Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin praised the Supreme Court ruling Friday that eliminated the federal right to abortion and said he asked state lawmakers to ban the procedure at 15 weeks of pregnancy, with some exceptions.
In an initial statement, Youngkin called himself a “pro-life governor” and said he will “take every action I can to protect life.” His office then said he asked lawmakers to "prioritize protecting life when babies begin to feel pain in the womb, including a 15-week threshold."
A 15-week law would constitute a major change in Virginia, where abortions are now legal in the first and second trimesters. The third trimester begins at about week 28. Abortions are legal in the third trimester if continuing the pregnancy “is likely to result in the death of the woman or substantially and irremediably impair the mental or physical health of the woman.”
Youngkin told The Washington Post he will aim for a 15-week law but that a 20-week cutoff may be necessary to attract additional support in Richmond. He told the paper he supports exceptions for rape, incest and cases in which the life of the mother is at risk.
Here’s Youngkin's full, initial statement:
"The Supreme Court of the United States has rightfully returned power to the people and their elected representatives in the states. I'm proud to be a pro-life Governor and plan to take every action I can to protect life. The truth is, Virginians want fewer abortions, not more abortions. We can build a bipartisan consensus on protecting the life of unborn children, especially when they begin to feel pain in the womb, and importantly supporting mothers and families who choose life.
That's why I've asked Senator Siobhan Dunnavant, Senator Steve Newman, Delegate Kathy Byron and Delegate Margaret Ransone to join us in an effort to bring together legislators and advocates from across the Commonwealth on this issue to find areas where we can agree and chart the most successful path forward. I've asked them to do the important work needed and be prepared to introduce legislation when the General Assembly returns in January.”
Later Friday, a spokeswoman for Youngkin issued this statement:
"Virginians elected a pro-life governor and he supports finding consensus on legislation. He has tapped Senator Siobhan Dunnavant, Senator Steve Newman, Delegate Kathy Byron and Delegate Margaret Ransone to do so and prioritize protecting life when babies begin to feel pain in the womb, including a 15-week threshold."
Youngkin, who took office in January, previously expressed support for legislation to ban abortions when abortion rights opponents argue that fetuses are able to feel pain. When he campaigned, he often side-stepped the issue.
On the grounds of the capitol in Richmond, Democratic lawmakers and their supporters responded to the Supreme Court ruling with a promise to fight any effort to change Virginia’s abortion laws.
“We will not let you take if back. We will not let you stand in the way. We will fight,” Del. Jennifer McClellan said.
State Sen. Louise Lucas, chair of the Senate’s health committee, said she would work to block any legislation to restrict abortion access.
“Virginia will remain open for choice,” she said in a tweet.
Other lawmakers expressed excitement about the Supreme Court ruling and the potential for change in Virginia.
“This is a day we’ve all looked forward to for so many years. So, I’m very excited,” said Del. Dave LaRock.
He joins the governor in pushing for new abortion restrictions.
“Often referred to as the 20-Week Pain Capable bill, I’ve patroned that a number of different times. I think there is a lot of appetite for that,” he said.
Virginia Democrats, who still control the Senate by a narrow margin, vow that their “brick wall” to protect current abortion laws will not fall.
Senate Democrats control the chamber by the narrowest possible margin and have one caucus member who personally opposes abortion and says he is open to new restrictions. Republicans also have a narrow hold on the House, with several moderate members. Every seat in the General Assembly will be on the ballot in 2023.
Reproductive rights groups such as Repro Rising Virginia say polling suggests that Youngkin’s plans are not supported by the majority of state residents.
“I say to Governor Youngkin and anyone who supports him: Good luck, because this is political suicide for them,” Executive Director Tarina Keene said
Repro Rising Virginia predicts that Virginia abortion providers may soon be inundated with people from states including Kentucky and Tennessee seeking abortions.
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The Associated Press contributed reporting.
Stay with NBC Washington for more details on this developing story.