RICHMOND — Despite virtually unchecked Republican power in Richmond, another conservative priority was shot down Monday as the GOP tries a pivot to budget issues amid significant backlash over high-profile women's health measures.
The Senate voted 22-17 to re-refer to the Education and Health Committee legislation that would have repealed the requirement that middle school-aged girls receive a vaccination to prevent the human papillomavirus (HPV).
Republican Sens. Frank W. Wagner of Virginia Beach and John C. Watkins of Powhatan joined 20 Democrats in a vote that essentially kills the controversial bill until 2013. Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr., James City Republican, did not vote.
The vote came the same day the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that 11- and 12-year-old boys receive the vaccine as well. The AAP has recommended since 2007 that girls ages 11 and 12 receive the HPV vaccine.
HPV is the nation's most commonly transmitted sexual infection. While there are dozens of HPV strains that resolve themselves without ill effects, a handful of HPV strains cause cancer. HPV 16 and 18, for instance, cause 15,000 cancer cases in women and 7,000 cases of cancer in men every year.
The Senate on Monday also delayed action on a bill that has drawn national attention — and derision — that would require women to undergo ultrasound imaging before having an abortion. The House of Delegates, at Gov. Bob McDonnell's request, amended the bill last week so that women would not be forced to undergo an invasive transvaginal ultrasound, but they still would be required to have an external transabdominal one.
Mr. McDonnell, a Republican, said Friday that Virginia "will have a strong women's 'right-to-know' bill to provide the information that's necessary to make fully informed consent."
The Senate on Thursday killed a so-called "personhood" bill that would define life as beginning at conception, sparing Mr. McDonnell another awkward political quandary.
Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, in a letter sent last week, urged GOP legislators in both chambers of the assembly to focus on "issues that matter most to the people of Virginia," such as the budget, economic development and public schools.
"As you are well aware, during this year's legislative session there has been a concentrated effort on the part of some to suggest that our focus has been on other things," he wrote. "You and I know that this is not the case, but we need to be mindful of this effort because in politics, perception can sometimes be reality."
Republicans Monday scolded Democrats over their blocking the Senate budget last week. The chamber is split 20-20, and Mr. Bolling's tie-breaking vote does not extend to budget issues. Democrats are still sore over the first day of the session, when Republicans used that tie-breaking vote to organize as a working majority in the upper chamber.
"The budget's not a game," said House GOP Caucus Chairman Timothy D. Hugo of Fairfax. "Having lost at all fronts, [Democrats] want to take their ball and go home."
Delegate Robert H. Brink, Arlington Democrat, however, cited a letter from Virginia business leaders dated Friday urging the governor and members of the legislature to "reject extreme proposals governing social issues on which Americans are passionately divided."
"It's not just our image that's taken a hit," Mr. Brink said. "It's the economy. ... Even though we've dug ourselves into a hole over the past month, we can still rehabilitate our image in the remaining weeks of this session. But to do that, it will take leadership from the top down."
Nevertheless, the issue of abortion is not going away.
Advocates took to the Capitol and planned a gathering Monday evening near the governor's mansion for a candlelight vigil and a "Take Back the Right" event to give women opportunities to speak out on the ultrasound and personhood measures.
Seven other states require ultrasounds before women can have an abortion. And despite the outcry in Virginia, Alabama is advancing a bill that could force women to undergo the transvaginal ultrasounds that helped foment the controversy in Virginia.
A coalition of former lawmakers and activists also announced Monday the launch of Women's Strike Force, a political action committee dedicated to raising money, recruiting and supporting candidates to defeat any legislator who supported the personhood or ultrasound measures.
The group includes former Rep. Leslie Byrne, the first woman elected to represent Virginia in Congress, and its co-chairmen are former Delegate Robin Abbott, Newport News Democrat, and former Delegate Katherine Waddell, Richmond independent.
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