Yellow balloons bearing the word “life” and chants opposing abortion rose above the state Capitol on Wednesday as lawmakers convened inside to finish the year’s legislative work.
A crowd that Capitol Police estimated at 6,500 demonstrators descended on Capitol Square from across the state to protest failed legislation to eliminate some restrictions on late-term abortions and Gov. Ralph Northam’s recent comments on that proposal.
Wednesday’s event, the largest anti-abortion demonstration at the state Capitol in recent memory, was affiliated with the national March for Life, an annual event that has for years drawn thousands of protesters to the National Mall in Washington.
The Virginia March for Life was the first of its kind, according to its organizers—the Family Foundation, the Virginia Catholic Conference and the Virginia Society for Human Life.
“We need you all to commit to this year-round,” said Jeanne Mancini, president of the national March for Life.
A few dozen lawmakers—members of the House and Senate Republican caucuses—made an appearance before the crowd, drawing loud thank-yous from demonstrators.
“There’s not a more important issue that I’ve deal with in my career in the legislature than life,” House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, told the crowd in brief remarks.
To loud cheers, Sen. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg, told attendees that Republicans in the legislature would reject on Wednesday a Northam amendment to the state budget that would broaden the use of state money for abortion procedures.
“A child that is unborn is off limits to the governor and everyone else,” Newman said. “I hope this becomes an annual event.”
Legislators were back in Richmond for the annual one-day session in which they take up the governor’s vetoes and proposed amendments to bills.
Earlier Wednesday, Democratic lawmakers, women who have had abortions and reproductive rights advocates held an event titled “Speak Out for Abortion Access.” Catholics for Choice, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and other groups participated in that event, according to organizers, who estimated that 60 people attended.
“We believe that all people should have the ability to make our own personal reproductive health care decisions,” said Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, according to prepared remarks.
“I promise you that I will stand up and fight every day as a proud pro-choice state senator ... and I will not stop until all of your voices are heard and all of us have reproductive freedom.”
Mobilization on the issue of abortion kicked into high gear in Virginia in January after a video showed Del. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax, explaining a proposal to remove some restrictions on late-term abortions.
Republicans circulated video of Tran saying the bill would allow abortions up until the moment of birth if one doctor certified that the mother’s physical or mental health was at risk, setting off a social media firestorm.
Northam later defended the proposal during a radio appearance, saying: “The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”
The video and Northam’s comments drew sharp criticism from Republicans across the country, including President Donald Trump.
Rachel Campbell of Henrico County attended the march, calling the proposal “horrendous.”
“This is the first political rally I’ve ever been to,” she said. “When I heard Governor Northam speak, I was astonished that our governor, a pediatrician, would say such things.”