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Alexandria City Council aims to provide boost to abortion access but faces state limits

After a leaked majority opinion showed the Supreme Court potentially overturning Roe v. Wade, Alexandria leaders are taking a second look at how to protect abortion access and women’s healthcare at a local level.

Beyond just the national concerns about the impact of the ruling, last week City Council members reflected on an earlier decision to withdraw a proclamation honoring abortion providers.

“A few weeks ago, a controversy arose when the council considered adopting a resolution recognizing the dangers including threats, violence and even murder faced by doctors who help women end pregnancies,” said City Council member Kirk McPike. “Abortion is a complicated subject about which well-intentioned people can have very different views and not a policy question that generally falls under our purview.”

The City Council’s decision to remove the proclamation from the docket was unanimous, but in hindsight McPike said he regrets that decision.

“For those reasons, I supported our collective decision to set that proposal aside,” McPike said. “Last week as I read with growing horror the draft opinion on the Supreme Court that would completely roll back constitutional protections for abortion rights, I began to regret that we didn’t take the opportunity to speak as a Council on this issue.”

Virginia isn’t one of the states with trigger laws that would ban abortion if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, but the future of access to abortion in Virginia is still in question — especially with a Republican governorship and control of the General Assembly.

The city is severely limited in what it can do by the Dillon Rule, which only authorizes the city to exercise powers expressly granted by the state. But even within those confines, city leaders said at the end of a City Council meeting last week that there’s some wiggle room

“There may be steps we can take within limits of Dillon rule to support women in need of this service,” McPike said. “As elected leaders and progressives who help govern a progressive city, I hope we will use our voices to speak in defense of this essential freedom.”

City Council member Sarah Bagley expressed her agreement with McPike and recommended others watch a speech by student Paxton Smith in Texas about abortion access.

There are currently two abortion providers in Alexandria. The City Council directed City Attorney Joanna Anderson to look further into what the City of Alexandria can and cannot do to benefit abortion access.

“There is certainly an advocacy role at the state, but I think there is work we can and should do at the local level,” said Mayor Justin Wilson. “I think that may necessarily involve financial commitments to the provision of services, it may involve land-use policy to ensure the presence of these services in our city to the extent that we have that authority. Statements are great, but I think policy is even better, and we have that opportunity as we go forward.”

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