How abortion plays into Virginia’s 2023 primary elections

With a split legislature, the Republican governor has faced roadblocks in passing some of his top priorities — including a proposed 15-week abortion ban. Democrats in the state Senate stymied that effort earlier this year, something they will likely lean on heavily in November.

“The DLCC gave Republicans a reality check by running on protecting abortion access and creating a winning blueprint for state Democrats,” a memo from the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee says.

Abortion is still a driving theme in many of Tuesday’s contests, most notably in the Democratic primary for the state’s 13th Senate District between state Sen. Joe Morrissey — a longstanding and polarizing figure in Virginia politics — and his challenger, former Del. Lashrecse Aird. He’s a self-described “pro-life” Democrat — something that Aird has made sure to emphasize during her campaign. Morrissey has pushed back, saying that Aird has “misstated his position on abortion” and he “supports restricting the procedure at the point when a fetus can feel pain.”

Prominent Democrats have abandoned Morrissey. Aird has raked in endorsements from all of the female Democratic state senators, as well as most of the Democrats in Virginia’s congressional delegation. Abortion rights groups have also waded into the contest in support of Aird, including EMILY’s List and NARAL Pro-Choice America.

The district leans blue, and the victor of the primary has a smooth path to victory come November.

Elsewhere in the state, Democrats are hoping abortion will drive out voters once again, as it has in previous elections. A special election earlier this year drew in national dollars to boost now-state Sen. Aaron Rouse, a Democrat who campaigned on a pro-abortion rights platform. Democratic opponents are squabbling with each other over abortion in the primaries, showing the salience of the issue — even though members of the party largely hold the same stance.

Even Republicans are speaking about abortion — a rarity for the members of the party, many of whom either stay mum on the topic or who struggle with it in a general election. Republican State Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant isn’t facing a primary challenger, but has a difficult reelection bid ahead of her after redistricting has her running in the 16th District, a seat that leans Democratic. In an ad, she outlines her position on abortion, saying it should remain legal up to 15 weeks and there should be “reasonable exceptions for rape, incest, life of the mother and severe fetal anomalies.” Right now, abortion is legal in Virginia until the third trimester, and there is an exception in the third trimester if there is a danger to the mother’s life.

“What I cannot accept is the current Virginia law that allows for abortion up to the moment of birth,” says Dunnavant, an OB-GYN, in the ad. “As a physician, I know this is not reasonable. It is unnecessary, extreme and heartbreaking.”

Polls close at 7 p.m. EST.

A version of this initially appeared in the June 20 edition of Weekly Score.

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