Gov. Bob Mc­Don­nell (R) has added a new anti-abortion provision to a bill approved by the Virginia General Assembly during its recent legislative session that starts the process of creating a health insurance exchange for the underinsured, as required by the new federal health care law.

The health insurance exchange would be managed by the state. It would allow individuals to pool together to buy insurance at lower rates. Some who can’t afford insurance would receive government subsidies.

States were given the option of creating their own exchanges or using ones operated by the federal government. The bill approved by the General Assembly stated Virginia’s intent to create its own exchange and directed the State Corporation Commission to start the work of figuring out how to run it.

McDonnell’s amendment would prohibit any insurance plan offered as part of the exchange from including coverage for abortions, except in instances of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is at risk.

Anti-abortion opponents across the country have been working to get the new health care exchanges to exclude abortion coverage and similar measures are pending in a number of states.

McDonnell’s proposal also would prohibit insurance companies from selling optional riders that cover abortion for those who decide to pay for it.

“He’s using every opportunity he can to attack women’s health care,” said Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia. “

She said the provision violates free market principles conservatives like Mc­Don­nell generally praise.

“They’re telling private companies what they can and cannot offer,” she said. “And they’re telling private people that they cannot spend their private dollars to insure themselves for a particular procedure.”

The General Assembly will consider McDonnell’s amendments to bills Wednesday. A majority must vote to accept the amendment for it to become part of a new law. A majority of the GOP-led House of Delegates has already expressed support for limiting abortion coverage in the state’s health care exchange.

Democrats who hold a narrow majority in the state senate will likely fight against the amendment. But two Democrats in the chamber generally vote for abortion restrictions. If both voted to accept the amendment, the chamber would be split 20 to 20 and the tie-breaking vote would fall to Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), who opposes abortion.

The same vote count resulted in the passage this year of a bill signed into law by Mc­Don­nell that requires new regulations for abortion clinics.

In an action alert, Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation, urged the group’s members to lobby the senate to accept McDonnell’s amendment.

“Without a change like the Government’s amendment, pro-life citizens opposed to abortion will be mandated to fund this unethical destruction of human life,” Cobb said.

We’ve reached out to McDonnell’s office to hear why the governor added the abortion language and will bring you the answer when we get it.