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Virginia GOP state Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant says 15-week abortion ban isn't a ban

Dunnavant is facing Democrat Schuyler VanValkenburg in the election for Virginia’s 16th state Senate District in November.

By Josh Israel - September 11, 2023
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Siobhan Dunnavant
Virginia GOP state Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, right, speaks during a signing ceremony for a bill she sponsored that banned mask mandates in public schools, Feb. 16, 2022, in Richmond. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Over eight years in the Virginia Senate, Republican Siobhan Dunnavant has consistently opposed reproductive rights and backed abortion bans. Now, as she faces a tough reelection race in a swing district that could determine the chamber’s majority, Dunnavant is claiming that the 15-week abortion ban she backs is not really a ban.

The November 2023 election will be the first one conducted using new legislative maps after redistricting. Dunnavent is now running in the competitive but blue-leaning 16th Senate District, facing Democratic state Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg. 

In August, Dunnavant posted a “Setting the Record Straight: Abortion” page on her campaign site, including a video message in which she discusses her position.

“Virginia law allows abortion until the moment of birth,” she falsely claims. The commonwealth already prohibits abortions after the second trimester of a pregnancy, except when doctors certify that they are needed to protect the life or health of a pregnant woman.

The website goes on to say that Dunnavant’s position is: Abortion should remain legal for up to 15 weeks. After 15 weeks, there should be reasonable exceptions for rape, incest, life of the mother, and in cases of severe fetal anomalies. Not a ban, but legislation that reflects compassionate common sense.”

A law that bars abortion, even with exceptions, is still a ban.

Dunnvant was elected in 2015 in a solidly Republican district in the suburbs of Richmond, promising to “stand up for pro-life values.” Her record has been staunchly anti-abortion, including votes to defund Planned Parenthood, against public funding for abortions for victims of rape and incest, and against legislation clarifying that birth control is not abortion.

In February 2022, she voted for a 20-week abortion ban that contained very limited exceptions that did not include rape or incest. In January 2023, she said she would have voted for a 15-week ban proposal if it had included an exception in cases of fetuses with severe abnormalities, up to 24 weeks into the pregnancy, according to the Virginia Mercury.

The pro-abortion rights group REPRO Rising Virginia gave her an F rating on its 2023 legislative scorecard.

“Every woman in the Commonwealth deserves to make her own reproductive healthcare decisions alongside her medical provider,” VanValkenburg says on his own site. “As the only pro-choice candidate in SD-16, I promise to vote against extremist bans that threaten to restrict fundamental protections.” He received an A rating from REPRO Rising for 2023 and has been endorsed in the race by NARAL Pro-Choice America.

With all 100 seats in the Republican-controlled House of Delegates and all 40 seats in the Democratic-led Senate up for election in November, the results in competitive districts like the 16th will likely decide whether Virginia remains the only state in the South without an abortion ban.

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, whose term ends in 2026, has previously said he “will sign happily and gleefully” any legislation to limit abortion and has proposed a 15-week ban with few exceptions.

While GOP candidates in red-leaning districts have backed Youngkin’s proposal, Republicans nominees in competitive races have been trying to hide their support from voters. In recent weeks, surreptitiously recorded audio of House of Delegates nominees John Stirrup and David Owen has revealed their support for abortion bans, though neither makes any mention of those views on his campaign issues page.


Polls have shown that a majority of Virginia voters do not back new abortion restrictions. In March, a Washington Post-Schar School survey found that just 17% of voters support stricter abortion laws. Thirty-four percent want to maintain current abortion laws, while 41% want less strict laws.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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