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PolitiFact VA: Glenn Youngkin says he wants to restrict abortion in Virginia, but he's eluded questions on how far those restrictions would go

Two people stand behind lecterns
Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin, right, gestures as Democratic gubernatorial candidate former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, left, listens during a debate at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Va., Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Speaker: Terry McAuliffe
Statement: “Time and again Glenn Youngkin has made it clear: He would ban abortion as governor.”
Date: Sept. 17
Setting: Twitter

Former and possibly future Gov. Terry McAuliffe says his Republican rival, Glenn Youngkin, would end abortions in Virginia.

McAuliffe has been focusing on abortion since the U.S. Supreme Court on Sept. 1 declined to block a Texas law that bans abortions if a fetal heartbeat can be detected. That occurs about six weeks into pregnancy, before many women realize they are pregnant. The law challenges longstanding precedent that allow abortions until a fetus is viable outisde the womb, at about the 22nd to 24th week of pregnancy.

“Time and again Glenn Youngkin has made it clear: He would ban abortion as governor,” McAuliffe tweeted on Sept. 17. He made a similar claim three times the previous night during a debate and aired a TV commercial through much of September saying Youngkin wants to end abortions.

McAuliffe’s claims stretch comments Youngkin made in June to liberal activists posing as anti-abortion advocates at a Republican gathering in Loudoun County.  In a quiet conversation that was secretly videotaped, Youngkin was sympathetic to the activists, described himself as “staunchly, unabashedly pro-life,” and spoke of tightening state abortion laws. 

Youngkin, however, never said he would ban “all abortions” as McAuliffe said once, at a Sept. 7 news conference. Since then, McAuliffe has been less specific, saying Youngkin wants to “ban abortions” and removing the word “all.”

The tape leaves many of Youngkin’s words up for interpretation, and so have some Youngkin’s subsequent comments on abortion. McAuliffe’s campaign says Youngkin, at the very least, would ban some abortions.

Youngkin avoided giving the activists details about his anti-abortion agenda. He told them that focusing on the topic could alienate independent voters that he needs to win the election. Youngkin assured the activists he is not “squishy” on abortion and that, ”When I’m governor and have a majority in the House, we can start going on the offense.”

He told the activists he opposes public funding of abortions and that he wants to take back “the ground that has been taken away from us.” Youngkin’s campaign says this refers to repealing changes to abortion laws passed by Democrats since they took control of the General Assembly in 2020. Democrats ended requirements that women receive ultrasounds and wait 24 hours before they can have abortion.

The activists mentioned the Texas law, and Youngkin did not state a position. During the debate, Youngkin said he would not have signed the law, calling it “unworkable and confusing.”

The Texas law has an exception only when a mother’s life is endangered by continuing a pregnancy. Youngkin has said women should be allowed abortions in cases of rape, incest and life of the mother. Youngkin did not give a direct answer when he was asked at the debate whether he would sign a fetal heartbeat bill if it had those three exceptions.

Youngkin said during the debate that he favors shortening the period that women have unconditional paths to abortions, from fetal viability to the moment a fetus can feel pain - pain is a much-debated determination that some anti-abortion advocates place at 20 weeks into pregnancy. If so, it would be two to four weeks shorter than now.

Youngkin does not address abortion on his website.

Our ruling

McAuliffe said, “Time and again Glenn Youngkin has made it clear: He would ban abortion as governor.”

His statement creates a inaccurate impression that Youngkin has said he would ban all abortions. Youngkin has not said that.

Youngkin has made it clear, however, that he would seek to ban some abortions. He supports a fetal pain law that would shorten by two to four weeks the time women can unconditionally end a pregnancy. He won’t say whether he’d support a fetal heartbeat law, which would ban abortions before many women knew they were pregnant. He promised to go “on the offense” as governor if Republicans reclaim a House majority.

So Youngkin’s  words, as McAuliffe’s, are open to interpretation. We rate McAuliffe’s statement Half True.

Editor’s Note: After publication, Youngkin’s campaign clarified that he wants to repeal a law passed by Democrats that allows health insurance plans bought through state-run exchanges to cover abortions. His campaign says he has not taken a position on Democratic actions ending requirements that women receive ultrasounds and wait 24 hours before they can have an abortion.

Sources

Terry McAuliffe, Twitter, Sept. 16 and 17, 2021.
McAuliffe, Debate comments, Sept. 16, 2021
Terry McAuliffe, News conference comments, Sept. 7, 2021
The American Independent, “Virginia GOP gubernatorial nominee admits to hiding extreme abortion views to win election,” July 7, 2021
McAuliffe, TV ad, Sept. 7, 2021
Email from McAuliffe’s campaign, Sept. 14, 2021
Emails from Glenn Youngkin’s campaign, Sept. 10, 2021
The New York Times, “Supreme Court, Breaking Silence, Won’t Block Texas Abortion Law,” Sept. 1, 2021
The Washington Post, “McAuliffe’s claim that Glenn Youngkin ‘wants to ban abortion,’” Sept. 14, 2021
The Washington Post, “Video shows Glenn Youngkin saying he can’t fully discuss abortion or risk losing independent Virginia voters,” July 7, 2021
National Review, “Can Glenn Youngkin Escape Trump’s Shadow?” Aug. 12, 2021
Legislative Information Service, HB980, 2020 session