Abortion restrictions may have the votes to pass in Virginia as pivotal Supreme Court decision looms

Virginia Politics

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)-The United States Supreme Court is considering what many are calling the most consequential abortion case in a generation.

The case could open the door for states to pass more restrictive abortion bans or even prohibit the procedure entirely. Stricter laws are not out of the question in Virginia after Republicans swept statewide races in last month’s election and possibly took back control of the House of Delegates, depending on the outcome of recounts.

How far the GOP will go depends on the court’s decision–not due out until spring or summer of 2022–and whether the party decides to make it a priority in a politically difficult situation.

The case in front of the conservative-leaning bench challenges the heart of Planned Parenthood v. Casey and Roe v. Wade. Those two cases established a woman’s right to have an abortion nationwide prior to viability, which is about 23 weeks into pregnancy.

“The stakes are incredibly high,” said Meredith Johnson Harbach, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law.”If these cases are overturned, the issues go back to the states and what we will see is sort of patchwork of abortion regulations across the country.”

Harbach said, based on the arguments heard on Wednesday, she thinks it’s “fairly likely” that the court will uphold a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks. She said they could do so without overturning Roe v. Wade entirely.

“That would mean that it’s permissible to ban abortions after 15 weeks but not necessarily that it’s permissible to ban abortions entirely,” Harbach said.

Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin’s spokesperson didn’t specifically address whether he would support a ban after 15 weeks. In a previous debate, Youngkin said “a pain-threshold bill would be appropriate,” referring to the contested argument that a fetus can feel pain after about 20 weeks of pregnancy.

 Any abortion bill would have to clear the state Senate, where Democrats still hold a 21-19 majority.

Notably, Lt. Governor-elect Winsome Sears, a pro-life Republican, will hold the tie-breaking vote in that chamber moving forward. In a previous interview, Sears refused to say how many weeks into pregnancy she thinks abortion should be banned.

The election of Sears will likely make state Sen. Joe Morrissey–a pro-life Democrat who has a history of breaking with his party on abortion–the deciding vote.

“‘I am unapologetically pro-life and there are components of the Mississippi law that I agree with. There are other components that I don’t,” Morrissey said.

Morrissey clarified that he would support a bill banning the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy as long as it had exceptions for rape and incest.

Asked about the chances of a Texas-style abortion ban passing, Morrissey said, “I can tell you with 100% certainty that that law is not going to be introduced in Virginia and it’s not going to pass in Virginia.”

Morrissey thinks reinstating requirements that were recently repealed by Democrats is more likely to happen, including state-mandated counseling, ultrasounds and a 24-hour waiting period.

“It’s more likely than not that Virginia is going to take incremental, baby steps,” Morrissey said.

However, Del. Todd Gilbert, who was chosen by Republicans to be the next Speaker of the House, has already tempered expectations on abortion legislation. Some speculate that the party will steer clear of hot button issues next session as all one hundred seats in the chamber may be back on the ballot again in 2022.

Asked about restoring more incremental abortion regulations in a recent press conference, Gilbert said it wouldn’t be their focus. “You didn’t see our caucus running on those things,” Gilbert said.

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