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Youngkin vetoes abortion-related shield law bills

Del. Rozia Henson Jr., D-Prince William, listens along Senators Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, and Del. Luke Torian, D-Prince William, to questions on Tuesday, March 26, 2024 at George Mason University in Fairfax County, Virginia. (Courtesy of Shaban Athuman, VPM News)
Del. Rozia Henson Jr., D-Prince William, listens along Senators Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, and Del. Luke Torian, D-Prince William, to questions on Tuesday, March 26, 2024 at George Mason University in Fairfax County, Virginia. (Courtesy of Shaban Athuman, VPM News)

Gov. Glenn Youngkin vetoed four bills Friday night that would have created shield laws for reproductive-health providers.

This story was reported and written by VPM News

The bills aimed to protect health-care professionals who dispense services legal in Virginia, including abortions, from criminal extradition to another state, as well as discipline by the commonwealth’s health board.

Seven states have approved laws similar to the spiked legislation, said  Rachel Rebouché, dean of Temple University’s law school and an expert on shield laws.

“I think that they are responsive to the fear that states are going to try to not just ban abortion in their own borders, but outside their borders,” she said.

Bills Democrats passed this session forced Youngkin — with an eye on nearby state's laws — to take a position on abortion after regulation of the procedure fell to individual states following  the Supreme Court removing federal protections in June 2022.

Legislation expanding access wasn’t at the forefront of Democrats’ agenda this session.

“I think they're trying to get something that ... the governor would sign that might be something to distinguish Virginia from other states,” said Alex Keena, a political science professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.

While in control of the General Assembly and the governor’s mansion in 2020 and 2021, Democrats passed  legislation expanding abortion access. Legislators removed requirements, such as ultrasounds and written consent, and expanded who could provide certain abortion care.

Early in the 2024 legislative session, Democrats  delayed a vote on a constitutional amendment protecting abortion access until next year. The earliest it could  go before voters is 2026.

Three Republican Delegates voted for the shield laws that were sent to Youngkin’s desk:  Del. Carrie Coyner (R-Chesterfield), Del. David Owen (R-Henrico) and Del. Kim Taylor (R-Petersburg). Owen and Taylor ran in competitive races during 2023 when abortion was a major  issue for voters.

“They're worrying about their jobs. I don't think a lot of Republicans want abortion to be an issue that's on the forefront of voters’ minds, because it puts them in an uncomfortable position. It goes against public opinion,” said Keena of the GOP’s stance on abortion.

One of the shield laws legislators sent to Youngkin would have  prevented extradition for certain providers of “reproductive healthcare services,” including services relating to “pregnancy, contraception, or abortion.” The bill would have applied to people accused of crimes in other states related to the “provision of or assistance” in reproductive care that took place in Virginia — unless the procedure is a crime in the commonwealth.

Rebouché said that most states agree to help each other in criminal and civil prosecutions through uniform extradition laws.

“Shield laws broadly carve out an exception to that cooperation saying, ‘We're not going to help you with a criminal investigation. We're not going to help you with a civil investigation,’” she said.

Youngkin wrote in his veto statement that HB1539 and SB15 would disrupt extradition laws in the U.S.

“Our cooperative extradition system could collapse if individual states were to carve out crimes for which they would not recognize codified laws because of differing political positions,” he wrote.

Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington) sponsored the  Senate version of the extradition bill, which was narrower than the House version. It was a piece of legislation focused on a single issue for Youngkin to take a stance on.

“Our underlying Senate bill was much cleaner and much more direct,” Favola told Senators in February. The Senate version ultimately was what was sent to — and vetoed on Friday by — Youngkin.

Another shield law the General Assembly  passed would have prohibited the Virginia Board of Medicine from disciplining doctors for allegedly providing abortion care that’s legal in the commonwealth — but not in other states.

The governor appoints members to that state board, which issues and oversees medical licenses.

“The primary mission of the Board of Medicine is to protect the public from incompetent, dangerous, and unprofessional medical providers. This legislation compromises the Board's ability to fulfill that mission,” Youngkin wrote in his veto statement. He also said the bill would open the door to unsafe and risky abortions.

Youngkin did sign  House and  Senate bills prohibiting authorities’ access to menstrual health data recorded in digital period-tracking apps. Experts told  PolitFact the data could be used in criminal prosecutions to determine when someone became pregnant or had an abortion.

Another set of bills Youngkin needs to act on would govern access to contraceptives.

Last month, the governor amended a  Senate bill introduced by Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D-Chesterfield) that legislators fast-tracked to Youngkin’s desk. An  identical House bill still awaits his action, as do a set of bills that would guarantee the  right to obtain and use contraception.