Virginia county prosecutor declares in NYT op-ed that he will refuse to enforce abortion laws

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Fairfax County prosecutor Steve Descano announced he would not enforce any abortion restrictions in a New York Times op-ed published on Tuesday.

Although Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has not announced any efforts to restrict abortion in his state, Descano warned that Youngkin “could well strip women of their reproductive rights” if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

“While the commonwealth does not have an abortion ban on the books, our governor has said that he is ‘staunchly, unabashedly’ against abortion and fully committed to ‘going on the offense’ against abortion rights in our legislature. Should Roe fall, he could well strip women of their reproductive rights — and go after thousands more who flock to the state whenever neighboring jurisdictions clamp down on abortion access,” Descano wrote.

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A crowd of people gather outside the Supreme Court, Monday night, May 2, 2022 in Washington following reports of a leaked draft opinion by the court overturning Roe v. Wade. 

A crowd of people gather outside the Supreme Court, Monday night, May 2, 2022 in Washington following reports of a leaked draft opinion by the court overturning Roe v. Wade.  (AP Photo/Anna Johnson)

Following the Supreme Court draft opinion leak that suggested Roe v. Wade could be overturned, several Republican governors announced new laws to further restrict abortion access in their states. These restrictions, Descano wrote, is why he is committed to ignore any Virginia abortion restrictions.

“So when the court’s draft decision overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked earlier this month, I committed to never prosecute a woman for making her own health care decisions. That means that no matter what the law in Virginia says, I will not prosecute a woman for having an abortion or for being suspected of inducing one,” Descano wrote.

He also made the declaration that while Youngkin and Virginia representatives can write and pass legislation, he, as a local prosecutor, is the ultimate “arbiter of the law.”

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The New York Times covered the Supreme Court draft opinion leak that revealed Roe v. Wade could be overturned

The New York Times covered the Supreme Court draft opinion leak that revealed Roe v. Wade could be overturned (AP Photo/Anna Johnson)

“But we local prosecutors are uniquely positioned to safeguard the rights of the women we represent, by virtue of the discretion the legal system affords us. Every day, we decide where to deploy our limited resources, making judgment calls about which cases are consistent with the values and priorities of the communities we represent, which plea deals to pursue and which crimes merit our attention. When it comes to charging individuals, we are the arbiters of the law,” he wrote.

Descano closed by noting that he made a similar decision in refusing to enforce the state’s previous marijuana laws and hopes that it could have a similar impact as the legalization of marijuana in Virginia last summer.

Glenn Youngkin, governor of Virginia, speaks to members of the media following a cabinet swearing-in ceremony at the Virginia Executive Mansion, in Richmond, Virginia.

Glenn Youngkin, governor of Virginia, speaks to members of the media following a cabinet swearing-in ceremony at the Virginia Executive Mansion, in Richmond, Virginia. (Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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“But by committing to not prosecuting women for having abortions, we might succeed in preventing the irreversible expansion of a deeply intrusive enforcement dragnet — and, as we did with marijuana legalization, maybe even motivate legislators to take the necessary action to safeguard Americans’ rights,” he concluded.

In Youngkin’s first gubernatorial debate in September, Youngkin insisted that he would not sign a Virginia version of the Texas abortion bill over his opponent, Terry McAuliffe’s accusations of promoting a “far-right social agenda.”

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