This week, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin proposed a 15-week abortion ban that media outlets say will become a “national litmus test that is likely to shape the 2024 elections.”
Virginia currently allows abortion through the second trimester; however, second trimester abortions must be done in a licensed hospital. The state also requires parental notification and consent for minors seeking abortion. Unfortunately, pursuant to a 1979 Supreme Court ruling, states must allow for a “judicial bypass,” whereby the court steps in to provide consent if the parent refuses or if the minor does not want to tell her parents (Bellotti v. Baird).
A state ban on abortion after 15 weeks makes sense in Virginia, although it begs the question as to why the threshold is extended to 15 weeks. Because Virginia already regulates abortion by trimester, why not at the very least prohibit abortion after the first trimester?
While we support a 15-week ban in Virginia, Life Legal has concerns about similar proposals for a federal 15-week abortion ban. We briefly listed these concerns in a prior email, but as the federal proposal gains traction, we want to explain more fully why it is problematic.
As media outlets have reported, a federal 15-week abortion ban is going to be a litmus test, primarily for pro-life Republican candidates. Democrats who want to stay in office will not be permitted to support such a ban. The last truly pro-life congressional representative (Dan Lipinski) was ousted by his own party in 2020 and replaced by a candidate heavily funded by the abortion lobby. Pro-life Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia has said he will no longer run as a Democrat, if he decides to seek reelection at all.
Pressure is being exerted on Republican candidates to endorse a federal ban on abortion at 15 weeks, regardless of where they stand on abortion. Several U.S. Senators have already expressed reservations about the 15-week bill proposed by Sen. Lindsey Graham, including Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi. Both senators are pro-life and believe abortion laws should be addressed at the state or local level. Both are from states that enacted laws making most abortions illegal following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs. Explaining his opposition to a federal 15-week ban, Wicker said, protections for unborn children are “most effectively achieved when legislated at the local level.”
I have spoken with pro-life leaders in states like Alabama with robust restrictions on abortion and they are very concerned that if a federal 15-week abortion ban gains traction, their state legislators will face overwhelming pressure to relax abortion laws to comport with a “consensus” position, i.e., only prohibiting abortion after 15 weeks. Pro-life leaders and legislators are fighting hard just to retain protections for babies in the womb – a federal ban jeopardizes those hard-won proposals. Moreover, a 15-week abortion ban would allow 96% of abortions to continue unrestricted. But we’ll talk more about this in our next email.