In all the discussion of Glenn Youngkin’s victory over Terry McAuliffe, there’s a word that’s largely missing from the analysis: abortion. And, on first glance, that’s quite a surprise. This was supposed to be one of the most concretely consequential elections for abortion rights in a generation. Yet in the end, the issue hardly mattered at all.
The reasons why should teach hard lessons to both sides of the argument. Ultimately, however, they signal a reality that’s deeply encouraging to those who seek to end abortion in the United States. The issue is waning in importance in part because abortion is waning in prevalence, and even pro-choice Americans don’t view abortion as a “desirable good.”
Let’s start with a brief explanation as to why the Virginia election was so politically consequential. If you look at the legal developments in the fight over abortion rights, the issue hasn’t been this contested and this salient since 1992, when the Supreme Court reaffirmed the right to abortion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
The day before the Virginia election, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two challenges to SB 8, the Texas law that bans abortions after a heartbeat is detected and then empowers virtually any person in the United States (aside from Texas state employees) to sue any person who performs an abortion or “aids or abets” the performance of an abortion.