Friday, January 26, 2001

RICHMOND A procedural move yesterday gave new hope to abortion opponents trying to pass a law in Virginia that would require women to wait 24 hours between the time they seek and have an abortion.
The Senate Rules Committee took the bill out of the Education and Health Committee, where it has died for four straight years, and sent it instead to the Courts of Justice Committee.
“Our chances are better of getting it out of courts [committee], but not assured,” said Fiona Givens, spokeswoman for the Virginia Society for Human Life.
The waiting-period bill, also called an informed-consent bill because it would require the abortion clinic to provide a woman with information 24 hours before her abortion, has easily passed the House every year.
But the bill inevitably dies in the Senate Education and Health Committee.
Yesterday’s move could make all the difference, because this year’s bill was almost assured of dying again had it been sent to the education and health panel.
In the Senate, bills are referred to a committee by the clerk, based on her reading of the bill’s text and which committee has handled similar bills in the past.
Mrs. Givens defended yesterday’s move, saying that this bill is written to the criminal code and that “informed consent” is a legal, not medical, concept.
But Ben Greenberg of Planned Parenthood said history should be a guide.
“The bill has been in that committee for a decade or more. The bill is clearly a health bill health bills should be heard by the health committee,” he said.
He also said referring the bill somewhere else sets a precedent for sponsors of other bills that are perennially killed by a committee.
The courts committee has eight Republicans and seven Democrats. Four of the Senate Democrats on the education and health panel are also on the courts of justice, as is Sen. Frederick M. Quayle, Chesapeake Republican.
The key difference is that the courts committee lacks Sen. Warren E. Barry, Fairfax Republican and chairman of education and health, who last year foiled abortion opponents’ attempts. The bill’s backers said he broke an agreement with them by promising to vote for it and then changed his mind.
It’s no guarantee of how they will vote on the actual bill, but two courts panel members, Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle, Virginia Beach Republican, and Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr., James City County Republican, were in favor of changing the bill’s committee assignment.
Gov. James S. Gilmore III has called for such a bill the past three years in his State of the Commonwealth Address and is certain to sign a bill if it reaches him.
Still, both Mr. Greenberg and Mrs. Givens said last year proves that anything can happen with this bill.
“It will be a close vote,” Mr. Greenberg said.

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