Va. Senate panel rejects repeal of pre-abortion ultrasound law

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RICHMOND — A Republican-dominated Senate committee narrowly killed a bill Thursday that would have barred state-funded abortions for poor women carrying mortally deformed fetuses.

But the panel blocked bids to repeal Virginia’s year-old laws mandating pre-abortion ultrasound exams and to hold abortion clinics to the same architectural regulations as new hospitals.

On an 8-7 vote, the Education and Health Committee killed legislation to deny public funding for Medicaid patients whom doctors have told have little or no chance of delivering babies that can survive after birth.

The measure failed after Sen. Harry B. Blevins, Virginia Beach Republican, joined the committee’s seven Democrats after hearing nearly an hour of often graphic testimony and emotionally freighted arguments.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Thomas A. Garrett Jr., Louisa Republican, said it would not deny women access to abortion but conforms policy in Virginia to federal law by denying public funding for it.

Against that emotional backdrop, dialogue between Mr. Garrett and the bill’s Democratic critics — including Sen. Ralph S. Northam, Norfolk Democrat and a pediatric neurologist running for lieutenant governor — was often tense and biting.

“Do you know how many abortions were done in 2012 under this [law],” Mr. Northam asked Mr. Garrett, who guessed a range of from 9 and 14.

“There were seven,” Mr. Northam said. “Do you know what the cost, Senator, to the commonwealth was for those seven abortions?”

“Enlighten me,” Mr. Garrett replied tersely.

“It’s $4,544,” he snapped. “You made a comment, Senator, that you would not be the judge of what is incompatible with life. I respect that, but would you agree that a physician such as myself could assess a fetus and determine whether that fetus was incompatible with life from a medical condition?”

“I reject the notion that one human being can judge what is and isn’t compatible with life,” the former prosecutor said. He claimed that under Virginia’s law, Helen Keller could have been aborted at taxpayer expense, a contention that Senate Democratic leader Richard L. Saslaw of Fairfax vehemently rejected.

Mr. Northam and Sen. Barbara Favola failed to sway a Republican and advance legislation to repeal the law requiring ultrasonic scans of a woman’s abdomen before abortions. Mr. Northam said the General Assembly had achieved the ultimate intrusion into private lives by taking discretion over the scan out of the hands of physicians and patients.

Efforts to repeal abortion-clinic building regulations adopted last year died on the same partisan vote. Sponsor Mark Herring, Loudoun Democrat, said the requirements do nothing to improve safety while making abortion less accessible and more expensive. Family Foundation spokesman Chris Freund, however, said that building inspections of 20 abortion clinics after the new regulations took effect found more than 100 violations.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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