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Virginia abortion rights amendment can’t hit ballots until 2026 — at the earliest

Courtesy - Crixell Matthews, VPM News
Courtesy - Crixell Matthews, VPM News

Virginia Democrats have introduced a constitutional amendment they argue will protect abortion access in the state. But the multiyear process means the debate over the medical procedure will persist, spanning at least one statewide election and two votes for congressional offices.

The  amendment proposed by Democrats shortly after their wins in  the Nov. 7 elections states that everyone has a “fundamental right to reproductive freedom” that can’t be infringed upon by the state. Democratic candidates campaigned heavily on preserving access to abortion.

This story was reported and written by VPM News

In order to be enacted, the amendment needs to pass the General Assembly once before the 2025 elections — when voters will elect a new governor, as well as members of the House of Delegates — and once after them. Voters would then see the amendment on their ballots in November 2026, when Virginia voters will also be casting votes for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democratic Sen. Mark Warner. Unlike new laws, the amendment doesn’t require signoff from Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin or any future governor.

For reproductive rights advocates like Tarina Keene, executive director of REPRO Rising Virginia, the stakes remain high even after Democrats’ wins. Virginia is  the only state in the South whose Legislature hasn’t passed abortion restrictions since the U.S. Supreme Court  overturned a national right to abortion in 2022.

“We are now a destination state,” Keene said in an interview. “And we want to make sure that we keep it that way.”

Olivia Gans Turner, president of the anti-abortion Virginia Society for Human Life, argued the amendment’s language could threaten laws like  parental consent for people under the age of 18 undergoing the procedure. In an interview, Turner said she was grateful she and other abortion critics would have three years to make that argument to voters.

“It gives all of us time to communicate, to educate — to talk about what would this actually do,” Turner said.

Victoria Cobb, director of the conservative Family Foundation, called the wording of the amendment “deceptive” because it uses the phrase “reproductive freedom” and doesn’t contain the word “abortion.” Speaking on the group’s latest  podcast episode posted Wednesday, Cobb argued the amendment would enable sex traffickers, pave the way for “designer” babies birthed through surrogacy and lead to a rise in abortions later in pregnancy.

State Sen. Barbara Favola (D–Fairfax), a co-sponsor of the amendment, brushed off concerns about its language.

“At the end of the day, I think our courts are going to interpret the constitutional amendment and try to determine if in fact, something substantially violates bodily autonomy,” Favola said in an interview.

Reproductive rights advocates have focused on what they say is the amendment’s straightforward goal of preserving access to abortion.

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia said it will educate voters on the amendment’s procedural process to emphasize the stakes of the 2025 election, according to political director Han Jones. Speaking at a press conference last month, Jones noted that voters across the U.S. have consistently supported ballot measures preserving abortion access.

“We are incredibly confident that when Virginians do have an opportunity to directly vote on whether or not they want their rights protected, that they will resoundingly vote yes,” Jones said.

Favola is also sponsoring two bills on the topic to be considered in the legislative session beginning Jan. 10.  One forbids extraditing patients or health care providers to face charges in other states related to an abortion procedure performed in Virginia.  Another bans the issuance of search warrants for menstrual health data.

The Democrat said she wasn’t aware of people facing extradition for the procedure.

“I don't want to wait until situations happen, and then you're like, ‘Gee, I wish we'd had law on the books,’” Favola said.

Favola sponsored a bill related to  menstrual health data in this year’s session that cleared the Senate in a 31-9 bipartisan vote before dying in the GOP-controlled House of Delegates. Republicans on a committee hearing the bill opted to defeat it following testimony from Maggie Cleary, Youngkin’s deputy secretary of public safety and homeland security.

“Currently, any health information or any app information is available via search warrant,” Cleary  said in February. “We believe that should continue to be the case.”

Youngkin’s spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on the upcoming bills.