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Va. bill a reminder that abortion rights can't defend themselves

It's clear that the Senate Democratic leadership wasn't paying attention when it let a seemingly innocent Republican health bill go through. The legislation dealt with regulatory issues in a way that allowed the House to amend it and turn it into an unstoppable bill targeting abortion clinics.

The leadership "should have seen that coming a mile away," said a Democratic politician who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he didn't want to publicly criticize the party chiefs. "The bill was a Trojan horse. We're playing chess down here, and you must constantly be thinking five to six steps ahead of the game.

"It's not easy when the bills are flying at the end of the session, but you've got to stay focused."

Some Democrats said pro-choice lobbyists also bore responsibility because they're paid to keep track of such bills. Saslaw's brief explanation: "They slipped one through."

If there's a bright spot for Democrats in all this, it's that the new law reminds voters that Republicans will push through conservative social legislation when possible, despite trying to emphasize their credentials as pragmatists focused on jobs and other bread-and-butter issues.

When McDonnell won the governorship in 2009, he "was able to present himself as a moderate, charismatic Republican, which he never was. We have all been bamboozled," complained Wendy Klein, a Richmond doctor, activist and deputy editor of the Journal of Women's Health.

Democrats hope a backlash against the legislation might galvanize pro-choice voters in the fall elections and help protect the Senate majority. But Klein despaired over the complacency she saw among supporters of abortion rights.

"Definitely, women have gotten to the point where they take these reproductive choices for granted and don't seem to realize how at risk these choices are," Klein said.

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