This week, we must address the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn fifty years of precedent under Roe v. Wade. I also provide information on laws passed by the General Assembly going into effect this summer, share reflections on my recent event with Molly Ringwald and my time as an Early Childhood Fellow of the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL), and discuss the Independence Day holiday. Thank you for taking the time to read the newsletter and for staying informed.
SCOTUS Decision Overturning Roe v. Wade
Last Friday, June 24, the US Supreme Court uprooted almost fifty years of precedent in its ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and overturned Roe v. Wade. Writing for the court’s majority, Justice Samuel Alito states that the 1973 Roe ruling and other subsequent high court decisions reaffirming Roe "must be overruled" because they were "egregiously wrong," the arguments "exceptionally weak" and so "damaging" that they amounted to "an abuse of judicial authority." In essence, Alito negates the judicial reasoning and authority of his own predecessors on the Supreme Court.
The decision to overturn the past ruling in Roe means that abortion rights will be rolled back in nearly half of the states immediately. Many of these states will revert back to laws concerning reproductive health that are over 70 years old, with no acknowledgment to the advancement of medicine, science, contraception, fertility studies, cultural attitudes, and so much more. And many are rushing to put even more restrictions into place. For all practical purposes, abortion will not be available in large swaths of the country.
As many polls and legal scholars point out, the six Supreme Court justices who offered the majority ruling actually represent the minority opinion of Americans themselves. Over 70% of Americans support safe and legal abortion. Concurring with Alito (appointed by George W. Bush) were Clarence Thomas (appointed by the first President Bush) and the three recent Trump appointees: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. Chief Justice John Roberts, also appointed by the second Bush, concurred in the judgment only and stated that he would have limited the decision to upholding the Mississippi law at issue in the case, which banned abortions after 15 weeks.
Dissenting from the majority opinion were Justices Stephen Breyer, appointed by President Clinton, and Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, appointed by President Obama. Their opinion said that the court decision means that "young women today will come of age with fewer rights than their mothers and grandmothers” and that "from the very moment of fertilization, a woman has no rights to speak of. A state can force her to bring a pregnancy to term even at the steepest personal and familial costs."
For many in America, forced pregnancy is now the rule of law, regardless of the individual’s health or family concerns. My full statement on the Supreme Court ruling is here.
Abortion remains legal in the Commonwealth of Virginia, for now. Because of the recent work of Democrats in the Senate and House, Virginia’s Reproductive Health Protection Act (2020) removed barriers such as ultrasound requirements and 24-hour waiting periods. We also expanded access to abortion services through the state health exchange (2021). During the 2022 Session, Senate Democrats blocked numerous attempts to roll back abortion protections. In essence, Virginia preserves the rights of pregnant people and their families to make appropriate and private decisions with their health care providers.
However, the Governor of Virginia has indicated he will seek greater restrictions on abortion access; a Republican state Senator has declared his intent to file legislation that will ban all abortions; and another Republican state Senator believes that Virginia should target the medical licenses of physicians who provide necessary care for their patients.
Clearly, these declarations by GOP officials are out of step with the majority of Virginians. Since the US Supreme Court ruling, my office has received hundreds of emails from constituents who are angered by the extremist overreach of the six justices. Many are asking what they can do to ensure protections in the Commonwealth. The following are recommendations for interested Virginians:
Reproductive Health Organizations
Organizations such as Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia (PPAV) and REPRO Rising Virginia (formerly known as NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia) are working hard to protect abortion access in Virginia through advocacy trainings, volunteer mobilization, lobbying legislators, and by directly providing reproductive health care services. In addition to these state-wide groups, other more localized efforts are focused on providing reproductive health care and maintaining abortion access across the state. More information about local and state-wide efforts are available on the National Network of Abortion Funds website.
Action During the General Assembly Session
The General Assembly will convene in Richmond on Wednesday, January 11, for the 2023 Session. In addition to statements already made by Youngkin and Virginia Republicans, we will likely see many other efforts attacking abortion access and reproductive rights. I am committed to protecting safe, legal, and accessible abortion care, but Senate Democrats hold just a one-seat majority and Democrats are now the minority party in the House of Delegates. Therefore, constituents must stay engaged now and throughout the General Assembly Session, and connect with their representatives to voice their support for reproductive health care access.
During the legislative session, the Legislative Information System (LIS) website is a great resource. Here, observers can livestream House and Senate video, view the daily calendar of committee meetings, find committee and subcommittee information, and more. Constituents can also track particular legislation using Lobbyist-in-a-Box (LIAB). A guide on how to use this service can be found here. We can expect that legislation on reproductive issues will likely come before the Senate Education and Health Committee and the House Health, Welfare, and Institutions Committee.
Identify Candidates Who Support Reproductive Rights
All 140 seats within the Virginia General Assembly will be on the ballot in November 2023 and, in some districts, party primaries will be held in June 2023. Information on who will be on the ballot in June for the primary elections and in November for the general election will be available on the websites for the Virginia Department of Elections and the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP).
Laws Taking Effect July 1
In Due Course is a publication highlighting selected legislation passed by the 2022 Regular Session of the General Assembly that is likely to affect the daily lives of the citizens of Virginia. The following legislation has been signed by the Governor and, for the most part, will go into effect on Friday, July 1.
The full list of new actions is available here.
Molly Ringwald Event Recap
I was honored to be joined this past Saturday at Studio Two Three by activist, author, and artist Molly Ringwald. She shared an uplifting message, emphasizing the need to fight for our constitutional rights, to protect targeted communities, and defend marriage equality which is now also threatened by the recent Supreme Court ruling. As she pointed out, Virginia is often just one election away from losing all of the gains that we have recently made.
I am deeply grateful to Molly Ringwald, the work and support of many others, and to everyone who attended the event. Gathering together in our diverse and highly-engaged coalition this past Saturday reminded us all that we belong to a movement that is strong, resilient, and on the right side of history.
Early Childhood Program of NCSL
I am honored this week to be participating as a Fellow in the Early Childhood Program of the National Conference of State Legislatures. This program will engage the selected Fellows over the course of the next several months through both webinars and in-person meetings.
For over ten years, the program has provided educational opportunities for legislators and staff focused on early care and education. The program is geared toward those chairing or serving on human services, education, or appropriation committees. Our sessions thus far have highlighted early brain development; access to affordable, high-quality child care and voluntary home visiting; family economic security; systems design and governance; financing strategies; workforce training and support; and much more. The sessions have provided me with ideas for effective legislation that can be implemented in Virginia, replicating progress made in other states.
For the first time, the Early Childhood Program cohort is engaged in joint conference activities with two other cohorts: Child Welfare and Youth Homelessness. As we have seen in our discussions, Early Childhood concerns and issues overlap with a broad array of social, health, and economic structures. I am joined in this conference by three other state Senators: Senator Jennifer Boysko, Senator Barbara Favola, and Senator Adam Ebbin.
Fourth of July 2022
As the Fourth of July approaches, we are reminded of the importance of the bedrock of democratic principles and constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms. Many Americans will use the upcoming holiday to reflect on their roles and responsibilities as citizens and consider the kind of legacies that they want to leave behind for their children.
Every Fourth of July, I recall the powerful speech delivered on July 5, 1852, by the former slave, famed orator, and zealous abolitionist Fredrick Douglass: “The Meaning of the Fourth of July for the Negro,” also frequently referred to by the title “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” In this speech, Douglass defines the paradoxes and contradictions of a nation that extolls its democratic ideal that “all men are created equal” and at the same time builds its economic wealth on the labor and lives of enslaved people. Nearly one hundred and fifty years later, Douglass (who never debated Abraham Lincoln despite the recent rumors generated by a member of the General Assembly) continues to remind us of the breathtaking responsibility and weight of living up to ideals of a country founded on the notions of equality, freedom, and justice.
I wish everyone a safe holiday weekend.
Update: Connecting With My Office
Next week, we will not be sending out a newsletter because my staff will be taking a well-deserved summer vacation. Upon their return, they will continue to hold meetings with constituents via Zoom or by phone. You can sign up for a meeting with either of my staff members with our easy scheduling app: