Anti-abortion activists hold signs at the edge of a pro-Equal Rights Amendment rally in Richmond in January.
Democratic lawmakers in Virginia are targeting abortion restrictions established by Republicans over the last decade, pushing forward legislation that seeks to roll back those restrictions and expand access to the procedure in the state.
Democrats, who now control both legislative chambers and the governor's mansion for the first time in nearly three decades, expect to be able to strike numerous abortion restrictions, including the requirement for an ultrasound and a 24-hour waiting period before a woman can have the procedure.
Lawmakers in both the House of Delegates and state Senate have advanced parallel bills that would allow nurses and physician's assistants to perform abortions (currently, only physicians can perform abortions in Virginia). The legislation also would remove a mandate that clinics performing more than a few abortions per month meet hospital standards for their facilities.
The bill passed a first read in both chambers Friday and will likely pass second and third reads, and a vote, this week.
As lawmakers discussed the bills on Friday, President Trump took aim at Virginia Democrats from Washington, D.C. as it hosted the March For Life, an annual anti-abortion demonstration.
"What is going on in Virginia, what is going on?" Trump said. "The governor stated that he would execute a baby after birth." Trump, the first sitting U.S. president to attend the rally in person, drew cheers from thousands of activists who support tighter restrictions on abortion.
The president was referring to a political firestorm that erupted last year when Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam defended a bill that would lower barriers to third-trimester abortions. Northam said such abortions were appropriate in cases where there are "severe deformities" or "a fetus that's non-viable." Republicans circulated Northam's quotes widely, claiming the comment was evidence Democrats sought to legalize partial-birth abortions. But the episode dissipated after Republicans, then in control of the House of Delegates, tabled the bill.
Abortion rights advocates have cheered the bills now advancing through Virginia's Democratic-led legislature.
"We'd had decades of barriers and restrictions put up here in the Commonwealth and so we have a lot of work to do," said Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.
Keene added that Virginia could become a bulwark as neighboring states tighten restrictions on the practice, and if conservative appointees to the U.S. Supreme Court decline to uphold Roe v. Wade, the landmark high court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.
"We are preparing for a post-Roe world," Keene said. "And we start by lifting these barriers."
Republican Del. Dave LaRock, who represents parts of Loudoun County, mourned the House bill as "a giant step backwards."
LaRock acknowledged that Republicans have few means to counter the legislation now that they represent the minority party.
"I wish I could say we have an effective strategy," he said, adding, "there is not much respect for the viewpoints of people who prefer to continue with the laws as they are."
The House also is considering a symbolic boost to abortion rights. Democrats have proposed recognizing Jan. 22 — the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision — as the Day of Women in Virginia to "to celebrate women in leadership"; Republicans passed a resolution in 2017 to recognize Jan. 22 as the "Day of Tears in Virginia," in memory of "the innocents who have lost their lives to abortion."