Democratic victory in Virginia special election likely dooms proposed abortion ban

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin has pushed for stricter abortion laws.

Jennifer Rouse and Aaron Rouse pose in front of a backdrop that reads: Mighty Dream Forum.
Virginia Beach Councilman Aaron Rouse and Jennifer Rouse attend the Mighty Dream Forum on Nov. 2, 2022, in Norfolk, Va. (Jemal Countess/Getty Images) (Getty Images for Mighty Dream Fo)

Democrats flipped a state senate seat in a Virginia special election Tuesday night, likely scuttling Republican plans for a stricter abortion law in the state.

While the race has not officially been called, Virginia Beach Councilman Aaron Rouse declared victory over Navy veteran Kevin Adams, filling a seat vacated after Republican Jen Kiggans won her bid for the U.S. House in November. The win gives Democrats a 22-18 edge in the chamber, decreasing the chances Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin will be able to pass his proposed 15-week abortion ban this year.

Rouse, who previously played in the NFL after earning all-conference honors at Virginia Tech, ran on abortion rights while Adams tried to frame him as soft on crime, a common juxtaposition in many of last year’s key midterm races.

A photo from 2005 shows Aaron Rouse in his football uniform on the field at a game.
Aaron Rouse at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Va., in 2005. (Randy Litzinger/Icon SMI/ZUMA Press) (

“I want to protect women’s reproductive health care. I want to make sure we build a thriving economy that works for everyone and our public education system. We have to support our teachers, our staff and our students,” Rouse said Tuesday night, adding, “It means a lot to me to know the community I grew up with has my back, and I have theirs, and I’m looking forward to serving them in Richmond.”

Following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade last summer, Youngkin announced his plan to ban most abortions after 15 weeks, with that legislation being formally filed in the state legislature Wednesday morning. Virginia currently allows abortion through the second trimester, or about 26 weeks, with access after that only if three doctors certify that the mother’s health is at risk.

Groups on both sides of the abortion policy fight invested in the race, which Kiggans had won narrowly in 2019. Adams did not campaign on new abortion restrictions but supported the governor’s plan. “We need to pass laws that respect the rights of the mom and baby, limit late-term abortion by passing Glenn Youngkin’s 15-week legislation, while providing reasonable exceptions to protect the life of the mother or in the instance of rape or incest,” Adams said on the platform section of his website.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin holds a microphone at a rally.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin at a campaign rally in October 2022 in Westchester, N.Y. (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AP) (AP)

In an interview with Politico last month, Rouse said he supported “the current law of Virginia as it is and will fiercely defend against any legislation that will ban abortion in our state, our commonwealth.”

“This seat is critical to ensure that we can protect the rights of women’s reproductive health care,” he added.

Democrats were concerned that an Adams victory would have potentially allowed the legislation to pass, as one Democratic state senator has expressed openness to new restrictions on abortion and Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears, a Republican, would have the ability to break any ties.

All 40 state Senate seats are up for election this fall, in addition to the entire House of Delegates. With Youngkin’s term running through the end of 2025, abortion access is likely to remain a key issue in future races.