A Politico report that the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade after nearly 50 years sent shock waves through Virginia politics and could reset the state’s closest congressional contests.
A midterm election playing out as a referendum on President Joe Biden, whose approval ratings are under water, could now become, at least in part, a referendum on abortion rights.
Virginia’s most vulnerable congressional incumbents might be three women in redrawn districts who voted last year to codify abortion rights in federal law as a hedge against the high court: Reps. Elaine Luria, D-2nd; Abigail Spanberger, D-7th and Jennifer Wexton, D-10th.
"It’s chilling," Spanberger, a Henrico County resident who is seeking a third term in a district now based in Northern Virginia, said in an interview on Tuesday. "I say that as a woman. I say that as the mother of three daughters."
She cautioned that the Supreme Court draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito is not final, but said what was released "completely and totally undermines, attacks, negates the right to privacy."
"At the most basic level, it’s telling governors and state legislatures across the country that they can pursue whatever law they want that may be harmful to women and may be harmful to others," Spanberger said.
Republicans will choose Spanberger’s opponent from among six candidates in a June 21 primary.
Yesli Vega, one of Spanberger’s potential GOP opponents, tweeted of the Politico report: "What a historic moment in the making. An amazing victory in the fight for the life and Liberty of our most vulnerable, the unborn."
Another GOP hopeful in the 7th, state Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, joined a Republican chorus that decried the leak as an "attack on the Supreme Court’s deliberation processes," though the source of the leak and the intention behind it is not clear.
"As a narcotics detective, a veteran, and a 100% pro-life Senator, I have, and will always stand for protecting all human life," Reeves said in a campaign tweet.
Politico reported Monday night that a majority of the Supreme Court, which is preparing to rule on a Mississippi law that bars abortion at 15 weeks, voted in conference to overturn Roe, the 1973 decision that cemented a constitutional right to abortion.
"We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled," Alito reportedly wrote in a first draft of an opinion for the court.
"The Constitution makes no reference to abortion and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision …"
In addition to Roe, Alito referred to the court’s 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. In that Pennsylvania case a plurality of justices upheld the right to abortion and created an "undue burden" test on proposed restrictions on the procedure.
Overturning Roe v. Wade would send abortion laws back to the states. That means abortion likely also will play a central role in Virginia’s next legislative elections, now set for 2023.
But anti-abortion advocates recently told The Washington Post that if Roe is overturned they also plan to seek a stricter federal standard, perhaps to bar abortion after six weeks.
While some states, such as Mississippi, have moved to bar most abortions at 15 weeks, Texas is among states that have passed "trigger" laws which would essentially ban abortion if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
Spanberger still lives in western Henrico, and has said she won’t move her family, including three school-age daughters, before January.
"The stakes for the mid-term elections have been high since it became clear that so many people were willing to excuse a violent assault on the Capitol, the beating of police officers with American flags and fire extinguishers," she said. "The stakes of this election continue to be high, and this is one more proof positive."
But Spanberger said she was less focused on how abortion will play in the impending campaign than what it means for the country, especially women who could be forced to carry a pregnancy to term after being raped or despite a fetal abnormality or threat to their own lives.
"Before Roe v. Wade, abortion was occurring, but women were dying," she said. "This is about safe and legal abortion."
Spanberger tweeted on Monday night, "We voted to codify Roe in the House, and the Senate needs to take it up for a vote."
But she acknowledged on Tuesday that getting the bill to Biden to sign won’t be easy because of Senate rules that effectively require 60 votes – 10 more than Democrats control. "I’m realistic about how things move in the Senate," she said.
March for Life: Hundreds of anti-abortion Virginians rally at the Capitol
Wexton, whose redrawn 10th congressional district lost a portion of Fairfax County and the city of Winchester but gained red Rappahannock and Fauquier counties, also called Monday night for codifying Roe v. Wade.
"We must protect women," she tweeted. "We must fight back against attempts to control a woman’s ability to make decisions about her own body.
"We must ensure that the Women’s Health Protection Act is signed into law."
Eleven Republicans are vying in a May 21 canvass for the right to take on Wexton in the fall.
Rep. Rob. Wittman, R-1st, whose redrawn district includes parts of Chesterfield and Henrico counties, said in a statement: "I am 100% pro-life and I believe all life is precious and deserves to be protected – including the unborn."
He said "the unprecedented leak" of Alito’s draft opinion "does irreparable damage to the trusted process of the Supreme Court: the ability to deliberate in private."
Democrat Herb Jones, who is challenging Wittman, tweeted that what he called an attack on "Women’s Freedom to make health care choices" is reflective of a broader attack on democratic values at home and abroad.
Rep. Bob Good, R-5th, is running for a second term to represent a new district that includes parts of Richmond’s outer suburbs. He issued a series of tweets that praised the reported decision and former President Donald Trump for nominating three justices – Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett – who apparently voted to overturn Roe.
"The infamous R v. W decision that ‘found’ a constitutional right to abortion out of thin air is apparently, finally, mercifully, being rectified," Good tweeted on Tuesday morning.
"No decision in the history of the Court has caused such horrific carnage & destruction to innocent life," he tweeted, "mere collateral damage to the Democrat Left’s relentless 60-year assault on our Constitution, our founding Judeo-Christian principles, the traditional family, and religious freedom."
"If this news holds – Thank God for the 2016 election of Donald J. Trump, as we certainly needed at least 2, if not all 3, of the justices he appointed to the Court."
Josh Throneburg, a Charlottesville minister and Democratic challenger to Good, sent a much different message on Tuesday.
“As a pastor, I’ve sat with women and families agonizing over a pregnancy decision,” Throneburg said in a statement on Facebook. “One thing was clear to me – women should absolutely be the people making the decision.”
“To the folks celebrating right now – this doesn’t solve any of the problems you think Roe v. Wade caused,” he said. “Abortions will continue to happen–some states will restrict access while others will expand it. We can be certain that some abortions will be far more dangerous. “
“To the women affected by this decision: the person that should make your healthcare choices is YOU,” Throneburg said. “I will fight for that right.”