Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks at the grand opening ceremony for Amazon HQ2 on June 15, 2023, in Arlington, Virginia.
Despite Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s attempt to appear moderate by calling for a 15-week abortion ban, the Republican governor is quietly funding anti-choice extremist lawmakers, many of whom have said they believe life begins at conception.
Spirit of Virginia, Youngkin’s political action committee previously known as Virginia Wins, donated nearly $100,000 to anti-choice down-ballot Republican candidates in the state so far this year, according to campaign finance records. The governor created the PAC in 2021 to support Republican candidates at every level of government. Youngkin, a former CEO of a global investment firm, was the sole contributor to the PAC when Spirit of Virginia first launched. He remains a major donor and was behind over $295,000 in donations in the 2022-23 fiscal year.
The $99,214 has gone to 10 Republican candidates running in closely watched races in the state Senate and House of Delegates, according to public records. All of Virginia’s General Assembly is up for reelection in November, and the outcome of certain races could have far-reaching ramifications for abortion access in Virginia — and, by extension, the whole Southeast, as many neighboring states have passed much more restrictive bans. Democrats hold the state Senate by a slim margin, while Republicans control the House of Delegates by just a few seats.
Youngkin’s PAC donated at least $3,500 to House of Delegates candidate Republican John Stirrup, who said earlier this year that he would support a total abortion ban. He later walked back those comments, indicating he did not find support in Richmond for a total ban but would support a 15-week abortion ban. Other candidates funded by Youngkin’s PAC include incumbent Del. Emily Brewer, who pledged to “100% support pro-life policy,” believes that life begins at conception, and has supported forced ultrasounds and pre-abortion counseling. Incumbent Tara Durant, who also believes life begins at conception and has vowed to enact anti-abortion legislation, received funding from Spirit of Virginia as well.
Youngkin’s PAC previously donated to two candidates running in competitive districts: Karen Greenhalgh and Kim Taylor, who are both running for reelection this year. As of August, Spirit of Virginia had only contributed funds to Greenhalgh’s and Taylor’s 2021 campaigns, donating $49,000 to Greenhalgh and $8,000 to Taylor.
“Gov. Youngkin is looking to bring Virginians together to find consensus,” Zack Roday, the coordinated campaigns director of Spirit of Virginia, told HuffPost. “He would like to protect life at 15 weeks with exceptions after 15 weeks for rape, incest, and life of the mother. This is a reasonable approach to a challenging issue, unlike the far-left extreme candidates who support abortion up until the moment of birth.”
Some experts have suggested that Youngkin may be waiting to throw his hat into a future presidential ring until he can deliver a Republican trifecta in his state ― raising his national profile and likely bolstering him to the top tier of Republican candidates. Youngkin has for years presented himself as a moderate candidate — including on reproductive rights while campaigning in 2021 — despite pushing more extreme legislation behind closed doors.
“I’m proud to be a pro-life governor and plan to take every action I can to protect life,” Youngkin said in a statement after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year. He later said he would “happily and gleefully” sign any anti-abortion legislation that lands on his desk.
In his state budget proposal last year, he allocated $50,000 toward establishing a 15-week abortion ban, which he and his campaign have continually referred to as a “consensus” limit. A state Senate subcommittee blocked the ban earlier this year, but Youngkin will likely re-up the restriction if Republicans can win back the state Senate.
Although Youngkin is banking on the illusion that a 15-week abortion ban is moderate ― especially in comparison to near-total or six-week bans being passed by contemporaries like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) — it would still have a huge impact on Virginians and patients from neighboring states.
Just over 95% of abortions in Virginia take place before the 15-week point. But often, the people seeking abortions after 15 weeks are the most marginalized: They’re under 18, low-income and/or live in rural areas with barriers to care. Additionally, genetic testing for fatal fetal abnormalities often does not occur until 18 or 20 weeks, meaning a 15-week abortion ban would force people with wanted pregnancies who discover a fetal abnormality to seek necessary medical care outside of Virginia.
Since South Carolina recently enacted a six-week abortion ban, Virginia is the last safe haven for abortion access in the Southeast, as it allows abortion through the second trimester of pregnancy and into the third if the mother’s life is at risk.