The Collegian
Sunday, January 29, 2023

Senate Democrats advance abortion rights measure

<p>Graphic describing new legislation surrounding abortion rights becoming a part of the VA Constitution.&nbsp;</p>

Graphic describing new legislation surrounding abortion rights becoming a part of the VA Constitution. 

A Senate subcommittee on Tuesday voted 3-1 along party lines to advance a bill to make access to abortion and other reproductive rights a constitutional right in Virginia.

The Senate Privileges and Elections subcommittee voted 3-1 to report SJ 255, co-chief patroned by Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, and Sen. Jennifer Boykso, D-Fairfax to the full committee. 

The proposed constitutional amendment would ensure the state could not interfere with a person’s decision about their reproductive health care, including abortion, and prohibits the state from interfering with a person’s right to make decisions about their pregnancy. The amendment also would protect abortion providers and anyone aiding in standard reproductive care from punishment.

The legislation — the first of its kind in Virginia following the U.S. Supreme Court decision to reverse Roe vs. Wade — would not change Virginia’s current abortion laws, McClellan said. It would simply maintain the legal status quo for reproductive rights that Roe vs. Wade established, she said. 

“While the laws in Virginia right now are consistent with the federal legal precedents, we want to make sure that since we no longer have a federal right to reproductive freedom, that we have one in the state constitution,” McClellan said during the committee meeting.

Boysko emphasized the importance of the amendment in protecting the rights of those who provide or seek any kind of reproductive health care.

“This is a thoughtful and important step when we don’t have the protection at the federal level any longer,” Boysko said during the committee meeting. “Our generation will be the first to lose a constitutional right and we think that’s important.”

Boysko and McClellan announced their bill during a press conference Tuesday morning. Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, and Del. Candi Mundon King, D-Prince William, also announced their matching house bill, HJ 519, which is awaiting committee referral.

“As someone who nearly died at childbirth, and now sees that my daughter, when she reaches childbearing years, may not have the same rights I had in our federal Constitution, I am determined that she will have those rights in our state constitution,” McClellan said during the press conference. 

Herring emphasized the fact that politicians should not interfere with a person’s personal medical decisions.

“Politicians should not be involved in someone’s personal medical decisions about a pregnancy. Especially when some of them don’t understand how pregnancy works,” Herring said at the press conference.

Women who had abortions and representatives from REPRO Rising Virginia, Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice Virginia, Virginia Reproductive Equity Alliance and Richmond Reproductive Freedom Project spoke in support of the amendment during the committee meeting.

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Opponents, including women who had abortions and representatives from the Virginia Society for Human Life, Virginia Catholic Conference and The Family Foundation of Virginia criticized the lack of information available about alternatives to abortions.

“I stand here speaking alongside my sisters here tonight who have had abortions and I believe that women deserve better answers than abortion,” said Olivia Turner, president of the Virginia Society for Human Life, during the committee meeting. “I want to have the freedom to make full decisions with accurate information.”

Other critics raised concerns about Virginia taxpayers having to cover the cost of abortions and how it could affect parental consent.

“We are particularly concerned about the impact this would seem to have on our parental consent law and even possibly on restrictions that we currently have against state funding of abortion,” said Jeff Caruso, executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference. “Most taxpayers do not want to pay for abortion.”

While House and Senate Democrats have shown support for the amendments, the legislation will likely struggle in the Republican-controlled house, Del. Don Scott, D-Portsmouth, said during the press conference.

“That’s no small task, we face an uphill journey with a Republican majority in the House,” Scott said.

If successfully passed, the amendments would not go into effect until 2026. To enact a constitutional amendment in Virginia, the bill must pass the general assembly two years in a row before letting voters decide in a referendum.

Contact city and state editor Katie Castellani at katie.castellani@richmond.edu. 

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