Charlottesville area abortion providers are scrambling to prepare for what they say could be an onslaught of out of state women seeking abortions in Virginia.
The Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling that has protected abortion access nationwide for nearly 50 years will likely be overturned by the court this summer, according to a draft opinion leaked to Politico.
The draft opinion is not final. The court’s decision is expected by June.
If Roe v. Wade is overturned the way the draft outlines, abortion access would be determined by state governments. That means abortions would become immediately outlawed or restricted in 22 states, which already have laws against the procedure on the books, according to the Guttmacher Instititute. Many of those are Southern states, which would make Virginia’s clinics the closest legal providers for many.
Virginia law currently allows for abortions under any circumstances until the end of the second trimester, or within the first 26 weeks of pregnancy. Abortion in the third trimester is legal only if it is necessary to save the woman’s life or if continuing the pregnancy would “irremediably impair” her physical or mental health.
“There are so many people relying on us — not just in Virginia, but in states across the South that will ban abortion as soon as Roe is overturned,” said Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville. “That’s why Virginia has to stay a safe haven for abortion — for Virginians, for our neighbors, and for everyone seeking the care they need.”
Local organizations say they are already getting calls from out-of-state patients.
Texas passed a law in September banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. The Charlottesville-based Blue Ridge Abortion Fund, which helps women pay for abortions, started receiving calls from a small number of pregnant women in Texas.
“We are expecting that people will travel from states where abortion will either be severely restricted or eliminated entirely,” said Tannis Fuller, the group’s executive director. “We already see people traveling for care in Virginia from Texas right now.”
Many of those women could end up in the Charlottesville area, which is home to two of Virginia’s sixteen abortion clinics.
It’s unclear how many abortions are currently performed at those two clinics, or to what extent the groups can handle an increase in demand from out of state patients. The local Planned Parenthood chapter did not immediately respond to Charlottesville Tomorrow’s request for comment. The local Whole Woman’s Health clinic, which performs the procedure, declined to share their numbers.
“We’re working each day to come up with innovative and strategic ways to prepare for whatever ruling the Justices may hand down,” Amy Hagstrom Miller, Whole Woman’s Health’s president and CEO, said in a prepared statement.
The Blue Ridge Abortion Fund paid for 1,856 abortions in 2021, up from 1,186 in 2020. However, not all of those abortions were performed locally, Fuller said.
The Fund aids anyone who asks for help paying for an abortion, regardless of where they live, on a first come first serve basis. It typically pays for the procedure itself, but will also aid in transportation, lodging or other costs.
Abortions in Virginia can run from $375 to $2,000, Fuller said. They are not covered by Medicaid unless the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest, or if it is a danger to the pregnant person’s health. Private insurers are not required to cover the cost of abortion.
In 2021, the Blue Ridge Abortion Fund paid out more than $600,000 for abortions. That was nearly double what it spent in 2020, which was $317,079.
The increase had more to do with available funding than heightened demand, Fuller said. During the pandemic, the group received several substantial one time gifts.
Yet, the nearly 2,000 people who received aid last year accounted for only a quarter of all calls received.
“There’s a lot of people who ask us for money and we’re only able to provide as much money as we have available,” Fuller said.
Fuller predicts a substantial rise in people calling for help from outside Virginia should Roe be overturned.
If Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion rights will be up to state lawmakers
While local organizations scramble to prepare for the end of Roe, their efforts could be rendered moot in the coming years by Virginia’s General Assembly.
Should Roe be overturned, abortion will remain legal only as long as the state’s legislators want it to, said Del. Hudson.
Abortion is a partisan issue. Currently, Republicans control the House of Delegates and there is a Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin who has said he is against abortion. However, Democrats control the Senate by one seat. That means the Senate is positioned to block any bills attempting to ban abortions.
Both the Senate and the House of Delegates will be up for re-election in 2023. House seats could be up for election sooner, pending the outcome of a lawsuit over the state’s new district maps.
If Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court, state-level elections will be crucial to whether or not abortion is legal.
“Our abortion rights are only secure as long Democrats can hold majorities in Richmond,” Hudson said. “That means everyone who cares about abortion rights needs to know that abortion is on the ballot in every state election from here on out.”
Legislators and activists are preparing to lobby on both sides of the issue.
The Family Foundation, a Virginia faith-based nonprofit group that lobbies for anti-abortion legislation, wants to restrict abortion access.
“Our first goal would be to restore common sense restrictions that were removed by extreme pro-abortion legislators who are out of step with the majority of Virginians, such as full-informed consent and safety standards,” Victoria Cobb, president of the organization, said in a statement.
“Common sense restrictions are regulations that prevent hasty decisions or coercion and ensure the health and safety of the woman if she does proceed with the abortion, such as a 24-hour waiting period, the right to see her ultrasound, and ensuring the clinics meet the same standards as other outpatient surgical centers,” Cobb said.
Sixty-one percent of Americans think abortion should be legal in most cases, while 55% of adults in Virginia agree, according to analysis of a national survey conducted by the Pew Research Center.
Should legislation that restricts abortions make its way to the governor’s desk, Youngkin will likely sign it.
During his 2021 campaign, Youngkin stated that he is against abortions, though he said he would make exceptions for instances like rape and incest, or when a pregnant woman’s life is at risk and an abortion is medically necessary.
Youngkin’s term ends January 17, 2026.
On the other side of the aisle, Democratic legislators are pondering how they can keep abortion legal in Virginia.
Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, said one way to protect abortions is to embed the principles of Roe v. Wade into the state’s code.
“That is the course I hope we take,” Deeds said. “Others have spoken of amending the state constitution to protect the right to choose. I am certainly open to that approach.”
It’s also possible — though unlikely — that the U.S. Congress will pass federal legislation guaranteeing the right to abortions. One such bill, the Women’s Health Protection Act, has already passed the House of Representatives and could be voted on in the Senate by next week, Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said on a press call Wednesday. Republicans hold a majority in the Senate, which makes the bill unlikely to pass.
Despite the speculation that Roe will be overturned, Rich Schragger, a law professor at the University of Virginia, stressed that the Supreme Court hasn’t ruled yet — so the court’s opinion could change.
Republican-appointed Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett favored overturning Roe v. Wade, according to an anonymous source quoted in Politico, which published the leaked draft opinion. Meanwhile, the source claimed that Democrat-appointed justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan would dissent.
Newly-confirmed justice Ketanji Brown Jackson is not yet on the court and will not be able to weigh in on the case.
Schragger said it’s still unclear how Justice John Roberts will vote.
“Look out for Chief Justice Roberts,” Schragger said. “He might serve as a swing justice in the case — though we won’t know until the final decision is issued.”