Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed bills on Friday rolling back multiple abortion restrictions in the state, including some that had been in place for decades.
The new laws make Virginia the first state to codify new abortion protections in 2020, according to Elizabeth Nash, the senior state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health think tank.
The legislation removes longstanding regulations requiring abortion seekers to undergo an ultrasound at least 24 hours prior to receiving an abortion and to get counseling on alternatives to abortion. It also strikes the requirement that facilities providing more than five abortions per year be designated as hospitals.
“No more will legislators in Richmond – most of whom are men – be telling women what they should and should not be doing with their bodies,” Northam said in a statement, adding that the legislation “will make women and families safer, and I’m proud to sign it into law.”
The move continues the trend of liberal state legislatures looking to protect abortion rights after state lawmakers who oppose abortion passed a slew of restrictions in 2019 – and in some cases, have looked to limit abortion access during the coronavirus outbreak.
The newly signed bills from the state’s Democratic-controlled House of Delegates and Senate will go into effect on July 1, Northam’s spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said.
The measures also remove the requirement that only physicians provide abortions during the first trimester of pregnancy – a move that would expand the provider pool.
The Virginia House and Senate each passed their own similar versions of the bills in January, with the main difference being that the House bill would have allowed physician assistants, nurse practitioners and certified nurse midwives to perform abortions. The finalized bills expanded the statute to only allow nurse practitioners to also offer first trimester abortions.
The bill’s legislative backers cheered Northam’s signature. House Majority Leader Charniele Herring, who introduced the House bill, cheered the bills’ signing and asserted that the rolled back restrictions were “not evidence-based and presume that women have an inability to make their own health care decisions.”
“We have finally put an end to these medically unnecessary barriers to women’s reproductive health care,” state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, who sponsored the bill in her chamber, said Friday. “Politicians should not interfere in women’s personal medical decisions, period.”
Anti-abortion advocates lambasted the bill. Olivia Gans Turner, president of the Virginia Society for Human Life, told CNN the legislation “deprives women like myself that have had abortions from much needed critical, potentially life saving information before we make that decision.”
“What Gov. Northam did today was sign into law a measure that protects abortionists at the expense of women’s safety and the lives of more unborn children who will die because no information is given to their mothers,” she added.
Republican Del. Kathy Byron, speaking on the House floor in February, noted that the requirement allowing only physicians to provide abortions dated back to 1975.
“What we’re doing today is voting to deny women complete information on what an abortion means, its consequences, its implications, its alternatives and the time to consider this life-ending decision, maybe one of the most important decision that they ever make,” Byron said, adding that “we’re making a terrible mistake today, and I hope we won’t support this.”
Virginia joins a cohort of states, many in the Northeast, that have moved to ease abortion access. Illinois, Maine, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont all codified abortion protections last year.