But the bipartisan spirit that coalesced around the historic compromise on transportation soon evaporated as the legislature voted to adopt an amendment by McDonnell that would forbid insurers in federally managed exchanges under President Obama’s health-care plan from covering most abortions.
McDonnell (R) said the amendment — blocking coverage for abortion except in cases of rape, incest or a threat to the mother’s life — would conform with a law passed by the legislature in 2011. But Democrats said the measure would effectively block some women from access to abortion.
“It’s just a further attempt to expand the assault on women’s reproductive rights in the commonwealth,” said Sen. Ralph S. Northam (D-Norfolk).
But Republicans said the amendment was intended to ensure that public money is not used for abortions.
“This bill in no way, shape or form eliminates anyone’s ability to abort their child. It does address, however, how — rightfully — how taxpayer funds will be used,” said Sen. Thomas A. Garrett Jr. (R-Louisa).
He also rejected criticism from several Democrats that the amendment demeans women. “It’s hard for me to conceive of something more demeaning than new life tossed into a refuse can, a garbage can,” Garrett said.
Senate Democrats tried to derail the amendment procedurally, saying it was too far-reaching and thus not closely related to the original bill. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), who presides over the Senate, ruled that the governor’s amendment was germane.
Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) appealed, thereby putting Bolling’s ruling to a vote of the entire chamber. But that vote also deadlocked, and the override failed. The governor’s anti-abortion amendment ultimately passed, 20 to 19.
The Family Foundation of Virginia, which opposes abortion, and the Virginia Catholic Conference applauded McDonnell’s amendment. But Planned Parenthood, which supports abortion rights, said the amendment would prohibit women from buying health insurance plans that include a “full range of reproductive health care.”
Wednesday’s meeting — devoted exclusively to bills vetoed by the governor following the legislature’s regular 46-day session or marked up with suggested changes — also reopened hotly contested debates over the proposed expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare. Lawmakers also dealt with dozens of bills passed during the annual session, including a two-year moratorium on the use of drones by law enforcement except in limited cases.