The Republican-led House of Delegates gave preliminary approval Monday to a so-called personhood bill , despite strenuous opposition by Democrats who argued that the broad measure could prohibit birth control.
The bill provides that “unborn children at every stage of development enjoy all the rights, privileges, and immunities available to other persons, citizens, and residents of the commonwealth, subject only to the laws and constitutions of Virginia and the United States, precedents of the United States Supreme Court, and provisions to the contrary in the statutes of the commonwealth.”
The bill was introduced by Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William), one of the most outspoken legislators on abortion issues and a candidate for U.S. Senate this year.
Similar legislation passed the House last year, but died in the Senate, which was controlled by Democrats. Supporters hope that the Senate, now led by the GOP, will approve the bill this year, but its fate is still unclear.
Marshall said his bill, modeled after legislation in Missouri, would not affect birth control, miscarriages or abortions but would affect the way that courts define a person. For example, parents could receive damages for the death of a fetus in a wrongful death lawsuit.
“To claim using birth control will get you in trouble with this statue is simply false,’’ Marshall said. “It does not have the affect of criminalizing birth control. This does not directly effect abortion.’’
“This bill requires every single code section in Virginia that uses the word ‘person’ to apply to a fetus,” Del. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) said. “That opens families and doctors to a wide variety of criminal and civil lawsuits for health-care decisions not only in cases of unwanted pregnancies, but every pregnancy and even miscarriage.”
The House rejected a floor amendment by Del. Vivian Watts (D-Fairfax) that would have ensured that contraception would remain legal.
The introduction comes after voters in Mississippi and Colorado rejected similar ballot measures, but supporters say the Virginia bill is much more narrow.
The General Assembly has already approved a measure to require women to undergo an ultrasound before an abortion. But other bills, including one to ban most abortions after 20 weeks, have been killed.
On Monday, the Senate advanced a bill that would allow a fetus to be considered a person in a civil wrongful death lawsuit. Only the pregnant woman, or in the event of her death, her representative or the father of the fetus could sue over the fetus's death. A final vote on the bill is expected Tuesday.
“Yet another extreme bill on a social issue emerges, and House Republicans saved the most controversial one for last,” House Democratic Leader David Toscano (D-Charlottesville) said. “This is another example of misplaced priorities. House Democrats are focused on education, economic opportunity and transportation while the GOP continues to push a narrow, divisive agenda.”
A final vote is expected in the House Tuesday.