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Kamala Harris makes pitch for abortion rights during stop in Richmond

A close-up of Vice President Kamala Harris.
Alex Brandon/AP
Vice President Kamala Harris — shown here at a Friday conference in Washington D.C. — traveled to Richmond Saturday to discuss access to abortion at both the state and national levels with Virginia Democrats. (Photo: Alex Brandon/The Associated Press)

Vice President Kamala Harris called on Virginia lawmakers to stand firm in the face of GOP calls to restrict abortions during a Saturday visit to Richmond. 

Speaking to Democratic lawmakers at a roundtable held at IBEW Local 666’s headquarters near the Richmond International Airport, Harris said the June Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade “took a right [away] from the American people — in particular the women of America.” 

She said the “same people” who’d been pushing for restricting abortions also were attacking voting rights, access to contraceptives and rights for the LGBTQ+ community.

“There is a lot at stake for a lot of people on this issue,” Harris said.

Virginia currently allows abortions through the second trimester of pregnancy without exception. But Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin has called for passing a ban on abortions past 15 weeks of pregnancy. He’s also said he would “happily and gleefully” sign any bill that reaches his desk that would “protect life.” He added that he believes life begins at conception. 

State Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), who introduced Harris, said Virginia Democrats are working toward a constitutional amendment enshrining reproductive health rights in Virginia’s constitution. A McClellan aide said her goal is to bring the proposal before the legislature next year.

The amendment would face steep odds in the House of Delegates, where Republicans enjoy a 52-48 majority, but wouldn’t require sign-off from Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

Harris has been barnstorming states to drive home the importance of reproductive rights with stops in North Carolina on Thursday and another slated for Indiana on Monday. The vice president said Youngkin “is apparently prepared to restrict and even ban abortion based on an interpretation of the words he spoke.”

“I'm fully aware of the context in which we meet in terms of what this will mean to the people of Virginia,” Harris said.

Any effort to roll back abortion rights likely will face challenges in the Democratically-controlled state Senate. Youngkin has dodged questions about whether he would support banning abortion at conception if Republicans take full control of the General Assembly in next year’s elections. Some Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Bob Good (R-5th), have called Youngkin’s existing plans insufficient. Good led a rally earlier this month where he called for a total ban on the procedure. 

Macaulay Porter, a spokesperson for the governor, reiterated Youngkin's support for the 15-week ban but didn’t directly respond to whether he supported anything beyond that.

“While the governor appreciates the Vice President’s visit, he will continue to engage with Virginians and legislators on this important matter,” Porter wrote in a statement issued Saturday.  

More than two dozen Democratic lawmakers attended the event. McClellan started it off by calling Virginia “the safe haven for abortion care in the South.”

“But it hasn’t always been that way,” she said, pointing to previous laws written by Republicans that tightened restrictions on abortion clinics, required a 24-hour waiting period before the procedure and mandated ultrasounds.

Democrats scrapped those rules when they took control of the legislature in 2020. 

Other notable figures in attendance Saturday included Rep. Donald McEachin (VA-04). He called out “our problem child in the Virginia’s Senate” in an apparent reference to state Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond), a potential swing vote on any abortion bills that make it to the Senate floor. McEachin also stressed the importance of overturning the U.S. Senate’s filibuster rules to pass civil rights legislation — including bills involving abortion rights.

“I could not agree with you more,” Harris said. “Nor could the president agree with you more. Which is why our president, Joe Biden, has been very clear that he will not let the filibuster stand in the way on the issue of the Women's Health Protection Act,” she said, referring to a bill passed by the House of Representatives earlier this week. Harris didn’t provide any details of how Biden would accomplish that.

Biden signed an executive order aimed at protecting access to abortions earlier this month that abortion-rights advocates say doesn’t go far enough. Harris said it was ultimately important for Democrats to pick up two more seats in the U.S. Senate to work around Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and another Democrat opposed to eliminating the filibuster, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).

Press were only granted access for a portion of Saturday’s event. During her opening remarks — before the press was allowed in — Harris said the group would get into the “nitty gritty” of the issue after reporters left.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the “problem child” that McEachin was referring to. VPM News regrets the error.

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.