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New GOP ad campaign for control of Virginia centers on abortion limits

Democrats are campaigning against the GOP's proposed restriction at 15 weeks. Republicans are painting Democrats as the party of "no limits" in an effort to regain ground on abortion.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin delivers his State of the Commonwealth address to a joint session of the Virginia legislature in the House chamber in Richmond, Va., Jan. 11, 2023. Amazon Web Services plans to invest $35 billion in new data centers in Virginia under a deal with the state, Youngkin announced Friday, Jan. 20, 2023.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin delivers his State of the Commonwealth address in Richmond, Va., on Jan. 11.John C. Clark / AP file

Voters across Virginia are hearing a lot about the issue of abortion as early voting gets underway ahead of the November legislative elections. 

Republicans in the state are putting six figures behind new digital advertisements out this week, which paint Democrats as the party of “no limits.” The move by Republicans to go on offense on the issue comes as Democrats are counting on abortion, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and the specter of new restrictions under GOP-controlled state government as the key to turning out voters in what is usually a low-turnout off-year election.

Republicans have high hopes of flipping Virginia’s state Senate and holding the state House of Delegates in November, which would give them full control of state government under GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin. Youngkin, seeking the governing majority that would allow him to enact parts of his agenda he has struggled to push through a divided legislature, is leading what has become a massive investment in the statehouse races by tapping into a national donor network, attending fundraisers from Nantucket to Dallas.

And abortion has become a flashpoint, with Democrats campaigning on the fact that a GOP majority would threaten Virginia’s status as the last state in the South without significant restrictions on abortion rights.

Virginia currently allows abortions up to 26 weeks and six days of pregnancy — through the first two trimesters — with exceptions in the third trimester if three physicians find that the woman’s health is at risk. Democrats were able to block several pieces of abortion-related legislation from moving forward earlier this year due to their control of the state Senate, including one that would have limited abortion after 15 weeks.

Youngkin, who is active on the campaign trail for Republican candidates across the state, has said he and the candidates he supports believe the “consensus” is a 15-week limit to abortion, with exceptions for rape, incest and saving the life of the mother.

In comments to reporters in Glen Allen, Virginia, Monday night, when asked if he would go further and support a six-week abortion ban if the state legislature were to flip in his party’s favor, Youngkin held firm. “I am supportive of a bill to protect life at 15 weeks,” Youngkin said. “That’s what we’re going to work for.”

Republicans are now leaning into Youngkin’s position, in the hope that 15 weeks is the standard that general election voters will be most comfortable with after a year of tough elections for Republicans, many of them featuring heavy Democratic campaigning on abortion. The new GOP ad campaign paints Democrats as extremists on the issue, accusing them of supporting abortion up to the moment of birth.

Democratic state Del. Kathy Tran, who is running in Northern Virginia for re-election to the House of Delegates, is a focus of these new digital ads produced by the state’s House and Senate Republican Caucus. “How late in the third trimester could a physician perform an abortion?” Tran was asked by House Speaker Todd Gilbert in the ad, with the video clipped from a 2019 committee hearing. “All the way up to 40 weeks,” Tran said. “I don’t think we have a limit in the bill.”

Tran later told the Washington Post that she “misspoke” when describing her bill. She did not respond to a request for comment. 

Democrats, for their part, have released an ad highlighting abortion bans put into place in states across the southeast, warning “MAGA Republicans in Richmond want Virginia to be next.”  

Jamie Lockhart, executive director of Planned Parenthood Virginia, says the new ads from Republicans “distract from the fact that they’re stripping people of a fundamental right,” calling a potential 15-week ban in the state “devastating.” 

“I don’t trust that they would stop at 15 weeks,” Lockhart continued.  

Youngkin is setting a marker down on abortion that’s different than other GOP governors who have taken a more restrictive stance on the issue. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a six-week abortion ban into law in April. And Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, who signed a similar bill into law in the Hawkeye State, came to DeSantis’ defense when former President Donald Trump slammed it as a “terrible mistake” during an interview with moderator Kristen Welker on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“It’s never a ‘terrible thing’ to protect innocent life,” Reynolds wrote Tuesday on X, formerly Twitter. “I’m proud of the fetal heartbeat bill the Iowa legislature passed and I signed in 2018 and again earlier this year.”

Youngkin’s strategy in Virginia could set him apart in the GOP field should he choose to mount a late run for president — a possibility he has yet to rule out.