Virginia Assembly To Tackle Abortion

A bill by Del. Robert G. Marshall would have Virginia revert to pre-1973 abortion laws if Roe v. Wade were overturned.
A bill by Del. Robert G. Marshall would have Virginia revert to pre-1973 abortion laws if Roe v. Wade were overturned. (By Robert A. Reeder For The Washington Post)
By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 15, 2007

RICHMOND -- Abortion rights advocates are gearing up to fight more than a dozen bills before the General Assembly this year, including a measure that would outlaw nearly all abortions in Virginia should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade.

The debate over abortion is a yearly ritual for the Republican-controlled General Assembly, but a pending Supreme Court decision on the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act and this fall's legislative races could heighten the discussion this year.

"I have no doubt if the Supreme Court overturns Roe that Virginia would be one of the states that makes it illegal to have an abortion," said Ann O'Hanlon, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.

Many Supreme Court observers have said the court is one or two votes from reversing the 1973 decision that established a woman's right to an abortion.

Abortion has been a tumultuous political issue in Virginia, where polls show that about 40 percent of the electorate identify themselves as born-again Christians. The state is home to Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network as well as Jerry Falwell Ministries, both of which speak out against abortion.

A Washington Post poll taken during the 2005 governor's race found that 61 percent of Virginia residents think abortion should be legal in all or most cases; 38 percent said they want to outlaw the practice.

A bill by Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William) causes abortion-rights supporters the greatest concern. The bill proposes that Virginia revert to pre-1973 abortion laws if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Under those laws, abortion would be illegal except if the life of the woman or fetus is endangered.

"The right-to-life folks have not seen their concern addressed in years, so this gives them hope there is still some interest in this issue," Marshall said. He added that abortion opponents are engaged in a long-term struggle to take "a couple of steps" each year to reduce abortions.

"It is our belief a reasonable Supreme Court will reverse most, if not all, of the Roe decisions, and any legislation that brings Virginia in line with that decision we would support," said Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation, a socially conservative group. The foundation is advocating changes to the informed-consent law so abortion clinics would be required to perform an ultrasound before performing an abortion.

In February, the South Dakota legislature set the stage for a direct challenge to Roe v. Wad e when it voted to make it a felony for doctors to perform abortions except to save the life of the woman. Voters overturned the law in a statewide referendum in November.

In Virginia, abortion foes have been more restrained, largely focusing on ways to limit access to abortion slowly. Last year, the House of Delegates approved a plan that would require clinics that perform abortions to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgery centers, but the measure died in a Senate committee.

The bill has been reintroduced this year. "Veterinary clinics are regulated to a higher degree than abortion clinics, and to me, abortion is an invasive procedure and ought to be regulated at least to the same degree," said Del. Phillip A. Hamilton (R-Newport News), chairman of the Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee.

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