Wednesday, February 7, 2001

RICHMOND The Virginia Senate passed legislation yesterday that would require a 24-hour wait between when a woman seeks and has an abortion, virtually assuring it will become law.

The bill perennially failed in a Senate committee, but a maneuver by the Republican leadership put the bill in a different committee this year that allowed the bill to reach the floor, where it passed 24-16.

The measure known as “informed consent” must still go to the House, but a similar bill passed last week and this version is also certain to pass. Gov. James S. Gilmore III, a Republican, has said he will sign the bill into law.

“I think it’s a good thing for women to have the maximum of information necessary in order to make a good decision,” Mr. Gilmore said at a news conference at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

But the legislation passed the Senate only after 50 minutes of impassioned speeches, with five of the chamber’s eight women all of whom are Democrats speaking against it, calling it an insult to women.

“The superior minds in this General Assembly say that we’re going to tell you what you need to know, and then we’re going to make you wait 24 hours because that’s what we in our collective brilliance think that you need to absorb that information,” said Sen. Leslie L. Byrne, Fairfax Democrat.

Opponents said it was an effort to chip away at a woman’s abortion rights.

“You can’t put in a bill to override Roe v. Wade, so you do this,” said Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat. He and Mrs. Byrne both said that if the chamber’s makeup were reversed with 32 women and eight men, this bill would never pass.

Proponents were more muted, with only two senators speaking in favor of it. Sen. J. Randy Forbes, Chesapeake Republican and sponsor of the bill, said he’s received 24,000 letters and petitions asking for this bill the majority of them from women.

He also said a woman who was raped called him recently, urging him to pass the bill.

“She called me voluntarily and said, ‘If I’d had the information in this bill, I’d have made a different decision,’ ” he said.

The measure would require the clinic to provide a woman with information about the abortion procedure and benefits and risks of abortion and pregnancy; tell her about alternatives and that she can withdraw consent if she chooses; offer to let her talk with the doctor who would perform the abortion; give her the gestational age of the fetus; and offer to show her pictures of fetal development.

The information could be given by phone or in person, but a woman would have to wait at least 24 hours after receiving it before having the abortion.

Warren E. Barry, Fairfax Republican, a staunch conservative who has voted in the past for a ban on partial-birth abortion and similar waiting-period bills, said the current legislation goes too far.

“In my view, this is just obstructionist,” Mr. Barry said.

The bill was drawn to mirror the informed-consent statute in Pennsylvania that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey. Backers said 15 other states have similar laws.

Passing the bill this year was critical for its supporters given the possibility that a new governor could veto the measure next year, after November’s election.

Yesterday, the House passed a bill to grant some sort of independent legal standing to a fetus killed in an attack on the mother.

If someone kills the fetus through a criminal act against the mother, the person could be charged with murder.

Virginia law recognizes the fetus as an element in an assault on the mother, in that someone who kills a pregnant woman can face heightened penalties, but this would be the first time a fetus would have independent legal recognition.

The National Right to Life organization said 24 other states have laws that recognize a fetus as a potential victim of a crime for part or all of prenatal development. The Virginia bill, modeled on Arizona’s law, is part of Attorney General Mark L. Earley’s legislative package this year.

Both supporters and opponents agreed that the bill sets up an anomaly in law in which an entity in this case the fetus has some legal protections, which are at the same time secondary to the mother’s rights.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where its fate is questionable.

• Daniel F. Drummond contributed to this article.

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