As abortion rights supporters across the country await a U.S. Supreme Court decision that could undo nearly 50 years of abortion rights precedent, local advocates are reassuring Virginians that abortion will remain legal in Virginia even if Roe v Wade is overturned. Activists are also mobilizing for “decision day” protests across the commonwealth set for the evening the decision is released.
“We know that nearly 80% of Virginians believe access to abortion should be legal and we will not stand by and be quiet,” said Izzy Thissell, the Northern Virginia community organizer for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia. Thissell organized a rally at Signal Hill Park in Manassas Park on Thursday, June 23, in advance of the opinion’s release, which is expected by the end of the month.
About 30 supporters attended the rally, including Virginia state Del. Danica Roem, D-13th, a candidate for the newly drawn state Senate District 30. Roem said that if Roe is overturned, nothing will immediately change in Virginia, however: “You better believe there will be executive actions that will follow, and anything that the Republican Party of Virginia can do at that point to start chipping away at our state-based protections as soon as they possibly can, they absolutely will.”
Roem encouraged attendees to become engaged locally and stay involved with the issue because “civil rights are on the line.”
“It’s abortion access today, … it’s LGBTQ rights tomorrow, and immigrant rights the day after that,” Roem said, noting that local advocacy sets the groundwork for both state and federal governance in the long run. “I am asking you and imploring you to care at every level of government.”
If Roe is overturned, millions of people around the country could immediately lose abortion access in their states. Because abortion remains legal in Virginia, Thissell said abortion clinics will “end up seeing more patients as they continue to provide care for folks coming in from other states who cannot receive care at home.”
Since last fall, abortion is illegal as early as six weeks into a pregnancy in Texas. At the rally, Steph Nash said that in her work with Whole Women’s Health Alliance, she has already flown in 152 patients from Texas seeking abortion care from clinics in Alexandria and Baltimore, Maryland. Nash said she seeks to rid women of any stigma from choosing to have an abortion.
“It is impossible to shame a woman who is unashamed,” she said.
At the rally, several attendees shared their abortion stories, including Faerlan Ramsey, a resident of Washington D.C., who said she sought an abortion after she was sexually assaulted. She said the abortion allowed her to “reclaim her body with one visit to the doctor” and that “abortion is suicide prevention.”
Jamie Lockhart, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, cautioned that the future of abortion rights in Virginia depends on Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) and the Virginia General Assembly. The House of Delegates is split 52 to 48 in the Republicans’ favor, while the state Senate has a 21 to 19 Democratic majority. Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears (R) can vote to break a tie.
“The only thing standing between us and a Texas-style ‘sue thy neighbor’ abortion ban is one seat in the state senate,” Lockhart said.
Lockhart noted that every seat in both the state House and Senate are up for grabs in 2023, meaning that abortion rights will be on the line. Thissell said that in order to safeguard the legal right to abortion in Virginia, “We need to make sure to continue to elect pro-abortion, pro-reproductive rights politicians.”
For Lockhart, Thissell and impassioned abortion rights activists, that fight has already begun.
Thissell said that decision day protests are already planned in several locations across the state. While it is uncertain what day the opinion will be released, when it is, the protest in Prince William will be held at Old Hechinger's located at 1310 Old Bridge Road in Woodbridge.
Lockhart said she was “grateful” for the turnout at the rally and “hopeful” about the road ahead. “We need to fight like hell to keep abortion legal in Virginia,” she said.
Reach Cher Muzyk at firstname.lastname@example.org