Virginia’s new Republican attorney general announced Friday, January 21, 2022, that the state was withdrawing from a legal brief defending a woman’s access to abortion, arguing that the landmark Roe v. Wade decision should be overturned.
Jason S. Miyares said Virginia would no longer be part of a friend-of-the-court brief before the Supreme Court against Mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks.
The move marks a major change on abortion policy in Virginia, at a time when antiabortion advocates say they have more momentum than ever for the Supreme Court to overturn the Roe decision.
Virginia’s previous attorney general, Democrat Mark R. Herring, was a vocal supporter of abortion rights and signed onto the brief opposing Mississippi’s law with 23 other attorneys general last year. He signed similar briefs against abortion bans in Texas and South Carolina.
But in November, Virginia elected Republican leaders — Gov. Glenn Youngkin, Lt. Gov. Winsome E. Sears and Miyares — who oppose nearly all abortion access.
Though the issue was not a focal point of the election, Democrats have expressed fear that the new administration will move quickly to roll back abortion rights in the state.
Less than a week after taking office, Miyares’s letter signaled that he believes in doing just that. Declaring that Roe was “wrongly decided,” he withdrew Virginia’s support for the position that Mississippi’s near-total abortion ban is unconstitutional. The issue, the letter argued, should be left up to the states.
Nationally, Miyares’s move will have little impact on the Supreme Court case, since Virginia is not a party in the lawsuit. The Supreme Court has the discretion to use friend-of-the-court briefs or ignore them in arriving at its decisions.
But on the state level, the action could be the first of many to change the landscape on abortion rights in the Commonwealth. The attorney general’s decision came the same day Youngkin tweeted his support for those rallying against abortion at the March for Life in D.C.
“The Governor fully supports the AG’s decision to remove Virginia from the brief,” Becca Glover, Youngkin’s communications chief, wrote in an email Saturday.
Abortion rights advocates anticipated acts like these from Youngkin and Miyares. Tarina Keene, executive director of Pro-Choice Virginia, said they are still “horrifying” to watch.
“This is a clear assault on freedom, liberty, and bodily autonomy,” Keene said. “They do not care about the harm they will inflict on hundreds of thousands of families in this state, especially rural, lower-income, young and people of color who already have a hard time accessing the health care they need.”