Virginia’s abortion bill adds chaos to states' reproductive rights

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Virginia’s abortion bill is the latest addition to a chaotic state landscape on reproductive rights

Virginia’s new abortion bill, which looks to limit abortions past 15 weeks, is the latest salvo in the roiling state debate over just how far states can go after the Supreme Court ended the national right to abortion last year.

The court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson struck down decades of legal precedent governing how states can limit access to abortion — from how far into pregnancy the procedure can be performed and how it can be done, to what if any exceptions are allowed in cases of rape, incest or life-threatening complications in a mother.

The result has been a map of ever-changing rules and regulations around the right to obtain an abortion.

On the surface, there’s a clear political motivation behind abortion laws, but it’s not that simple. With public opinion largely on the side of abortion access throughout the country, individual states are grappling with competing ballot measures, legislative agendas and judicial rulings that have complicated where and how people can access an abortion.

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One thing that has been clear is the stark contrast between the states looking to protect abortion rights and the states aiming to restrict access.

States expanding access

As of Dec. 12, 18 states had adopted 77 provisions protecting abortion access in 2022, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research nonprofit that supports abortion rights. Those provisions included things like abortion funding and laws that protect providers.

“After Dobbs, we started to see states pass protections on abortion, basically legal bubble wrap for abortion providers and patients. And this year, we expect to see more of that,” said Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst at the Guttmacher Institute.

Just last week, the Minnesota House of Representatives took the first steps to codify abortion, even though it is already considered a protected right by the state constitution. The bill — approved by the Minnesota House’s Health Committee — establishes “a fundamental right to reproductive health,” which, according to the bill text, includes the right to an abortion.

Similarly, in Illinois, the legislature passed a bill that includes an amendment that ramps up protections for providers and individuals. The bill, called the Patient and Provider Protection Act, is a move that other Democratic-leaning states, like New York, also implemented after the fall of Roe.

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Even in Republican-leaning states, voters have voiced their opposition to certain abortion-related restrictions. Kansas and Kentucky both rejected ballot measures that would have placed additional limits on the right to an abortion, though abortion remains banned in Kentucky.

Greater restrictions

Abortion is currently legal and regulated in Virginia, said Breanna Diaz, the policy and legislative counsel for the ACLU of Virginia. Diaz said the latest bill is “just another political attack” and something she expects to see more of.

“It’s not exactly a surprise that this happened,” Diaz said.

About a dozen states banned abortion outright after Roe v. Wade was overturned, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and there’s a chance more states could attempt to do the same.

South Carolina, for example, attempted to pass a six-week abortion ban, but it was rejected by the state Supreme Court last week, stating that the ban violated a “woman’s constitutional right to privacy.”

For states that have already implemented restrictions, there is a wide range of limitations, like gestational limits, state-mandated counseling, and specific requirements for the location and physician performing the abortion.

Although this ruling upholds the current state law that permits abortion up to 20 weeks, Nash said, “there is some concern that this actually might set up the legislature to pass an abortion ban.”

Florida is one of the few states in the South that provides abortion access up to 15 weeks, making it a critical location for people in nearby states looking to access abortion care, Nash said. However, after Republicans in the state won the supermajority, there are questions over whether they will attempt to pass additional restrictions.

At a December press conference, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said to applause that he is willing to sign “great life legislation” when asked if he would take the lead on a so-called heartbeat bill. Further restrictions put in place could “upset access to abortion across the South,” Nash said.

In some states, such as Nebraska, there’s been indication that legislatures will look to pass additional restrictions to curb access. Yet implementing further restrictions may prove difficult, Nash said, because now that people are seeing the actual effects of abortion bans, it has put Republicans in a more difficult position.


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“They’re seeing what it means to not actually have access to abortion, and how that impacts pregnancy, and how that impacts families,” Nash said.

“We will see a lot of experimentation with legislation this year, both along the lines of restricting and banning abortion, but also to protect access to care,” Nash said.

Thanks to Dave Tepps for copy editing this article.