Youngkin appoints Yesli Vega to Virginia Board of Health
Youngkin appoints Yesli Vega to Virginia Board of Health

Gov. Glenn Youngkin has appointed a former anti-abortion congressional candidate to a board that has been at the center of a firestorm over the years over access to abortions that the governor has tried to curtail.

Yesli Vega, a two-term Prince William County supervisor, made headlines in 2022 when he was caught on tape talking about the possibility of pregnancy as a result of rape. Youngkin this summer will have the power to appoint three more members of the Board of Health, giving Republican governor appointees control of the board for the first time in a decade.

While the Board generally has no oversight authority over health care providers, including those who perform abortions, Republican and Democratic lawmakers have sometimes given the panel influence over the procedure. The General Assembly passed legislation ordering the board to step in on abortion regulations in 2011, for example, charging the board with imposing strict restrictions on clinics, a move that led to tense protests.

Youngkin called for a 15-week ban, with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother, describing the position as a compromise that might appeal to moderates in both parties. Virginia is the only Southern state that has not tightened restrictions on the procedure since the Supreme Court’s withdrawal Roe v. Wade in 2022

Democratic lawmakers quickly seized on Vega’s appointment to raise the conversation about this unique issue in American life and politics — a topic that helped them flip the House majority and secure control of the Senate last fall.

“With an opportunity to do something that’s more expansive or more restrictive, you know they’re going to go with the more restrictive option every chance they get,” Dell said. Marcus B. Simon (D-Fairfax) for the Youngkin administration.

Democrats pointed to a video first reported by Axios during her 2022 campaign against Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a Democrat, which appeared to indicate she agreed with a speaker who questioned whether women could become pregnant through rape.

In an interview this week, Vega said he is opposed to abortion except in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is at risk.

“As a woman and mother of two, I fully understand the process of conceiving a precious child and I have no doubt that a rape victim can become pregnant,” she said, adding that partly the audio clip did not capture the full context of the exchange.

The recording did Vega, a two-term Prince William County supervisor infamous among Democrats who has spoken out against the health board appointment and threatened to strip her of her post next year’s legislative session when they consider gubernatorial appointments.

The appointment came the week after lawmakers wrapped up a legislative session in Richmond in which the General Assembly passed bills to protect abortion access.

“He waited until it could be months before our review. Every time he takes a move like this, we will hold his agenda accountable,” Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) said in a statement to X, formerly Twitter.

Through a spokesman, Youngkin declined to say whether he would seek to limit abortion access through his board members, instead praising Vega’s experience in government and law enforcement. She is a former police officer and currently volunteers as a deputy sheriff.

“Given the growth of the Prince William region and her experience as a first responder and county supervisor, the governor believes Yesli Vega will bring knowledge and perspective that will benefit the Virginia Department of Health and the Commonwealth.” McAuley, a spokesman for Youngkin Porter said in a statement.

She will fill the Board of Health seat, reserved for local elected officials, left vacant when Republican Pat O’Bannon retired last year from the Henrico County Board of Supervisors. Although most board seats represent part of the medical industry, such as nursing or hospitals, the appointee to the local government seat is not required to have a background in healthcare.

Vega, the first Latina to serve as supervisor in the increasingly diverse county, said she hopes to bring to the board experience gained during pandemic management and help ensure underserved communities have access to care. Like other local governments, she said, the county has provided coronavirus vaccines to those who want them through mobile clinics.

Public health was politicized nationally during the worst part of the pandemic, but the Board of Health has been embroiled in political infighting for years, most notably in 2010 over abortion.

In early 2011, a majority Republican General Assembly voted and then-Governor Bob McDonnell (R) approved legislation that categorized facilities that perform five or more abortions per month as hospitals, imposing strict requirements on aisle width and parking spaces. among other things.

Initially, the Board of Health, which was responsible for implementing the changes, voted to exempt the existing clinics. But the board quickly reversed itself after then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said his office would not defend board members if they were sued for a botched procedure. McDonnell certified the regulations in late 2012.

In 2015, the Board of Health, then dominated by appointees of Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, reversed hospital-style building codes for abortion clinics. Then, in 2020, Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, signed a bill that lifted restrictions on the procedure, including the requirement that a woman have an ultrasound and wait 24 hours before having an abortion.

Virginia law allows abortion in the second trimester — about 26 weeks — and in the third trimester if three doctors agree the procedure is necessary.

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