- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2004

RICHMOND — A Senate committee yesterday killed legislation that would have prohibited the distribution of the morning-after birth control pill at state-supported colleges and universities.

The Education and Health Committee, without debate, voted 10-4, to reject Delegate Robert G. Marshall’s bill, which the House narrowly passed last week.

Yesterday’s vote illustrated the social schism between the more conservative House and the more moderate Senate.

The same committee was expected to hear several other bills related to emergency contraception yesterday but it postponed the votes on them so lawmakers could begin debating the proposed budgets.

Many said the committee is poised to reject House bills that limit access to emergency contraception and pass those bills that would make it more available. One bill would require parents give consent before a minor is given the morning-after pill. Another would allow teachers to give information on the morning-after pill in the case of rape.

Mr. Marshall, Prince William County Republican and one of the legislature’s most outspoken abortion opponents, pledged to revive such legislation in the future.

“This building will fall to dust before I quit,” Mr. Marshall said.

Dozens of college students and reproductive-rights advocates crowded the morning committee hearing.

“Leave medical decisions in the hands of medical professionals and don’t put hurdles in [front] of women seeking contraception,” said Sally Hanson, a second-year medical student at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical School.

The morning-after pill, which can be taken up to 72 hours after intercourse, inhibits ovulation, implantation and fertilization of an egg.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration classifies the pill as a contraceptive, but some critics consider it a form of nonsurgical abortion and claim that it encourages reckless sexual behavior.

Doctors testified yesterday that taking the pill was not the same as having an abortion. They passed out charts showing how the pill works and deemed it was safe.

Julie Makimaa of Holland, Mich., urged the committee to support Mr. Marshall’s bill, and said that when she met her birth mother for the first time 19 years ago, she learned she had been conceived in a rape.

“How thankful I was for the sacrifice my birth mother made,” Miss Makimaa said. “My life has value.”

Mr. Marshall told the committee: “There is a burden when we ask a woman to carry a baby to term after sexual assault, but there also is a beauty to it.”

He then pointed to Miss Makimaa and said loudly, “There’s the beauty.”

Ashmi Doshi, a junior premed student and director of community affairs for the Virginia Commonwealth University Student Government Association, led a delegation of students opposed to the bill.

“Please keep in mind what is best for the students, as students have the legal and moral responsibility to protect our bodies and the educational futures that we are working so hard to achieve,” she said.

Mr. Marshall has been crusading against dispensing the morning-after pill on campuses since last year, when he wrote a letter to James Madison University President Linwood Rose urging him to stop the practice.

The JMU board voted to suspend distribution of the pill, but then reversed the decision last month after four new members appointed by Gov. Mark Warner were seated.

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Failing to buckle your seat belt in Virginia will remain a “secondary offense” for at least another year.

Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr., James City County Republican, asked the House Transportation Committee yesterday to postpone until the 2005 session his bill toughening enforcement of the state’s seat-belt law. The committee complied with a voice vote.

Mr. Norment told reporters that his bill did not have enough support on the committee.

“I’ve learned to count votes pretty well,” he said.

Delegate Joe T. May, Loudoun County Republican, cited the same obstacle four weeks ago when he asked the committee to table his version of the seat-belt legislation.

Mr. Norment said he will use the next few months to educate six new committee members about the lifesaving benefits of “primary enforcement” of the seat-belt law.

The bill would allow police to stop and ticket motorists for failing to buckle up. Current law allows police to ticket seat-belt violators only if they are stopped for another offense.

“This just seemed like a no-brainer piece of legislation,” Mr. Norment said.

Steve Chumley, a chaplain for the Virginia State Police, said failure to buckle up can have dire consequences not only for the motorist, but also for family members who are left grieving.

“It’s very hard to look into the eyes of a family and tell them their loved one has been killed,” Mr. Chumley said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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