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VERIFY: Could a century-old Virginia law stop Alexandria City from protecting abortion rights?

The Alexandria City Council is looking at a way the Dillon Rule allows them to still support abortion rights.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The City of Alexandria wants to protect a woman's right to end a pregnancy in their city. This comes after a leaked draft opinion signaled the Supreme Court may overturn Roe V Wade.  

But a century-old Virginia law could make that difficult. 

Our sources:

During a city council meeting on May 10, Councilmember McPike expressed regret for withdrawing a city council resolution recognizing abortion providers and the dangers and threats they face. Considering the leaked draft Supreme Court opinion, he said the council missed an opportunity to get on the record about the issue. However, he did express his desire to support residents who need such services. 

“As elected leaders and as progressives who govern a progressive city, I hope we will use our voices to defend this essential freedom,” said Councilmember McPike.

But councilmembers admit, despite their best intentions, their power may be limited.

“As a council we will have no direct say in how Virginia’s laws changes after the end of Roe, but there may be steps we can take within limits of Dillon Rule to support women in needs of this service,” the councilmember explained.  

According to a 1984 general assembly report on state mandates on local governments, the Dillon Rule – as it’s commonly known - governs the relationship between the Commonwealth and local municipalities. The document states, “Local governments in Virginia are creatures of the state. They may exercise only those powers that are expressly delegated to them through the state constitution or legislative acts.”

An online fact sheet from the National League of Cities cites the policy was named after a 19th-century court opinion by Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Judge John Dillon.  According to the Brookings Institute, 39 states observe the Dillon Rule.

WUSA9 reached out to the two abortion clinics in Alexandria. No one was willing to talk on the record, but Councilmember McPike said the law that protects their business hangs in the balance with the leaked Supreme Court opinion and the GOP-controlled General Assembly.

“The status of those laws is precarious given tight margins in the Virginia Senate and the Governor’s promise to “go on offense on this issue,” he said. 

Still, McPike told WUSA9 he is seeking legal advice from the city’s attorney as to “what is possible under the rule and doing everything we can within those limitations.”

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