Just after Virginia Democrats used their state Senate majority to block multiple pro-life bills, Virginians filled the streets of their capital city last week in the first statewide pro-life march since the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
This Monday and Tuesday, Virginia lawmakers will vote on a handful of life bills. Feb. 7 marks “crossover day,” with each house concluding action on legislation aside from budget bills.
On Feb. 6, the Senate will vote on SJ 255, a “Right to Abortion Amendment” that would make abortion a “fundamental right” in the commonwealth. This state constitutional amendment would allow abortion to be performed until birth and require taxpayers to pay for it. The amendment would be codified into law if it passes both chambers for two consecutive years and then passes a statewide ballot referendum. It would effectively nullify any pro-life laws in the state, including those Republicans are trying to pass this session.
The Born Alive Abortion Survivor bill, sponsored by Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, would require every health care provider performing an abortion to provide the same level of care to an infant who survives the procedure as one born at a similar gestational age. Del. Karen Greenhalgh, R-Virginia Beach, is sponsoring a “right to know” act, which would impose civil and criminal penalties on any abortion provider who does not obtain informed written consent from a woman prior to the procedure.
Del. Tara Durant, R-Fredricksburg, introduced House Bill 2476 to improve information access to pregnancy centers in Virginia. The bill would also provide women free online access to support services after their children are born.
The Virginia Society for Human Life (VSHL) estimated several thousand citizens gathered at the bell tower in Capitol Square on Feb. 1 to hear the testimonies of post-abortive women, pro-life leaders, bishops from both of Virginia’s Catholic dioceses, VSHL President Olivia Gans Turner, and state Attorney General Jason Miyares. Pro-life supporters, led by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, then walked the streets surrounding Capitol Hill.
The traditional show of support for life followed the state’s second annual “Defending Life Day,” a morning of advocacy at the Virginia General Assembly where more than 500 pro-life constituents asked their legislators to support protective bills for the unborn.
Uphill Battle to Protect Life
As the first General Assembly of 2023 progresses, advocates for life face an uphill battle. State Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, leading a majority of anti-life senators as Senate president pro tempore, has pledged to block pro-life legislation. In a press conference following a series of life legislation votes on Jan. 26, Lucas claimed that as long as Democrats maintained a state Senate majority, bills that protect life from the earliest stages would “never pass.”
On Jan. 26 the Senate Education and Health Committee, chaired by Lucas, killed two bills to protect the lives of unborn children. The governor’s Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act would protect unborn babies after 15 weeks, when they are proven to be capable of feeling the pain of an abortion. Sponsored by Sen. Steve Newman, R-Bedford, in the Senate and Del. Kathy Byron, R-Lynchburg, in the House, the bill was effectively tabled in a 10-5 vote.
Likewise, Sen. T. Travis Hackworth’s, R-Tazewell County, bill SB 1284, protecting life starting at conception, was indefinitely tabled. Both bills included exceptions for maternal medical care, or when a pregnancy was caused by rape or incest. Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, joined Democrats in voting against two pro-life bills while sponsoring no abortion past “viability” legislation.
There have also been wins. On Jan. 26, a Senate committee voted down an assisted suicide bill, and Youngkin has committed to signing any pro-life legislation that passes the Assembly.
“It is sad that so many in the General Assembly are so coldhearted that they wouldn’t even support a reasonable bill from the Governor that could have protected pre-born babies who can feel pain in the womb,” Gans-Turner told supporters in a press release. “Recent polls suggest that they are out of step with most Virginians who support the law that the Senate killed last week.”
Virginia Pro-Lifers Won’t Stop
In his rally remarks, Miyares pledged to protect pregnancy resource centers in the state, as violence against these pro-woman clinics increases. He also emphasized that, under his leadership, no woman involved in an abortion would be punished for participating in ending her child’s life. He said the mother is the second victim in every abortion after the unborn child.
Doctor Chelsea Sheppard attended the Virginia march for life with three of her four children.
“I am here today to show my support for what I think is an obvious extension of science, which is that men and women are created by God, in the image of God,” Sheppard told me. “They are formed in the womb by Him, known by Him, and they come in many different forms. I have daughters and sons. I have children who were born very healthy and a child who was born with Down Syndrome. God loves them all and they all deserve the right to live.”
2024 Senate candidate Eddie Garcia attended the rally to connect with pro-life Virginians. A 22-year Army veteran, Garcia has been working with the U.S. House and Senate for the past several years to pass legislation to support veterans and their families.
“I am pro-life for the whole life,” Garcia said. “…We are a Latino household. We have Latino communities and friends. The low-income, specifically minority communities, have been impacted in an outsized way due to failed policies over the past 20-30 years. We need to have policies specifically in this field that protect women, that protect children, and make it easier for women, whether they are a single mom or not, to have and raise their children.”
Garcia would also like to see the expansion of the adoption process, calling it a “travesty” that it costs less to abort a child than to adopt one.
Louise Hartz, a former acting president for VSHL, has worked in the pro-life movement in the commonwealth since the mid-1960s. She worked for the first statewide protection of life organization in the state, anticipating the consequences of the Roe v. Wade decision.
“I was very glad to be a part of the day,” Hartz told me. “There is still so much Virginians do not understand about how laws are made and who makes them and how laws affect all Virginians. We still need to educate and motivate everyone to the life issue. Our issues need to be articulated and understandable for the public.”
For now, Hartz said, supporters of life in Virginia must “stay the course.”
“We’re always going to be there to do what needs to be done,” Hartz said. “We knew over the years … you had to work on the people individually to really change their minds. We are the voice of the babies. They can’t speak for themselves.”