Virginia has become the battleground state to watch in 2023 as both sides of the political aisle are in a close fight for control of the state legislature. Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin seeks to implement a sharply conservative political agenda if he succeeds in regaining a majority in the state Senate. This could have devastating implications for reproductive freedom in the state.
Seats will be contested in both the GOP-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate – 100 House seats and 40 Senate seats. The projected outcome of these seats relies heavily on the new boundaries of Virginia’s congressional maps, which reflect the new population counts from the 2020 census.
If Republicans flip the Senate in November, Youngkin is likely to be under immense pressure to carry out an aggressive and extremist agenda. Activists worry that rolling back Virginia’s hard won ratification of the state’s Equal Rights Amendment is likely a part of this plan. Virginia became the 38th and final state needed to ratify the ERA in 2020. If the state no longer supports the ratification of the ERA, it is likely that women and the LGBTQ+ community will lose legal protections from discrimination, as well as guarantees of reproductive freedom.
At the time of this article, Youngkin has expressed support for a 15-week abortion ban with exceptions, rather than a total or six-week ban like many of his other GOP colleagues. Currently, Virginia allows abortions through the second trimester, with exceptions in the third trimester if the woman’s health is deemed at risk by three physicians. Youngkin has also backed measures where physicians who performed abortions would face a felony punishable by two to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
As it stands, Virginia is poised to become one of the few states in the South to allow abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy, making it a safe haven for reproductive rights. On July 1, North Carolina’s new abortion bill came into effect, banning most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy. In April, Florida’s GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a bill banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. As a result, Virginia has received an influx of out-of-state patients from states such as Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Texas. An increase in out-of-state patients could mean longer wait times for Virginians, even those not seeking abortions.
Even without a Republican supermajority, Youngkin’s extremism has already begun in Virginia. The Virginia Department of Education has issued guidelines to roll back protections for transgender students, including repercussions for noncompliance from schools. Youngkin’s actions offer clear support to right-wing “culture wars” taking place around institutional racism and education by signaling support for book-banning and by signing an executive order banning critical race theory. Youngkin has passed measures that are appealing to many Republican voters around the country, spurring rumors of a presidential bid in the future. Major GOP donors have already put themselves behind Youngkin, as well as former members of Trump’s cabinet.
Ensuring that your voice is heard in government is needed now more than ever. Early voting ahead of Virginia’s November 7 elections begins on September 22. Residents of Virginia can visit the Virginia Department of Elections website to register to vote, see frequently asked questions, and check steps for election day. You can also interact with this map to see what voting district you are in as well as which legislator represents you.
The Feminist Majority Foundation is dedicated to the fight for reproductive freedom and is eager to support Virginians in their push for abortion protections.