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Democratic win in Virginia special election stymies Gov. Youngkin's push for 15-week abortion ban

Aaron Rouse's victory in the state Senate race comes as Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, is calling on the Legislature to pass a bill to ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Senator-Elect Aaron Rouse D-Norfolk is recognized by the Virginia senate during the opening day of the Virginia General Assembly in the gallery of the Senate chamber inside the Virginia State Capitol Building in Richmond, Va. on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023. Senator-Elect Rouse narrowly defeated Republican Tuesday Kevin Adams for the 7th state Senate district.
Sen.-elect Aaron Rouse, D-Norfolk, is recognized by the Virginia Senate in the gallery of the Senate chamber at the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond on Wednesday.John C. Clark / AP

Democrat Aaron Rouse has won a special election for a state Senate seat in Virginia after his Republican opponent conceded in a race that was widely viewed as a proxy fight over abortion.

Rouse, a former NFL player who has served on the Virginia Beach City Council for the past few years, flipped a GOP seat that had been held by Jen Kiggans until she won a congressional seat in November. Rouse defeated Republican Kevin Adams, a retired lieutenant commander in the Navy.

“While the results last night were not what we wanted, I am proud of the campaign that we ran and so thankful for everyone who believed in me and this campaign along the way,” Adams said in a concession statement a day after Tuesday's special election.

Democrats will have a 22-18 majority in the state Senate, and Rouse is expected to provide a crucial vote against efforts by Gov. Glenn Youngkin and GOP legislators to pass a bill that would ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, instead of the current threshold of around 26 weeks.

“Reproductive rights and freedom in Virginia have been hanging by a tenuous thread, especially in the wake of Roe being overturned, and the only thing standing in the way is a one-vote margin in the Virginia state Senate," Tarina Keene, the executive director of REPRO Rising Virginia, said Wednesday.

"It all comes down to one vote, and having Aaron Rouse added to the state Senate in this precarious time only helps shore up reproductive rights and freedom here in the commonwealth. We know that he is a champion for reproductive rights and freedom and will be a solid vote no on any abortion ban that should be introduced in Virginia now,” Keene added.

Democratic state Sen. Joe Morrissey last week expressed willingness to consider proposals to restrict abortion access, telling WRIC-TV of Richmond in an interview that he would keep an "open mind."

Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears, a Republican, casts tiebreaking votes in the Senate, meaning Adams’ victory, coupled with Morrissey’s potentially backing the measure, could have put Youngkin in a stronger position to get his abortion proposal through. Republicans control the House of Delegates.

During the campaign, Rouse said protecting access to abortion was a priority, vowing on his website that he would “not compromise” on abortion rights.

Adams, meanwhile, said he would back Youngkin’s proposed ban “while providing reasonable exceptions to protect the life of the mother or in the instance of rape or incest,” according to a statement on his campaign website. Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America backed Adams in the race.

In his State of the Commonwealth address Wednesday, Youngkin called on the General Assembly to pass a 15-week ban.

“When it comes to unborn children, we can come together, we can choose life and choose to support mothers, fathers and families in difficult decisions,” Youngkin said. “This session I have asked the General Assembly to come together to protect life at 15 weeks, the point when a baby can feel pain. It is clear Virginians want fewer abortions, not more.”

Rouse, who got a congratulatory phone call from President Joe Biden on Wednesday, responded to Youngkin on Twitter by saying, in part, "I'll always defend women's repro-rights, support public education, and build an economy for everyone."