The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade spurred both excited reactions and angry protests in the Roanoke and New River valleys Friday.
As politicians declared their distaste or support on social media, about 200 demonstrators took to the streets in front of the Poff Federal Building in downtown Roanoke.
The Friday afternoon protest was led by Women’s March on Roanoke, a women-led movement organized by Roanoke Indivisible and the Blue Ridge Resistance Alliance of Virginia.
A crowd gathered on short notice in downtown Roanoke to protest a decision many knew was coming. “Abort the Supreme Court,” read one of the many signs brandished by protesters, who drew honks of support from traffic passing by.
Thee gathering could be heard from blocks away chanting “My body; My choice,” and “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries.”
“Today, we join with the majority of Americans who have repeatedly affirmed their support for safe and legal abortion in decrying the Supreme Court’s reckless decision to throw away fifty years of legal precedent,” the organization said in a press release.“We warn us all that this post-Roe world will be very different from a pre-Roe world.”
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Virginia’s GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin said in a statement that his administration is “committed to protecting individuals’ constitutional rights and ensuring Virginians are safe.”
“The truth is, Virginians want fewer abortions, not more abortions,” Youngkin said. “We can build a bipartisan consensus on protecting the life of unborn children, especially when they begin to feel pain in the womb, and importantly supporting mothers and families who choose life.”
Several other Virginian Republican representatives agreed with the governor, including State Sen. David Sutterlein, R-Roanoke County.
“Elected state governments will now have the ability to pass reasonable protections for innocent human life like those found in Europe,” Sutterlein said in a tweet. “The Dobbs decision is a critical victory for constitutional separation of powers, but most importantly a victory for innocent human lives.”
U.S. Rep. Ben Cline, R-Botetourt, also voiced his support on Twitter, calling Friday “a historic day for America and the long fight to protect the unborn!”
“The Court’s decision leaves the debate over this important issue to the people of the fifty states and their elected representatives.” Cline said in a second tweeted statement. “With its ruling today, the Supreme Court is to be commended for its decision to finally heed the Constitution on this issue and return the abortion debate to the people’s elected representatives.”
Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, agreed with Cline, calling Roe v. Wade “a constitutional error that has produced decades of tragedy.”
“The Supreme Court got the law right today in Dobbs. The Court has returned to the individual states the ability to make their own decisions on this issue,” Griffith said in a statement. “Our task going forward from this decision is to carry on the hard but rewarding work of building a culture that protects, respects, and cherishes life.”
Del. Wren Williams, R-Patrick, said he’s “excited” by the Supreme Court’s decision.
“I didn’t think that this would happen in my lifetime,” Williams said in a telephone interview. “It’s such a contentious issue, but I think the Supreme Court got it right. I think this is a real blessing for the Commonwealth and the unborn across the nation. There will not be a guaranteed constitutional right to murder an unborn child. It blows my mind that that was ever stretched into law into the first place.”
Del. Marie March, R-Floyd, said she is similarly excited about pro-life legislation. She called the Supreme Court ruling a “victory.”
“Today the unborn have been recognized for their value, their potential, and their right to a chance at life,” March said in a statement. “Now, each state has the responsibility to protect the unborn at home. This is why I am proud to sponsor a bill in January that will protect life at conception in the Virginia House of Delegates. This is much more than a political issue. It is a moral obligation that we have to protect the most innocent among us.“
Del. Chris Head, R-Botetourt, said he was “absolutely thrilled” to hear about the decision to overturn Roe.
“I am a proud pro-life delegate and have been an ardent defender of the unborn since entering the House of Delegates in 2012,” Head said in a statement. “I remain committed to protecting the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness for all Virginians, born and unborn.”
But other Virginian politicians weren’t at all happy with the end of Roe. State Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, said the decision to overturn it was “devastating.”
The decision “creates classes of citizenship, dependent on location,” Deeds said in a tweet. “It cannot stand!”
A statement from the office of Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, said he is “deeply troubled” by the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“Roe has offered consistent precedent in privacy cases for 50 years,” Rasoul said. “The right to an abortion has been protected by the Court for five decades. Entire generations have had access to safe abortions as a right and are now experiencing this right to privacy being ripped away from them.”
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said in a tweet that the ruling “flies in the face of decades of precedent protecting women’s rights to make fundamental personal decisions without needless government interference.”
“Congress must act now to protect those rights,” Kaine continued. “We’re not going to give up on this.”
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said the ruling reflects “a Court that has increasingly issued politicized rulings that undermine the fundamental rights of Americans.”
“This decision will take control over personal health care decisions away from individuals and give it to politicians in state legislatures across the country,” Warner said in a statement. “I am heartbroken for the generations of women who now have fewer rights than when they were born, many of whom will be forced into life-threatening or prohibitively expensive circumstances to access health care as a result of this radical decision.”
Roanoke College political science professor Todd Peppers agreed with Warner, saying Supreme Court decisions are increasingly less focused on law.
“As I teach my students, when you get to the Supreme Court, you just don’t look at the law. The judges’ personalities and preferences impact decision making,” Peppers said in a telephone interview. “With President Trump’s appointments of Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, I don’t know if the handwriting was on the wall, but certainly there was a strong suspicion that the court would pick a case and continue to whittle away at Roe, or it would be overturned.”
Peppers said the justices’ decision to overturn Roe was not a surprise to him.
“I think many court observers realized that there was a likelihood that Roe would be overturned. The the justices are supposed to value the norm of precedent. And certainly, Roe‘s now been precedent for 50 years,” Peppers said. “You want consistency in the law, but there have been instances where the court has overturned precedent, and we agreed with it. Brown v. Board of Education overturned a precedent. So, it’s not a shock.”
Several states have trigger laws that will place restrictions on or ban abortion immediately. But Peppers said he’s not sure what is in store for Virginia.
“I wish I had a crystal ball,” the professor said. “If the Virginia General Assembly moves to pass restrictive laws, are these going to be the type of laws where it’s a complete ban, where there’s exceptions for the life of the mother for rape for incest? What happens next? I don’t know. I really don’t.”
Del. Williams said he hopes Virginia will start drafting abortion legislation in January.
“I would be very surprised if a special session is called. But I do believe that legislation will come in the next session in January,” Williams said. “We as state legislators, representing the people in our communities, we will get to have a say in this issue now. I know that the majority of people support a ban on abortion, no matter what the liberal left has to say about it.”
But Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, said that as long as Democrats remain in the majority of the state senate, they will continue to protect women’s rights.
“The American people need to make their voices heard at the ballot box in November and return a Democratic majority to the United States Senate and the House of Representatives to correct this historic mistake,” Edwards said in a statement.
Peppers said the country might anticipate an investigation into the leak of the Supreme Court’s decision that occurred in May.
“Leaking an entire Supreme Court decision, the whole text of it, is fairly unprecedented. And it represents a real rupture of the court in terms of institutional security and confidentiality,” Peppers said. “The justices themselves clearly are divided ideologically. But I think there is some mistrust in the court amongst the different offices. The long term impact on overturning Roe v. Wade is interesting, but also the impact of this decision being leaked so early from the court itself.”
Staff writer Laurence Hammack contributed to this story.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism