Leahy: Virginia Lawmakers Are Unprepared for a Post-Roe Landscape

For half a century, Virginia’s major political parties have had a comfortable and seemingly unassailable backstop for their campaigns and rhetoric on abortion: Roe v. Wade.

But it looks like the Supreme Court will remove that backstop in the next few weeks by overturning Roe and tossing the issue into the laps of state lawmakers, who’ve spent their entire careers — and some, their entire lifetimes — in Roe’s shadow.

For the moment, removing the Roe backstop and tossing abortion back to the states doesn’t look like it would change a lot in Virginia. Abortion is legal, General Assembly control is split between Democrats and Republicans, and there are other unfinished issues still on the local political agenda (the biggest one is the state budget).

Once the budget gets done, though, will abortion move to center stage? Possibly. But that doesn’t mean either party is ready for it.

Go back to 2019 and the brief firestorm that raged in the wake of then-Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) remarks on a Democratic bill that would have eased restrictions on late-term abortions: “’If a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen,’ Northam, a pediatric neurosurgeon, told Washington radio station WTOP. ‘The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired. And then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.’”

Republicans went ballistic. But the attention focused on the bill in question abruptly faded when the Northam medical school yearbook photo scandal burst to life.

Northam paid a huge political price for that. As for Virginia Democrats as a whole? They rode the anti-Trump wave one more time and took control of the General Assembly. Abortion became a nonissue in 2019.

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