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Yesli Vega questions whether liberal states' abortion laws are ‘acceptable’

Yesli Vega campaigns alongside Rep. Louie Gohmert
Yesli Vega campaigns alongside Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tx.) in June. Vega, who's vying to unseat Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) in the 7th Congressional District, questioned whether it’s “acceptable” for liberal states to allow abortion in a recent audio recording. (File photo: Ben Paviour/VPM News)

Congressional hopeful Yesli Vega, the GOP nominee to take on Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) in the 7th Congressional District, questioned in a leaked audio recording whether it’s “acceptable” for liberal states to allow abortion.

In the recording obtained exclusively by VPM News, Vega speaks to an unidentified questioner at a May 21 event in Spotsylvania County, in the runup to the GOP primary. Anticipating the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Vega said that in states with conservative governors, “abortion’s not gonna be an option.”

“And then you have the other liberal states where they’re gonna have a free-for-all at taking innocent life, and that’s where we have to step in and say ‘What is acceptable and what is not?’” Vega said in the audio. “And in my opinion, I’m sorry, look, God is a giver of life, right, and therefore God takes life.”

Vega said in a June GOP candidate survey that she supports “a law to protect innocent life from conception to natural death,” a response first reported by the Washington Post last week.

In a statement, Sean Brown, an advisor to the Vega campaign, said Vega supports the June Supreme Court verdict “returning the decision to the states.”

“The people in each state can work to elect governors and legislators that will defend all life, like voters in Virginia did last year,” Brown said.

The campaign did not dispute the authenticity of the recording. They also didn’t directly respond to questions about the recording or whether Vega supports exceptions for abortions in the case of rape or incest.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson, Vega issued a statement cheering the verdict and arguing it would allow states to make “careful and deliberate decisions” on abortion law. “The federal government was never meant to have this kind of power,” she said.

Vega previously came under fire after Axios obtained an audio recording in which Vega downplayed the possibility of a woman becoming pregnant as a result of rape.

A poll released last week from Virginia Commonwealth University found that half of Virginians support the state’s current abortion laws, which allow the procedure in the first two trimesters and in the third trimester if the mother’s life or permanent health are in danger. Another 18% said the laws were too strict, while 25% said they are too lenient. Nationally, a June NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found 56% of respondents opposed the overturning of Roe v Wade.  

In a statement, Spanberger said the latest leaked audio showed Vega is out of touch with voters in the newly redrawn, slightly blue-leaning district. She claimed the audio showed Vega supported “government-mandated pregnancies and a total ban on abortion – even in cases where a mother’s life is threatened” – though Vega has not responded directly to questions about whether she supports those policies. 

“My opponent does not align with Virginia values,” Spanberger said in a statement.

A similar dynamic is playing out in Virginia’s 2nd Congressional Districts, host to one of the tightest races in the country. In a TV ad launched Thursday, Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) claimed her opponent, Republican state Sen. Jen Kiggans, wants to “make abortion illegal,” with no exception for rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother. Kiggans has called herself “100%, unapologetically pro-life” but like Vega, hasn’t answered questions about the specifics of her abortion policies. 

Spanberger’s campaign has already run Facebook ads highlighting Vega’s comments on abortion. The two-term Democrat co-sponsored legislation that cleared the House of Representatives designed to defend the ability of people seeking legal abortions to cross state lines without facing criminal charges. It faces longer odds in the Senate, where Democrats lack the 60-vote majority needed to pass most legislation.

The 7th Congressional District is a top pickup target for Republicans. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates the district as a Democratic-leaning toss-up. The district drifted north to the Fredericksburg area and became bluer after court-appointed map-makers redrew Virginia’s political boundaries.

Vega, an auxiliary deputy in the Prince William County Sheriff’s Office, has focused her campaign on President Joe Biden’s unpopularity, high inflation and her support for law enforcement. Vega said she would “absolutely” support a third presidential run by former President Donald Trump in 2024 and has cast doubts on the outcome of the 2020 election.

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