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RTD Column: Virginia can find consensus on abortion law

There may not be a topic more polarizing in today’s political climate than abortion. Feelings surrounding abortion are personal, heartfelt, and life changing.

After the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling, there is a debate in every state capital about how to move forward on abortion. Today, state legislators in Richmond face a huge question: can we find consensus on the issue? I am confident we can.

As a practicing ob-gyn of more than 25 years, I have cared for women facing enormously complex challenges like parenting alone or mothers who desperately want to hold a healthy child but face an inconceivable complication. I’m never surprised, but often humbled, by their fortitude and grace.

After the Dobbs decision, people started asking me what we should do. I think many were shocked to learn that current Virginia law allows for an abortion up until birth. I’ve learned by listening with compassion that my position on abortion is similar to a vast majority of Virginians – it is deeply personal, rooted in my faith, and shaped by my lived experiences. I’ve also learned that in the case of abortion Virginians don’t want extreme to be our law.

Unfortunately, our current law on abortion is just that – allowing an abortion up until birth for more reasons than just life of the mother. It is important to note these laws were written in 1975, and in no way reflect the remarkable advancements in prenatal and neonatal medicine that have drastically altered the age of viability which was a cornerstone of Roe v. Wade.

In a recent poll, Democrats For Life found that 81 percent of Virginians - Republicans and Democrats — want legislators to find consensus. National polling after Dobbs clearly shows Americans support the legality of abortion in the first trimester and restricted access after the first.

In 50 years, we’ve made remarkable advancements in prenatal and neonatal medicine, and these advances call for substantive review of our abortion laws. If a mother has a crisis and can’t be pregnant after 24 weeks, we deliver that baby and save both. Just last year, I delivered a baby that was 23 weeks. With the care received in the NICU, this baby survived and is doing great.

So where is the common ground for legislators? I believe it can be found in creating new laws that are not extreme and recognize the scientific reality of viability. These new laws must also respect exceptions, promote options for women, and protect them from criminalization of a legal abortion.

That’s why I am introducing legislation this General Assembly Session that will restrict abortion after viability, which by today’s medical standards is 24 weeks, while maintaining Virginia’s current exceptions for the life of the mother rape, and incest.

Abortion in the third trimester deprives a fully viable baby of life. Delivery is the only appropriate medical intervention when a pregnancy has reached the 24-week threshold of survivability.

Legislators on both sides are willing to identify what we can agree on, and we can successfully address the change needed in the wake of the Dobbs decision and reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies in Virginia.

Our legislature has already found a way to do things together that made a difference. I was able to persuade bipartisan support for Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARCs) and started the Virginia Neonatal Perinatal Collaborative to improve maternal outcomes across Virginia.

Other legislation I’m carrying this session, which already has bipartisan support, will provide for comprehensive maternity care connecting patients to chronic disease management, housing, childcare and workforce education during pregnancy and after. It will also provide for child support during pregnancy and expanded disability insurance to cover twelve weeks of maternity leave.

Keeping abortion an emotionally triggering political fear benefits no one other than political action groups. It is my goal for Virginians to change this. It is time for Virginia to move away from extremes and support reasonable laws that reflect the advances in modern medicine to protect the unborn, as well as the collective view that abortion should remain legal in the first trimester. We can, and we will, work together to find common ground here in Virginia and be a model for the country.

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