As you may know, yesterday was Crossover Day at the General Assembly. This means we are halfway through 2011’s session. We have had a wild ride so far, and still have work to do before the session concludes. So let’s get right to it, with this week’s General Assembly update.
Let’s start with the good news.
Pro-Choice Allies Defeat Bad Bills
A slew of bills that would place new burdens on women seeking vital reproductive care were defeated in Senate Education and Health Committee last Thursday.
These bills, patroned by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) and Senator William Stanley (R-Richmond) respectively, sought to grant “personhood” rights to fetuses. While this can often be a confusing and tricky issue, granting fetuses full “personhood” rights could have a range of consequences including making abortion illegal, outlawing certain forms of contraception, and potentially opening the door for abusive partners to press charges for “wrongful death” of the fetus (which sounds eerily like a bill that came out of Utah last year.) Thankfully both of these bills were voted down 10-5. [Watch testimony from SB 1378 online.]
For more information be sure to check out NARAL Pro-Choice America for a good description of “personhood” and overview of similar measures across the country.
This bill, patroned by Senator Ralph Smith (R-Roanoke), would have required all pregnant women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound before obtaining the procedure. Such a requirement places undue burden on women seeking vital abortion care. Thankfully the bill was voted down 11-4, with Democrats gaining the support of Senator Fred Quayle (R-Suffolk) [Find the full vote here.]
Unfortunately, such burdensome and meddlesome restriction is nothing new. Today twenty-one states have enacted ultrasound legislation. Nine of these states (PDF) require either verbal counseling or written materials to provide pregnant women seeking an abortion to access of ultrasound services. Three states actually require that an abortion provider perform an ultrasound on an abortion seeking woman and give her the opportunity to view the image.
Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg)’s bill would prohibit private insurance companies from offering vital abortion care coverage. During testimony in committee, Senator Obenshain stated that women can make their own choices, they just can’t have their choices covered by insurance! [Watch the video online]. Fortunately, the Committee agreed the bill would endanger the life and health of Virginia women and voted the bill down 10-5. [Find the full vote here.]
Following last year’s health care debate, the US government voted to allow private insurance companies to cover abortions as long as they collected a separate premium from policy holders. In addition, states were allowed to opt out of abortion coverage. Currently states that have opted out include: Arizona, Tennessee, Mississippi, Missouri, and Louisiana. Both Pennsylvania and Arkansas currently have bills in their congress to pass similar measures.
We applaud Senate Education and Health Committee for standing up for Virginia women and defeating these measures. However, the news was not so good in the House of Delegates.
Opposing Access: Putting Women in Danger
Anti-choice lawmakers in Virginia seek to continue the unfortunate nationwide trend of interfering in the private lives of women (not to mention meddling in the free market) by limiting or eliminate access to vital abortion care. Delegate Benjamin Cline (R-Amherst)’s HB 2147, would prohibit private insurance companies from offering abortion coverage for women. After heated discussion in House Commerce and Labor subcommittee #1 last Wednesday, the bill moved on to the full House Commerce and Labor Committee, which voted to report the bill 14-7. [Find the Committee votes here.]
Unfortunately, this past Tuesday, the full House passed the bill 60-36 with two abstaining. [Find the full vote here.]
Bans on private insurance coverage of abortion have been quite the hot topic since the federal health care reform debate. However, as the Guttmacher Institute notes (PDF), state bans on private coverage are not new. But, they are in Virginia where a majority of healthcare insurers offer abortion coverage in their private plans. This bill would take away coverage that women already have! Furthermore, it would be the first time the Commonwealth mandated that a procedure NOT be covered by insurance companies.
Fetal “Personhood”: Trouble for Women and Providers
Last Thursday evening, we found out HB 1440, patroned by Delegate Bob Marshall (R-Manassas) was to be heard in House Committee for Courts of Justice. This was quite the surprise, as the bill appeared on the docket at nearly the last possible minute.
Even more infuriating than this furtive attack on Virginia women, Committee Chair, Delegate David Albo (R-Springfield) refused to hear any opposition testimony on the bill! With the deck stacked in favor of this dangerous legislation, the Committee voted to report the bill 14-7 with Delegate Cleaveland not voting. [Find the full vote here.]
On the House floor, the obstructions continued. Although several delegates stood to speak in opposition to the bill, calling attention to the harmful unintended consequences, testimony was cut short as the pending question was called. Eventually, the full House voted to pass the bill 62-36 with one abstaining. [Find the full vote here.]
As we noted above, “personhood” bills have the potential to ban safe, legal abortion as well as access to FDA-approved contraception. Additionally, such a bill could cause women to be prosecuted for miscarriage!
It is absolutely indefensible that reckless, out-of-touch anti-choice legislators would pass such legislation so quickly and secretively.
Please express your disappointment with all delegates who voted in favor of the bill. Additionally, be sure to express your disappointment with Delegate Albo for refusing to hear opposition testimony in committee!
Finally, HB 1428, aka TRAP, a bill that would single out first-trimester abortion providers from other doctors’ offices in Virginia and impose new, unwarranted regulations on them is in the Senate Education and Health Committee. This bill along with HB 1440 and HB 2147 will be heard in that committee next Thursday.
Whew, we know that is a lot. Thanks for bearing with us during this fast-paced General Assembly session. Be sure to keep checking our website, Facebook page or Twitter feed for more updates! As always, feel free to email us with any questions or concerns!
[Thanks to our intern Hallie for her work on this post.]