RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Gov. Glenn Youngkin is dodging questions on whether he would support an abortion ban at conception if Republicans take control of the state Senate and maintain a majority in the House of Delegates. 

Youngkin is now backing a ban on most abortions after 15 weeks, a proposal he believes can get bipartisan support in a divided government. He supports exceptions for rape, incest and when the life of a mother is at risk.

“The child in the womb can feel pain and I believe science tells us that’s at 15 weeks,” Youngkin said.

In an interview on Thursday, Youngkin didn’t rule out supporting a more restrictive policy in the future if political realities change.

“I can’t even begin to look past this year right now. What we’ve got is a Democrat-controlled Senate and a Republican-controlled House and they need to work together and an absolute ‘no’ at the beginning of the discussion just is not a constructive place,” Youngkin said. 

Youngkin reportedly told an anti-abortion group earlier this week that he believes life begins at conception and that he would “happily and gleefully” sign any bill that comes to his desk in order to protect life. 

“My goal is that we, in fact, get a bill to sign. It won’t be the bill that we all want,” Youngkin told an online forum organized by the Family Foundation of Virginia, according to The Washington Post.

Victoria Cobb, the group’s president, said the webinar was never intended for press. She wouldn’t release the recording but she confirmed the accuracy of the comments, as did a spokesperson for Youngkin.

In a text, Cobb wrote, “It’s accurate but of course, I find it deplorable that reports don’t acknowledge what he said about helping women who find themselves in unplanned pregnancies. He talked about building an infrastructure that supports families and mothers that choose life. It is very unbalanced coverage of what he said. I think they would give you the audio.”

The governor’s office has yet to release the recording.

Senator Steve Newman (R-Lynchburg), one of four legislators Youngkin tapped to craft consensus legislation, said earlier this week that they’re considering penalties for abortion providers who attempt to bypass a potential ban, but not for pregnant women.

“There could be physicians whose licenses could be at stake,” Newman said in an interview with WTOP radio. “The state licensing process is most likely the best way to go about enforcement.”

Asked if he would support that on Thursday, Youngkin said, “I’m a pro-life governor and I will sign a bill that comes to my desk that protects life and I look forward to that. But as of now, what we need is the process to start and to take the next four or five or six months and to work on a bill that can be supported on a bipartisan basis.”

Meanwhile, Senator Travis Hackworth (R-Tazewell) has already announced plans to introduce a bill “that will protect life at conception.” Hackworth didn’t respond on Thursday when asked by email if he wants to ban all abortions and if he plans to include any exceptions in the proposal.

Former House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, a Democrat, hosted a virtual press conference on Thursday to condemn Youngkin’s comments and Hackworth’s proposal. She was joined by Jewish leaders who said these abortion bans are in conflict with their faith.

“Our tradition teaches us that…a fetus is not a child and that our priority must be to consider the well-being of existing human beings,” said Rabbi Roz Mandelberg of Ohef Sholom Temple in Norfolk. “Truly, the issue at hand isn’t about personhood, about when life begins, because people of different faiths hold varying views on that question and that is everyone’s right. What we are dealing with here is one group imposing their religious and political values upon others.”

Filler-Corn said she supports Virginia’s current law, which allows abortions through about 26 weeks and after that when several doctors certify that a mother’s life or health is at serious risk.

“Governor Youngkin and his allies are attempting to use the power of their offices to infringe upon the religious beliefs of Jewish Virginians and put women’s lives at risk,” Filler-Corn said.

New restrictions are expected to face an uphill battle in the immediate future. Republicans narrowly control the House of Delegates 52-48. Democrats hold a slim 21-19 majority in the state Senate.

Notably, Senator Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond), a Democrat, is personally against abortion. He has previously expressed support for a 15-week ban with exceptions.

Morrissey declined an interview request on Thursday but responded in a statement.

“As a practicing Catholic, I am personally opposed to abortion, but I do not think that the government or government officials should be telling a woman (or anyone for that matter) what they can or cannot do with their own body,” Morrissey said.

Asked about Morrissey’s role in the discussion, Youngkin said, “I believe there’s a number of people in both the House and the Senate who are Democrats who want to engage in this discussion and so we invite them in. If Senator Morrisey is interested in engaging in this discussion, I invite him in. It’s a moment to talk. It’s a moment to exchange views and find common ground.”

State senators are expected to be back on the ballot come November 2023. The GOP will have an opportunity to make gains and dismantle the main barrier blocking Youngkin’s agenda.