October 11, 2023
Virginia Capitol Building

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Republicans stepped up their criticism this week of the rhetoric being used by their Democratic opponents in abortion-focused messaging in this year’s critical legislative elections.

A recent flurry of Democratic-sponsored ads and mailers in battleground districts expected to determine political control of the General Assembly have warned that Republicans would use a newfound legislative majority to ban abortion, including in cases where the pregnancy resulted from rape or a mother’s life was at risk. Virginia, currently under divided political control, now allows elective abortions in the first and second trimesters and is the only Southern state that has not implemented new restrictions since the end of Roe v. Wade.

In their messaging, Democrats have cited recent strict bans enacted in other GOP-led states, along with Republican candidates’ legislative records, past public statements and news articles, to bolster their claims. Republicans, who are largely campaigning on GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s proposed ban on abortions after 15 weeks with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother, say their opponents are misrepresenting those sources or candidates’ past statements in an exploitative effort to drive turnout.

Every General Assembly seat is on the ballot this year, with early voting already underway, in an election cycle that will determine partisan control of the House of Delegates, now GOP-led, and the Democratic-controlled Senate. Virginia’s narrow political divide and unusual off-year schedule mean the contests typically draw outsized national attention and are often viewed as a possible bellwether for the coming year’s federal elections.

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Republican staffers and campaign operatives in Virginia have been arguing for weeks that Democrats are overreaching or outright lying in their messaging. But the conversation escalated Tuesday after Joel Griffin, the Democratic nominee in a competitive Fredericksburg-area Senate race, publicized a new ad criticizing his Republican opponent, Tara Durant.

“Tara Durant supports letting Virginia ban abortions with no exceptions. … She supports letting Virginia force a 10-year-old rape victim carry to term,” female speakers warned in the video.

Included as citations for both statements was a 2022 Facebook post from Durant praising the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Durant, a current member of the state House who has said she backs the governor’s 15-week proposal, responded by saying Griffin had “crossed a line” with the new ad.

The ad “smears Tara Durant — a mother of two young women — as wanting to force a 10-year-old victim of rape to carry a child. Such an unnerving, unfounded charge warrants nothing but clear-cut condemnation,” her campaign said in a statement.

Griffin then responded in part by pointing out a flier from Durant’s competitive primary that called Durant “a proven champion for the unborn” and “100% pro-life.”

House Speaker Todd Gilbert said he did not believe a measure more restrictive than the governor’s current proposal could clear the Legislature.

He added that if Republicans retain their House majority, “there will be no deviating” from the campaign platform. Democrats in recent years have shown they are the extremists on the issue, Gilbert said, both for their support for the removal of limits on abortion later in pregnancy and their advocacy for a proposal that called for enshrining “a fundamental right to reproductive freedom” in the state constitution.

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