- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 6, 2001

RICHMOND The Virginia House gave preliminary approval to a bill that would allow police to charge a person who assaults a pregnant woman with murder if the fetus dies, while down the hallway the Senate will pass a bill requiring a 24-hour wait between the time a woman seeks and has an abortion.

Both bills passed tentative votes yesterday by large enough margins that their passage today is likely.

Current Virginia law has heightened penalties for those convicted of knowingly assaulting or killing a pregnant woman, but the bill advanced yesterday would for the first time recognize the fetus as a separate, legal entity from the mother.

"When this law is enforced, it's going to be enforced on someone who has committed a criminal act," said Delegate Terry G. Kilgore, Scott Republican and the bill's sponsor.

It passed 61-37 and will be up for a final vote today. Proponents didn't say how far along the woman's pregnancy must be for feticide to occur. Mr. Kilgore said instead that's an element prosecutors would have to establish.

Even though the law would break ground in recognizing the legal standing of the fetus, it wouldn't have an effect on abortion law, Mr. Kilgore said.

"This bill is not about abortions. Any abortion that a woman consents to or any act by the mother to herself that is legal or illegal that affects her unborn child is not included in the scope of this bill," he said.

But opponents said the bill sets up a spurious distinction between a mother consenting to an abortion on the one hand and anyone else killing the fetus.

"I believe the bill is fatally flawed," said Delegate C. Richard Cranwell, Roanoke Democrat. "We oughtn't exempt people from antisocial conduct no matter who they are."

The bill was patterned after an Arizona law. Eleven states have laws that recognize fetuses throughout prenatal development as potential victims of crimes, and 13 states have laws that recognize them for part of prenatal development. Maryland and the District of Columbia do not.

Those on both sides of the issue say it sets up an anomaly in law in which the fetus has legal status as a victim, but that status is still subsumed by the rights of the mother.

Those rights were the subject of debate just minutes later down the hall from the House, where the Senate advanced a bill that allows abortions only after a woman has gone through a waiting period.

The "informed consent" bill would require that doctors, either by phone or in person, offer a woman seeking an abortion information on the procedure, offer her information and photos of fetal development, tell her the age of her fetus and explain other options. The woman would then have to wait 24 hours before the abortion could be performed.

During yesterday's debate, opponents offered 13 amendments to try to delete parts of the bill, including the waiting period and the printed information that must be offered. They also tried to add to those who could offer the information or answer the woman's questions and tried to add an exemption where the health of the mother is threatened by the pregnancy.

Five of the chamber's women all Democrats presented amendments to the bill. The strategy, they said, was to make clear the picture of Republican senators, who are all men, controlling women.

"It was all men who were voting against our position," said Sen. Leslie L. Byrne, Fairfax Democrat. "It's very easy for a male-dominated legislature to tell women what to do."

A core group of 24 senators, almost all Republicans, turned back each of those attempts.

Only the bill's sponsor, Sen. J. Randy Forbes, Chesapeake Republican, spoke against the amendments also an orchestrated strategy to go methodically through the procedures yesterday. Today will be the day for floor speeches about the bill, he said.

The House has already passed a similar bill, and is certain to pass the Senate bill when it reaches them. The governor has also made the bill a priority every year.

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