A House committee killed a bill today that would have barred most abortions after 23 weeks of pregnancy, eliminating the last of several abortion bills introduced in this year's session of the Virginia General Assembly.
Its sponsor, Del. N. Leslie Saunders (D-Richmond), said he was "neither prolife or prochoice," and that his proposal was "not a bill for either side," but it brought out the same lineup of friends and foes that have greeted all efforts to change existing state abortion laws, and produced the same result.
A Senate committee previously killed a bill that would have required minors to get permission either from their parents or a juvenile court judge before obtaining an abortion.
Today, a spokesman for the Catholic bishop of Richmond spoke in favor of "the personhood of the human fetus," and the American Civil Liberties Union lobbyist called the idea unconstitutional.
"Somewhere between conception and birth, the fetus needs protection," Saunders told the House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions, which after a one-hour hearing rejected the measure by a vote of 13 to 7.
His bill would have extended to a fetus of 23 weeks the legal protections of a person if a doctor determined that there was a 20 percent probability that it could live outside the womb.
One person said the measure would have affected 38 abortions in Virginia last year, among 30,800 performed in the state.
Committee Chairman D. Samuel Glasscock (D-Suffolk) wondered how the 20 pecent risk would be calculated, and Del. Warren E. Stambaugh (D-Arlington) asked how it could be determined when conception occurred, and thus when a fetus was 23 week old.
Two physicians, one pro and one con, disagreed on the answers.
Jean Marshall Crawford, speaking for the National Organization for Women, said conveying the status of "person" on a fetus would "create a morass" in state law, in which "person" is mentioned 14,000 times.
She asked whether the fetuses would be eligible as deductions for income tax purposes, and how they would be counted by census takers.
Del. S. Vance Wilkins (R-Amherst) responded that fetuses "might be counted as three-fifths," but "no one wants to return to those days." He added that the census question is "purely a red herring -- that's a federal law."
Saunders earlier contended that Roe v. Wade, the decision that legalized abortions in the United States, was not the first time the Supreme Court "made a decision that didn't make sense." Saunders noted that in the 1857 Dred Scott decision, the court ruled that slaves (who were counted as three-fifths of a person in the census) "had a lower standing even than property."