Richmond, VA – In case you missed it, Vice President Kamala Harris and more than 20 Virginia Democratic legislators held a roundtable in Richmond to discuss the fight for reproductive rights and freedoms in the Commonwealth.
With the overturning of Roe and Governor Youngkin saying he would “gleefully” sign any abortion ban that comes to his desk, the future of abortion rights here in the Commonwealth is at stake.
Virginia Democrats remain deeply committed to protecting Virginians' right to an abortion. At the roundtable, Democratic legislators vowed to fight every single effort put forward by Governor Youngkin and Republican leadership to criminalize abortion and ensure that Virginians have access to health care and reproductive health care they need.
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Vice President Kamala Harris called on Virginia lawmakers to stand firm in the face of GOP calls to restrict abortions during a Saturday visit to Richmond.
Speaking to Democratic lawmakers at a roundtable held at IBEW Local 666’s headquarters near the Richmond International Airport, Harris said the June Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade “took a right [away] from the American people — in particular the women of America.”
She said the “same people” who’d been pushing for restricting abortions also were attacking voting rights, access to contraceptives and rights for the LGBTQ+ community.
“There is a lot at stake for a lot of people on this issue,” Harris said.
Virginia currently allows abortions through the second trimester of pregnancy without exception. But Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin has called for passing a ban on abortions past 15 weeks of pregnancy. He’s also said he would “happily and gleefully” sign any bill that reaches his desk that would “protect life.” He added that he believes life begins at conception.
State Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), who introduced Harris, said Virginia Democrats are working toward a constitutional amendment enshrining reproductive health rights in Virginia’s constitution. A McClellan aide said her goal is to bring the proposal before the legislature next year.
More than two dozen Democratic lawmakers attended the event. McClellan started it off by calling Virginia “the safe haven for abortion care in the South.”
“I could not agree with you more,” Harris said. “Nor could the president agree with you more. Which is why our president, Joe Biden, has been very clear that he will not let the filibuster stand in the way on the issue of the Women's Health Protection Act,” she said, referring to a bill passed by the House of Representatives earlier this week. Harris didn’t provide any details of how Biden would accomplish that.
Biden signed an executive order aimed at protecting access to abortions earlier this month that abortion-rights advocates say doesn’t go far enough. Harris said it was ultimately important for Democrats to pick up two more seats in the U.S. Senate to work around Manchin and another Democrat opposed to eliminating the filibuster, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).
Vice President Kamala Harris visited Henrico County, Virginia on Saturday.
The vice president met with "state legislators and leaders to discuss the fight to protect reproductive rights," according to a statement from her office.
Her visit comes weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe versus Wade, which removed Constitutional protections that gave women the right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.
Instead, state lawmakers can decide the legality of abortion in their individual states.
Governor Glenn Youngkin (R-Virginia) said he planned to push Virginia lawmakers to outlaw abortions once a woman reaches the 15-week mark of her pregnancy.
"Only weeks ago the United States Supreme Court took a constitutional right that had been recognized from the American people... in particular from the women of America," Harris said. ”I’ve read that [Youngkin] says he will gleefully sign a law to take away reproductive rights. So I would also like to be clear that I am fully aware of the context in which we meet in terms of what this will mean for the people of Virginia and what is at stake directly."
Senator Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), who was instrumental in passing the Reproductive Health Protection Act in Virginia in 2020, said she was outraged by the Supreme Court ruling.
"It's the first time in my life that rights were taken away by the Supreme Court," she said. "As someone who's fought to make Virginia a safe haven for access to abortion, that fight's coming back to the states, and I'm ready to keep fighting."
In regard to changing filibuster rules in the senate to ensure certain abortion rights, Rep. Donald McEachin, who represents Virginia’s 4th Congressional District, expressed why he felt it was important to adjust when necessary.
"You don't want to do away with it, fine, but the least we can do is say the filibuster rule shall not apply when we are talking about a person's civil rights," McEachin said.
Harris said she and the president "could not agree more."
"Joe Biden has been very clear that he will not let the filibuster stand in the way on the issue of women's health," Harris said. "You don't have to abandon your faith or your beliefs to agree that the government should not be making that decision for that woman."
Vice President Kamala Harris visited Highland Springs on Saturday to host a roundtable with input from state legislators and leaders about reproductive rights.
The conversation follows the overturn of Roe v. Wade. Vice President Harris said decisions about reproductive rights should be about heart and home without government influence.
“She should be able to do that if she chooses in consultation with her loved ones, with her physician, with her pastor, her priest, her rabbi. But not have the government telling her what she is supposed to do,” Harris explained.
The roundtable was made up of a majority of women lawmakers. Some shared their personal stories about why they believe strongly in fighting to protect abortion rights.
“I was victimized by sexual assault and incest,” Virginia Senator Mamie Locke recalled. “I am fortunate that no pregnancy resulted. This was in the pre-Roe era. I cannot even begin to imagine what would have happened if I had been forced to have a child at an early age.”
Harris directed most of the conversation to concerns she has in the Commonwealth regarding Governor Youngkin’s push to make abortion illegal after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
That legislation would have only minimal exceptions in place if passed. Right now, abortions in Virginia are legal through the second trimester. They’re only permitted through the third trimester if it concerns the mother’s health.
There was also a closed portion of the roundtable where the press was not allowed to attend.
“I would also like to be clear that I am fully aware of the context in which we meet in terms of what this will mean to the people of Virginia and what is at stake directly,” said Harris.
Virginia legislators met with Vice President Kamala Harris in Henrico County for a discussion on protecting access to abortion in Virginia on Saturday, July 23.
“The United States Supreme Court took a constitutional right, that had been recognized, from the American people,” Harris said during the discussion. “Every day, starting with the day that decision came down, we have seen in our country, extremist so-called leaders who are, in many states, criminalizing healthcare professionals; punishing women; passing laws that will ban outright, or essentially ban, a woman’s access to abortion care or reproductive care with no exception, in some states, for rape or incest.”
“We are so glad to have Vice President Harris here, not only to hear what we have and are doing in Virginia, but what she and President Biden can do to protect access to reproductive healthcare,” said Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), who hosted the discussion at the IBEW Local 666 in Highland Springs.
Abortions remain legal in Virginia for the time being, but several Republican legislators and Governor Glenn Youngkin have made clear their intentions to restrict or ban abortions in Virginia.
Youngkin tapped four state Republican lawmakers to draft legislation that would implement an abortion ban, saying he would sign any bill to “protect life” and later acknowledging he would support stricter limits and seek them if Republicans take over the General Assembly.
Despite the Republican push for change, the Democrats have held firm on their intentions.
“There is a lot at stake for a lot of people on this issue,” Harris said to the Virginia lawmakers around her. “And I am proud to be joined by such extraordinary leaders who are stakeholders, who are legislators, to talk about how we will stand for the American people and their rights.”
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris held a roundtable with Virginia state legislators to discuss the fight to protect women's reproductive rights.
Harris said states not only are criminalizing medical professionals who provide abortions but also are making no exceptions in the cases of rape or incest.
"The United States Supreme Court took a constitutional right that had been recognized from the American people, took a right from the American people, in particular the women of America," Harris said.
"There is a lot at stake for a lot of people on this issue. And I am proud to be joined by such extraordinary leaders who are stakeholders, who are legislators, to talk about how we will stand for the American people and their rights," she added.
The Supreme Court on June 24 overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which had protected the right to an abortion.
In all, about half the U.S. states are likely to have bans or deep restrictions in place as a result of the Supreme Court ruling.