Virginia Democrats propose amendment to guarantee abortion access after winning General Assembly

Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, unsuccessfully pushed a 15-week "limit."

November 21, 2023, 3:13 PM

After winning full control of the state's General Assembly two weeks ago, Virginia Democrats are wasting no time exercising their power. On Monday, the party introduced four bills including legislation to create a constitutional amendment that would codify abortion access in the state.

"Virginia voters sent a message on Nov. 7 that they want Virginia to remain an open and welcoming state that honors individual freedom, privacy and economic opportunity for all of its residents," said Scott Surovell, the majority leader for the Virginia Senate.

The bills also include proposals to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by Jan. 1, 2026, ban assault-style firearms and create a constitutional amendment that will repeal felon voter disqualification and codify an automatic restoration of rights.

Proposed constitutional amendments do not require a governor's signature. For a resolution to create a constitution amendment, it has to pass both legislative chambers in two sessions over at least two years before going to a vote of the public.

The push to enshrine abortion access in the state constitution comes after abortion became one of the top issues in the election, with both parties campaigning heavily on when it should be available.

Republican candidates backed Gov. Glenn Youngkin's stance on the issue -- a "limit" on the procedure banning it after 15 weeks of pregnancy with exceptions for rape, incest or to save the life of the mother -- and Democrats leaned in on the issue, too, running multiple ads and breaking fundraising records as they argued the GOP could pursue major restrictions if they won the Legislature.

Virginia is currently the southern-most state that hasn't widely banned or restricted abortion since the Supreme Court struck down a nationwide right to abortion last year. Right now, abortion is banned in Virginia after 26 weeks.

PHOTO: In this June 28, 2022, file photo, pro-abortion rights demonstrators protest outside of the Arlington General District Court in Arlington, Virginia.
In this June 28, 2022, file photo, pro-abortion rights demonstrators protest outside of the Arlington General District Court in Arlington, Virginia.
Bryan Olin Dozier/AP, FILE

After Democrats narrowly won both chambers of the General Assembly on Nov. 7, delivering a blow to Youngkin's agenda, the governor said at a presser that he still believed there was a place for both parties to come together on the issue of abortion.

"I think one of my aspirations was to find a place to come together on one of the most difficult topics," he said two weeks ago. "I do believe there is a place we can come together ... common ground."

But Monday's push by Democrats shows the party is following in the footsteps of similar efforts in other states, including Kansas, Kentucky and Ohio, to have the public directly support abortion rights by voting on amendments and ballot measures.

"Throughout the campaign cycle we told Virginians that a Democratic Majority meant that abortion access would be protected in the Commonwealth," Charniele Herring, the majority leader for the House of Delegates, said in a news release.

Virginia Republicans were quick to criticize the abortion legislation, accusing the Democrats of changing their stance on the issue.

"Democrats are rapidly reneging on a core commitment they made during the campaign to maintain the current abortion law in Virginia," Youngkin's PAC, Spirit of Virginia, said in a statement.

"We can't even pretend to be shocked that the VA Dems lied to you," echoed Shane Harris, the communications director for the Republican Party of Virginia.