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As Texans fight for life-saving abortions, don’t take our reproductive rights for granted, Virginia

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As Texans fight for life-saving abortions, don’t take our reproductive rights for granted, Virginia

Dec 08, 2023 | 1:46 pm ET
By Samantha Willis
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As Texans fight for life-saving abortions, don’t take our reproductive rights for granted, Virginia
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AUSTIN, TX - MAY 29: Protesters hold up signs at a protest outside the Texas state capitol on May 29, 2021 in Austin, Texas. Thousands of protesters came out in response to a new bill outlawing abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected signed on Wednesday by Texas Governor Greg Abbot. (Photo by Sergio Flores/Getty Images)

In perhaps the most visceral recent example of how far-reaching and punitive abortion restrictions have become across the country since the fall of Roe v. Wade, 31-year-old Kate Cox is only able to terminate her nonviable, 20-week pregnancy because a Texas judge on Thursday handed down a temporary protective order allowing her to pursue the procedure. 

It was the first time in 50 years that a judge has intervened to allow a grown woman to exercise agency over her own body and health by ending her pregnancy.

Immediately after the judge’s decision, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton went into combat mode, sending a menacing letter to several Texas hospitals that threatened legal action if they violated the state’s abortion laws, which only allow abortion to save the life of a pregnant person. Paxton might also seek to appeal the judge’s decision to the Texas Supreme Court, although some legal experts told the Texas Tribune that it could make sense for him to hold his fire as the court wades through a different lawsuit by 20 women and two doctors challenging Texas’ abortion laws with regard to “complicated” pregnancies.

Several of the women in that case, Zurawski v. Texas, sought abortions because their fetuses had severe developmental abnormalities; one woman’s fetus failed to grow a skull, while another’s had trisomy 18, a condition that causes major problems like a malformed heart and lungs, and has very low chances of survival. These conditions also posed high risks to each mother’s health the longer she stayed pregnant. 

If anybody needed an abortion, these women did. Yet Texas’ laws prevented them from obtaining the health care that could save their lives. 

If these women had been Virginia residents, most of them could have gotten an abortion, since the commonwealth allows abortions through the second trimester (and into the third under specific circumstances). Currently, Virginia is the only state in the South that hasn’t furthered abortion restrictions since Roe v. Wade was overturned, making it a safe haven for abortion access.

Virginians are aware of the importance of the issue. Abortion was arguably the highest-stakes issue in last month’s General Assembly elections. While Gov. Glenn Youngkin and front-running Republicans put forward a 15-week abortion ban as a “compromise” alternative to Democrats’ vow to keep abortion legal and accessible under the state’s current laws, the 15-week ban didn’t include an exemption for birth defects and conditions threatening the life of the baby like the ones involved in the Texas cases. It’s still not clear why.

Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, broke with her party during the last legislative session to oppose the 15-week bill because it didn’t have such an exception. The practicing OB-GYN characterized the proposal as “extreme” and submitted a Senate bill that stated “abortion laws do not apply to the treatment of a nonviable pregnancy.” She also proposed an amendment to her colleagues’ 15-week bill that would have allowed abortion through the second trimester in the case of “severe fetal anomaly.” Her bill and amendment failed, and months later, Virginia voters rejected the 15-week ban by handing control of the statehouse to Democrats. Dunnavant herself lost to Democrat Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg.

After their victory, Democrats proposed a constitutional amendment to enshrine abortion access as a fundamental right in Virginia. It will take at least two years for that measure to potentially be brought to voters in a referendum; Virginians would do well to use that time to reflect on the necessity and nuance of abortion access, with the somber recognition that if our mothers, sisters, daughters, relatives and friends need an abortion to save their life or health, they can still get one — unlike many of our fellow Americans, in Texas and elsewhere, who don’t have that right, and whose lives often depend on it.

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