Virginia’s Pro-Choice Majority Just Ousted an Anti-Abortion State Senator

Virginia’s Pro-Choice Majority Just Ousted an Anti-Abortion State Senator

Virginia’s Pro-Choice Majority Just Ousted an Anti-Abortion State Senator

By an overwhelming margin, Virginians just voted out a Democratic legislator who sided with Republicans on restricting abortion access.

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Virginia state Senator Joe Morrissey signaled in 2021 that he was prepared to break with his fellow Democrats and join Republicans in moving to restrict abortion access in the state. In a legislature chamber that is narrowly divided between the two parties, Morrissey’s position significantly increased the likelihood that Virginia would enact new limits on reproductive rights. That earned him rebukes from abortion rights groups, including Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia. But Morrissey was not swayed. Long one of the state’s most contentious political figures, he issued a bombastic challenge to the group, saying, “if Planned Parenthood doesn’t like it, guess what. Campaign against me.”

Morrissey, who had won multiple Democratic primaries and general elections over many years on the campaign trail in Virginia, was confident that his anti-abortion stance would not cost him politically.

Then the US Supreme Court issued its Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, on June 24, 2022, overturning the constitutional right to abortion. Since then, pro-choice voters have become a dynamic force in American politics—passing referendums to defend abortion rights in red states such as Kansas and Kentucky, tipping the balance of the Wisconsin Supreme Court so that it now has a progressive majority, and playing a major role in thwarting the electoral “red wave” that Republicans thought would hit in 2022.

And, now, after a race in which Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia did indeed campaign against him, Joe Morrissey has been defeated by former state delegate Lashrecse Aird by a more than 2-1 margin.

Democratic primary voters on Tuesday gave Aird 14,605 votes to just 6,496 for Morrissey, with 93 percent of the vote counted. In a solidly Democratic district, Aird is now expected to secure the seat in November.

Employing the slogan “Roe Not Joe,” Aird made support for abortion rights a central theme of her progressive primary campaign. “This race to me is not political, it’s personal,” she said when I interviewed her earlier this year. “There are so many people who are afraid about losing access to abortion rights. They need Democratic representation that is accountable to them, and I am ready to provide that representation.”

That’s been the case for many of the candidates who, over the past year, have won upset victories in election contests where the issue of abortion rights took center stage. But the Virginia competition was especially consequential, as Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin has repeatedly attempted to restrict access to abortion in the state—which, currently, has fewer restrictions than most of the states it borders. The Republican-controlled state House has sided with Youngkin, but his efforts have stalled in the Senate, where Democrats retain a 22-18 majority. With Morrissey on their side on key votes, however, the Republicans have been just one seat short of a tie that could allow the state’s Republican lieutenant governor to intervene and tip the balance toward Youngkin’s position.

That threat has made the partisan competition for control of the Virginia Senate one of the most serious battles of the 2023 off-year election season. But Aird’s big win on Tuesday shifts the calculus in favor of pro-choice forces, strengthening their hand going into the fall campaign and increasing the chance that abortion rights will be preserved in Virginia.

Morrissey’s loss marks the end of an era for one of the most controversial figures in Virginia politics: a twice-disbarred lawyer who, in addition to his anti-abortion stance, had been hit by multiple public scandals during his career. Despite his troubles, the 65-year-old senator had proven to be remarkably resilient as a campaigner, winning several terms in the state House of Delegates before his election in 2019 to the Senate. But this year, Aird mounted a challenge in which she warned that “Joe has held the Senate hostage on reproductive health care at a time when abortion rights are at stake,” and promised to “be a firewall for abortion right and against Glenn Youngkin.”

Aird ran with endorsements from US Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, the state’s most prominent Democrats, as well as Emily’s List, NARAL, Roe Your Vote Virginia, the Virginia branch of the National Organization for Women, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, the Virginia Latino Caucus, several unions and, of course, Planned Parenthood of Virginia. On Election Day, Planned Parenthood of Virginia Advocates executive director Jamie Lockhart declared, “Abortion rights are on the ballot in Virginia.”

She went on to explain, “Voters want candidates who will fight for their rights and stop Governor Youngkin from getting the votes he needs to enact an abortion ban. Virginians know that they can trust Lashrecse Aird and are fired up to send her to Richmond. They will send a resounding message to anti-abortion politicians across the commonwealth: Protect our rights, or we will vote you out.”

That’s exactly what they did, by an overwhelming margin that confirmed, once more, the political power of the pro-abortion rights majority—in Virginia and across the country.

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