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‘We Need to Be a Safe Haven’: Democrats Propose Loosening Abortion Restrictions 

Woman speaking at podium in front of group of women
Tarina Keene, president of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, speaks at a press conference on Wednesday. (Photo: Ben Paviour/VPM News)

Virginia Democrats marked the 47th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade verdict with legislation they say will allow women greater access to abortions.

The legislation would undo restrictions set in place by past Republican majorities, including a mandatory ultrasound, counseling, and 24-hour waiting period before the procedure. It would also undo requirements that hold abortion clinics to similar medical standards as hospitals. 

Advocates say the legislation is timely given a conservative U.S. Supreme Court and a spate of laws in southern states that would greatly limit access to abortion.

Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, said Virginia could become a destination for care for women across the South if current trends continue.

“If the worst-case scenario happens, and Roe is either gutted further than it already is or overturned, then we need to be a safe haven here in Virginia,” she said. 

Advocates say the GOP legislation was particularly onerous to Virginia’s poor, minority, and rural populations, and predicted Democrats’ bills would improve access to abortions in the western part of the state. They’ve pointed to data showing complications in abortion procedures are very rare.

The bills would not touch third trimester abortions -- an issue that set off a firestorm last year after Del. Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax) introduced legislation that would alter rules around the rare procedures.

About 16,000 women terminated pregnancies in 2018, down from 27,410 in 2008, according to data from the Virginia Department of Health. Advocates attribute the drop to both a rise in birth control and a decrease in clinics. 

Anti-abortion activists maintain the current restrictions help women stay safe and think through a weighty decision. Victoria Cobb, head of the conservative Family Foundation of Virginia, accused abortion providers of profiting from future law changes.  

“I’m not sure why an agenda’s being driven beyond where the public stands,” Cobb said. “Wherever they stand on the issue of abortion, they support reasonable restrictions and informed conversations.” 

Sen. Jennifer Boysco (D-Fairfax), co-patron of one of the bills, said she was “very confident” the legislation would pass the General Assembly. That bill also has the backing of Gov. Ralph Northam, according to his spokesperson.