- The Washington Times - Friday, April 5, 2002

Gov. Mark R. Warner yesterday vetoed legislation banning partial-birth abortion, saying the measure did not meet constitutional standards.

"I am opposed to all post-viability abortions, except to protect the mother's life or her health, and I would sign a bill banning this troubling and rarely used procedure, if the bill contained such an exception as required under the Constitution," Mr. Warner, a Democrat, said in a statement. "[This bill] does not contain sufficient protections as required by the Supreme Court."

The legislation, sponsored by Delegate Robert G. Marshall, passed the Virginia Senate 26-12 and the House of Delegates 75-25. It would have made it illegal for doctors to perform a procedure that Mr. Marshall's bill called "medically induced infanticide."

In the procedure commonly known as partial-birth abortion, the fetus is delivered partly into the birth canal and its skull is collapsed to enable its passage.

A doctor who violated the ban on the procedure would have faced up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. The measure had an exception to protect a pregnant woman's life or to prevent "substantial or irreversible impairment of a major bodily function."

Mr. Marshall, Manassas Republican, was away in Florida and would not comment on Mr. Warner's actions other than to say that he has sent the governor three letters expressing his belief that the measure was constitutional.

The Virginia General Assembly passed a ban on partial-birth abortions four years ago, but legal challenges prevented it from going into effect. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1999 declared a similar Nebraska law unconstitutional because it was too vague and made no exception for the mother's health.

Yesterday, abortion rights activists lauded Mr. Warner's action.

"We are pleased with his decision, it was a very wise decision," said Ben Greenberg, director of government relations for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia. "Clearly, this bill was unconstitutional in light of [the Nebraska decision]; it did not have the adequate health exception."

Opponents of the procedure said the bill was constitutionally sound.

"The bill that went through the General Assembly had a number of lawyers that were constitutional experts working on it and they were able to articulate [a fair bill]," said Sen. Thomas K. Norment, Williamsburg Republican. "I respect what the governor said, but I am not persuaded by his arguments."

In order to override Mr. Warner's veto when the General Assembly meets April 17 for a one-day special session, opponents would need to get two-thirds vote in both chambers a realistic goal, some say.

"Clearly, we had very strong numbers in both the House and the Senate," said Victoria Cobb, executive director of the Family Foundation of Virginia. "[We] will use [our] resources in working toward overriding this veto."

Mr. Warner has 30 days from the time the General Assembly adjourns to take action on legislation passed. During its 60-day session, the assembly passed nearly 900 bills.

In addition to the abortion legislation, Mr. Warner announced yesterday he has signed bills that require the sponsors of political advertisements to clearly identify themselves, outlaw racial profiling, and bar local governments from enacting firearms regulations more stringent than state law.

Mr. Warner also signed legislation sponsored by Mr. Marshall that would require the posting of "In God We Trust" in state courtrooms. The governor signed the bill because the Assembly added a provision that would require the use of public funds to post the motto. The budget, however, did not appropriate the funds, making the legislation almost meaningless.

Similar legislation sponsored to put the motto in classrooms was amended by Mr. Warner because it did not call for public funding. Under that bill, sponsored by Sen. Nick Rerras, Norfolk Republican, school districts would have been allowed to accept donations for the implementation to take place.

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