Virginia Republicans try to cover up support for anti-abortion policies
As the 2024 battle for partisan control of the statehouse ramps up, swing-district Republicans are hiding their support for Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s unpopular abortion ban proposals.
As Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin pushes to elect a GOP-controlled General Assembly that will enact his widely unpopular proposed abortion ban, candidates who are hesitant to be open about their stance on reproductive rights are being forced to answer for their positions.
Virginia is the only state in the south that does not have an abortion ban, but that could all change on Nov. 7, when voters will select all 100 delegates and all 40 senators.
Youngkin, whose term runs until January 2026, has said he “will sign happily and gleefully” any anti-abortion legislation and suggested a 15-week ban with few exceptions, but to implement his plan, the GOP needs to wrest control of the state Senate back from Democrats and maintain its narrow majority in the House of Delegates.
According to an August analysis by the progressive blog Blue Virginia, virtually every Republican running for Legislature across Virginia opposes abortion rights, but those running in swing districts have been opaque about their views.
David Owen, the Republican nominee for a House seat in the competitive 57th District, which includes the Richmond suburbs, notes on his website that his priority issues include education, crime, inflation, and boosting small business. He says nothing about reproductive rights. But the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported on Tuesday that a surreptitiously recorded video of a recent campaign event shows Owen noting his opposition to abortion and his commitment to supporting a ban if it Republicans
“Personally, I’m pro-life, and I’m gonna have conversations with Senator Dunnavant to understand what we can do when it comes to changing the laws we have,” Owen told attendees, referring to Republican state Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant. “For us to think that it will never get to the point with the current makeup we have now, of outlawing abortion, I don’t think we’ll get there. And personally, I am pro-life, and we need to start saving some of the unborn children.”
Susanna Gibson, Owen’s Democratic opponent, responded on Wednesday by tweeting: “I have served our community as a Nurse Practitioner for over a decade. My position has always been clear: politicians have no place in the exam room. My opponent? He was caught talking about outlawing abortion. They’ll go as far as we let them.”
In August, Planned Parenthood of Virginia released audio of Republican House nominee John Stirrup, obtained by the Washington Post and similarly surreptitiously recorded in May, telling a person posing as an abortion opponent: “I would support a 100% ban. It seems like kind of the acceptable position has been about 15 weeks, but that really doesn’t save that many lives. It’s a start.” Stirrup, running in the competitive 21st District in northern Virginia, also makes no mention of abortion on his campaign issues page. His opponent, Democrat Josh Thomas, has an entire section on his own site outlining his support for women’s rights and reproductive healthcare.
In one of the most competitive Senate races, Republican Juan Pablo Segura, also omits his anti-abortion position from his campaign page. The Times-Dispatch reported in July that the 31st District nominee endorsed a 15-week ban as a “reasoned proposal.”
Youngkin, who as a 2021 gubernatorial candidate was also recorded on a hidden camera saying that he couldn’t speak openly about his views on abortion because they might drive away voters, has attempted to frame a 15-week ban as a consensus position.
According to VPM, Youngkin told reporters in May, “There seems to be substantial support across Democrats, across Republicans, men and women, for a bill that would protect life in 15 weeks.”
But polls have shown that most Virginians do not support new abortion restrictions. A survey by Washington Post-Schar School last March found that just 17% of Virginia voters and just 36% of Virginia Republicans want stricter state abortion restrictions. Thirty-four percent of voters in Virginia want to maintain current abortion laws, and 41% want them to be even less strict.
Jamie Lockhart, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, said in a press release on Wednesday:
It’s like déjà vu all over again this election season in Virginia with one extreme Republican candidate after another being caught on tape revealing their dastardly plans for Virginians – this time, to outlaw abortion. It cannot be any clearer that abortion is on the ballot and that’s why Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia proudly endorsed Susanna Gibson. We know she will fight against any attempt to ban abortion and will represent the people of HD 57 well. We simply cannot afford to let David Owen and Siobhan Dunnavant be the votes that deliver an abortion ban to Governor Glenn Youngkin to sign.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.
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