, who is “staunchly anti-abortion.”
“It’s too early to know what specific bills will be introduced, so we’ll have to see how that develops. Somebody, before the election, said that if Democrats lose the House, we could be one vote away from becoming Texas,” Bauer said.
“That may be a bit hyperbolic, but it’s closer to the truth than any of us are comfortable with.”
Although McAuliffe’s campaign continually tried to tie Youngkin to Donald Trump’s extreme ideology, including the former president’s anti-abortion stance, the tactic simply didn’t work. Using a two-pronged campaign, Youngkin deftly appealed to both moderate Republicans and more radical conservatives ― dancing around the topic of abortion to ensure he got the votes of suburban Virginians who had abandoned the Republican Party during Trump’s presidency.
“Youngkin and a lot of other candidates running as Republicans have downplayed the issue of abortion on the campaign trail, but I think they will absolutely attempt to put back restrictions on abortion,” Jamie Lockhart, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, told HuffPost Wednesday morning.
Initially, Youngkin campaigned for the GOP nomination as “unabashedly” anti-abortion, telling a crowd at a campaign stop earlier this year that he would work to “protect the life of every Virginia child, born and unborn.” But weeks after clinching the Republican nomination, Youngkin’s passionate anti-abortion statements pretty much disappeared from his stump speeches.
Youngkin’s cover was blown a bit when an undercover video of the then-GOP gubernatorial candidate was released in July. In the video, Youngkin tells a person he believes to be a supporter and staunch anti-abortion advocate that he has limited his public comments on his full stance on reproductive rights so he doesn’t alienate moderate voters.
When asked if he would introduce an extreme abortion restriction similar to Texas’ six-week ban, Youngkin responded that he is “staunchly, unabashedly pro-life” before another person heard in the footage asks if he would defund Planned Parenthood or “take it to the abortionists.”
“I’m going to be really honest with you. The short answer is in this campaign, I can’t,” Youngkin replied. “When I’m governor and I have a majority in the House, we can start going on offense. But as a campaign topic, sadly, that in fact won’t win my independent votes that I have to get.”
Now that Youngkin is set to take office in January, abortion rights advocates are fearful he will quickly undo all of the work current Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and other Democratic state lawmakers have done to protect abortion access in the state. The fate of the House of Delegates is up in the air as of Wednesday afternoon, though Republicans look to be on the verge of taking control of the lower chamber. Democrats will maintain a narrow majority in the state Senate.
Just last year, Northam signed multiple abortion protections into law, including legislation that removed the requirement for people seeking abortions to undergo an ultrasound 24 hours prior to getting the procedure. Other protections included removing the requirement that facilities that provided more than five abortions every year be designated as hospitals.
“Based on his past remarks and consistently avoiding giving concrete answers surrounding reproductive health issues, I am concerned for the state of reproductive rights in the Commonwealth with Glenn Youngkin in the Governor’s Mansion,” Virginia House Majority Leader Charniele Herring (D) told HuffPost on Wednesday morning.
Herring introduced the state House bill that repealed many of Virginia’s abortion restrictions last year. “There are still many votes to be tallied to determine the majority in the House, and House Democrats have fought vigilantly for reproductive rights under Republican control in the past, and we are well equipped to do it again if we must,” she added.
Lockhart doesn’t think Youngkin and his supporters will necessarily introduce an abortion restriction like Texas’, which bans the procedure about six weeks into a pregnancy and deputizes private citizens to enforce it. But she does believe there will be more attacks on the right to choose, including something similar to Mississippi’s 15-week ban on abortion, which is currently threatening to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Whatever comes next, Bauer promised she and other advocates will continue to fight for safe, legal and accessible abortion care in Virginia. “We have to keep fighting,” she said. “We have to have people across the commonwealth express their concern that Virginia is a place where abortion health care remains available to women.”