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With a Right-Wing SCOTUS Poised to Gut Roe v Wade, the Virginia State Senate Needs to Return to Richmond in the Next Few Weeks and Pass Legislation Protecting Women’s Reproductive Freedom

No excuses, just do whatever it takes to get this done!

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By now, you’re probably aware of the NY Times and/or Washington Post stories on how Virginia General Assembly Democrats “have less than a month left controlling Virginia before Republicans take over the House of Delegates and the governor’s mansion,” and how “[w]ith the clock ticking, many in the party want to seize what they see as a fleeting opportunity: protecting abortion rights by codifying them into state law.” (You also might have seen Del. Dan Helmer on “The Last Word” with Jonathan Capehart, arguing: “My wife has a heart condition that means she could die if pregnant. She & every other Virginia woman deserve the right to choose. Supreme Court will overturn Roe & the clock is ticking.” Del. Helmer has also argued that “[It] takes only 5 days to pass a bill to codify Roe. We have Dem trifecta for 24 [days]. We owe it to millions to get this done.”)

Of course, this issue has has always been crucially important – it’s one of the reasons I argued that everyone needed to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016, because the thought of Trump nominating several Supreme Court justice was a nightmare, including on Roe v Wade –  but it has even more urgency now, following Supreme Court arguments earlier this month, which made it clear that “[t]he right to an abortion in the United States appeared to be on shaky ground as a divided Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday on the fate of Roe v. Wade, the court’s 1973 decision that legalized abortion in the United States.” With a 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court, and with right winger Amy Coney Barrett replacing super-strong progressive Ruth Bader Ginsberg on the Supreme Court late last year, it’s very possible that the battle to protect women’s reproductive health/freedom will be heading back to the states next year. Which means, in turn, that which party controls state legislatures is now more important than ever…

That brings us back to the Virginia General Assembly, which will be under Democratic control for another 23 days, at which point the House of Delegates will switch to Republican control, albeit narrowly (52-48), from its current 55-45 Democratic majority. As for the State Senate, that chamber will continue with its 21-19 Democratic majority, with Democrat Justin Fairfax breaking ties votes in his role as Lt. Governor for another 3+ more weeks. So, if Democrats want to take action regarding Roe v Wade – or any other issue, for that matter – they have 3+ more weeks to do so, at which point the House of Delegates will flip to Republican control, and right-wing Republican Winsome Sears will take over from Justin Fairfax as Lt. Governor (at which point, there will be ZERO chance of passing pro-choice legislation through the General Assembly, let alone being signed into law by Glenn Youngkin). So…seems like a no-brainer for the State Senate and House of Delegates to come back to Richmond and get this done, right? Except that, as the WaPo article explains:

  • “Senate Democrats have resisted what they see as a futile effort. They see the tight time frame, narrowness of the Senate majority and existence of one antiabortion Democrat in that chamber as obstacles, particularly given that some Democrats will be out of the state or country on long-planned vacations over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
  • “Democrats currently have a 55-45 majority in the House, but just a 21-19 edge in the Senate. What’s more, Sen. Joseph D. Morrissey (D-Richmond) describes himself as ‘pro-life.’ He confirmed in an interview Saturday that he would not support codifying Roe, particularly not under the current circumstances.”

Also note that it’s not like there haven’t been efforts made previously to codify Roe/protect women’s reproductive freedom in Virginia. For instance, as Sen. Scott Surovell (D) tweeted,  he was “concerned about Roe v. Wade post-Kavanaugh & introduced legislation to codify Roe v. Wade” back in 2020, after Dems took back the VA General Assembly in November 2019. According to Sen. Surovell, the reason this didn’t get done then is that Senator Dick Saslaw and hepulled [their bills] after @NARALVirginiarefused support which jeopardized passage.” Ugh.

So anyway, there HAVE been efforts made previously to protect Roe v Wade in Virginia, but unfortunately they didn’t make it into law (and perhaps that’s all Democratic voters will care about, in the end – not the specific details of why it didn’t get done?). Which means that we’re now running out of time, with the situation more precarious/dire than ever. All of which means that, even if time is short and it won’t be easy to get this done, my view is that Senate Democrats should do whatever it takes to at least TRY to make it happen. On the positive side, if Senate Democrats try to do this and *succeed*, it would be a huge plus both for Virginia women, as well as for Virginia Senate Democrats politically (e.g., just imagine the national media narrative if Virginia Democrats were able to accomplish this?). On the other hand, if Virginia Senate Democrat try and *don’t* succeed (due to Morrissey and, perhaps another Senate Democrat – Chap Petersen? – not going along), then at least they can argue they tried, and at least they can put Senate Republicans (and perhaps a Senate Democrat or two) on record, with an eye towards 2023 (and new district lines). But if they *don’t even try*, then other than being a really bad substantive mistake and policy disaster, it seems to me that purely from a political perspective, this could make a bunch of Senate Democrats potentially vulnerable to serious criticism – and even primaries on this issue – going forward.

For all those reasons, if I were a Senate Democrat – particularly if I were a *male* Senate Democrat – I’d be clamoring right now, loudly and publicly, for a special session to protect women’s reproductive freedom in Virginia. If not, then just imagine the potential ads from a progressive, female, pro-choice challenger to one of these guys in 2023: “with Roe v Wade on the line, Sen. [fill in the blank] felt that protecting holiday vacations was more important than defending Virginia women.” Actually, even before 2023, one could imagine messaging like that used against a Senate Democrat running in a Democratic primary, such as next year for U.S. House in the newly drawn VA07, based in Prince William County and potentially with a large field of contenders. So again, doing everything possible to protect women’s reproductive health and freedom in Virginia should be the top priority for the General Assembly right now – for compelling substantive reasons, as well as for political reasons. Which is why, if I were someone like Sen. Jeremy McPike, who’s thinking about running for US House next year, I’d be pushing *really* hard – both privately and publicly – for the State Senate to get the job done over the next 3+ weeks…

P.S. Per the WaPo story, Virginia House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn “has said she is willing to call her chamber back,” so the holdup appears to be overwhelmingly if no 100% on the Senate side…

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