Loss of the Federal Right to Abortion Care at the 1-year Mark – Virginia: The Final Bastion of Bodily Autonomy in the South

June 23, 2023


Loss of the Federal Right to Abortion Care at the 1-year Mark
Virginia: The Final Bastion of Bodily Autonomy in the South

By Elissa Cleland, AMSA Gender & Sexuality Chair and rising MS2 at Eastern Virginia Medical School

As a Virginia resident all of my life, I am well aware of the polarized cultural and political climate of my home state. In my hometown, confederate flags were the backdrop to my first twelve years of education. As I engaged with my community, I also became aware of the ubiquitous challenges far too many Virginians face in accessing healthcare regardless of political district. I’ve witnessed family, community members, neighbors, and caring physicians struggle to overcome barriers to get and give much needed healthcare. Wanting to remedy these struggles, both physical and systemic, is what drives my passion to become a physician. 

I was excited to foster and feed my passion for advocacy when I learned that my values aligned with AMSA’s foundational belief that everyone has a right to quality, affordable health care, and their long-time commitment to establishing a health care system that puts people above profits. During my time with AMSA, I have connected with like-minded future physicians that have reignited my hope for a generation of doctors that can dismantle systemic barriers blocking far too many from care they need to live healthy lives. Through AMSA, I’ve developed a deeper understanding of how policy-makers are often influenced by loud special interest extremist groups whose aim is to control healthcare in accordance with their rightwing ideology. Unfortunately, some legislators prioritize these groups rather than listen to the physicians and healthcare professionals who advocate with science and experience.

I have been a spectator to these political games in my beloved home state. Every election, I’ve relied on the liberal Northern Virginia districts to keep, protect, and grow progressive policies that would help more people access needed care. However, due to the conservative southern and rural districts like my own, we have mixed representation at the state level; Democrats control our state senate, Republicans control the House side of our state legislature, and Glenn Youngkin, a conservative Republican, won the seat for Virginia state governor in 2021.

This reality, coupled with the Supreme Court decision to overturn our federal right to abortion care, leaves me concerned that Virginia legislators will fail to uphold state policies that affirm patient rights to reproductive freedom and protect physicians who provide care to these patients. In particular, Governor Youngkin’s previously proposed 15-week abortion bill, VA HB 2278, makes me apprehensive for the future of Virginia as a safe haven for Southern abortion seekers and abortion providers. This extremist bill not only restricted abortion to rare cases of rape and incest, but also criminalized physicians with jail time up to 10 years for providing abortion care to patients in need. VA HB 2278 also had no exceptions for fatal fetal abnormalities, many of which are not detected until after 15 weeks gestation. When discussing his extreme ban, Youngkin claimed his staunch anti-choice stance is what got him elected. However, VA HB 2278 was rejected by a Senate Panel by both Democrats and a Republican in January. Despite its failure, Youngkin has promised to continue to push for his 15-week abortion ban even though the majority of Virginians support abortion for any or most reasons. Therefore, abortion restrictions such as VA HB 2278 backed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin and Sen. Steve Newman not only violate the individual rights of the person with a uterus but also the will of the Virginia constituency.

Reproductive justice is an intersectional issue that should not be a geographical or financial privilege reserved for those wealthy enough to travel to another pro-abortion state. In fact, Virginia is one of the states to which abortion seekers travel since the Dobbs Decision a year ago. Therefore, as a Virginian, I want to highlight how disastrous the impact of renewing Gov. Youngkin’s ban will be. With West Virginia completely banning abortion and the new 6-week ban in North Carolina, Southern abortion seekers are flocking to Virginia for reproductive care. Other than Maryland, Virginia is the least restrictive state below the Mason Dixon line. According to Whole Women’s Health Clinic in Virginia, more than 6,000 women from around the country have contacted them seeking an abortion. If Virginia falls, there will be ramifications that reverberate throughout the nation. 

On this the 1-year mark of the overturning of Roe v Wade, AMSA reaffirms that abortion is part of normal healthcare and that all people who can get pregnant have a right to decide if, when, how, and where to give birth. Yet, Virginia is not the only battleground state for reproductive justice. States across the country are passing laws that ban abortion care entirely or restrict if and how physicians can provide care to patients in need. 

14 states now have near total abortion care bans with several more bans now working their way through the courts.  

78 MILLION Americans live in states that have banned abortion, and millions more live in states where it’s heavily restricted.

Abortion bans worsen state outcomes and increase maternal mortality – 62% higher maternal death rates than in states where abortion care is accessible (Commonwealth Fund).

I would be remiss if I did not center how abortion bans disproportionately affect Black and brown people in America. Transgender, LGBTQ nonbinary adults, and disabled persons also are deeply impacted by abortion bans and harmful biases, along with all those who face economic insecurity regardless of their race or how they identify (National Partnership for Women & Families). These medically marginalized groups will shoulder the greatest burden as the bans take effect.

Therefore, it is imperative that we in Virginia stave off Youngkin’s sexist, racist, and heteropatriarchal abortion ban, or all Southern people in need of abortion care will suffer. With abortion clinics across the state already operating at maximum capacity, the harsher restrictions of neighboring states have pushed non-Virginians to our clinics and will only increase wait times for all people in need of abortion care in Virginia. Thus, Youngkin’s proposal to shorten the window for an abortion as wait times increase is a poorly disguised ploy to eradicate a necessary and evidence-based practice completely. Having already been rejected once, Youngkin has promised to rekindle his efforts this upcoming session to pass his fascist ban.

Abortion is a human right. To limit the choice of a person with a uterus of how and when to have a child is an infringement upon personal freedoms. In a country founded on the idea of freedom, it is ironic that the party that has wrapped itself in the American flag is the perpetrators of the greatest violation. Regardless of whatever moral right they feel to legislate abortion, many Republicans (i.e. Youngkin) are not doctors and to restrict a practice that is the standard of care without having received a medical education is pure hubris. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), the foremost professional organization that produces practice guidelines for healthcare professionals, upholds that abortion is an essential component of healthcare. Unsafe, illegal abortions account for around 13% of maternal deaths around the world each year. If Gov. Youngkin and the ultra-conservative state law-makers who support this bill truly wanted to reduce the number of abortions and not just control women’s bodies, they would support removing obstacles to abortion as abortion rates are lowest in countries where they are widely available. Abortions have been common practice in America as early as the 1600s and puritanical abortion bans like VA HB 2278 won’t stop them – making abortion illegal does not stop abortions. 


Fortunately, AMSA has a wide base of passionate future physicians that will stand against abortion bans like those under consideration now in Virginia and many other states. We can use our voices to speak out about what patients need and hold our elected officials accountable. 

If you are a Virginia resident, contact your State Senator, House Delegate and Gov. Youngkin to let them know you support reproductive freedom and want abortion care access and providers protected in Virginia (find out who your VA state legislators are here). 

Click here for an email template you are welcome to adapt and use to let your law-makers know that you do not support and do not want abortion bans in Virginia

If you are NOT a Virginia resident, click here to learn if your state legislators are taking action to ban or protect abortion care. And, consider adapting the email template below if your state is considering abortion bans (email bmartin@amsa.org for assistance).

Join AMSA members in VA and from states across the country in sending big THANK YOUs to state legislators who are members of the Reproductive Freedom Leadership Council – a network of over 900 state legislators across the country who champion reproductive health, rights, and justice. Find your state legislators here.

Stay up-to-date on the evolving political landscape of reproductive justice by keeping up with the AMSA Instagram page and our Gender & Sexuality Action Committee page. 


Skill-building action sessions designed to help future physicians across the U.S. develop and use their voices to effectively advocate for reproductive health and freedom by:

  • Engaging state, federal and institutional policy-makers
  • Writing Letters-to-the-Editor, Op-Eds, and blog posts
  • Using social media to share info and mobilize for action, and more…  

Sign-up here to learn more – those on this list will receive priority notification when registration opportunities open.