- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 5, 2004

From combined dispatches

RICHMOND — A Senate committee rejected legislation yesterday that would require abortion clinics to meet the same health and safety standards as outpatient surgery centers.

The Education and Health Committee’s 9-6 vote does not bode well for a similar measure passed by the House of Delegates. The committee will consider that bill later in the legislative session.

Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, Fairfax Republican, said his bill was intended to protect women’s health. He said records show that paramedics have been called several times to Northern Virginia abortion clinics.

“This is genuinely directed at making sure we are taking care of women going into these clinics,” Mr. Cuccinelli said.

Opponents argued that first-trimester abortions — the only type allowed in clinics — are safe and that the bill’s true aim was to reduce abortions by driving clinics out of business.

“This is about legislators forcing their own religious beliefs on all Virginians,” said Katherine Waddell, chairman of the Republican Pro-Choice Coalition.

Sen. Richard Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat, characterized the bill as an assault on women by a predominantly male legislature.

“It is no business of the men to come in here and put one hurdle after another in front of these women when it’s not them who are getting pregnant,” Mr. Saslaw said.

David Nova, president of Planned Parenthood of the Blue Ridge, said most clinics would be unable to make the architectural changes required by the proposed new regulations. Among the requirements would be 3-foot-wide doorways, a sink in every operating room and a backup power source.

Mr. Nova estimated that 17 of the 19 clinics in Virginia would be forced to close because the changes would be prohibitively expensive.

Mr. Cuccinelli said pro-choice activists raised those objections when similar regulations were imposed in South Carolina a few years ago, but only one clinic in that state has closed.

Nancy Hoffheimer of the state Health Department said Virginia abortion clinics already are required to meet the same standards as doctors’ offices.

Those standards are adequate, she said.

“There are many invasive procedures done in physicians’ offices that are more dangerous than first-trimester abortions,” she said, citing oral surgery and plastic surgery as examples.

Police would be able to stop and ticket motorists for failing to buckle their seat belts if legislation sent to the Senate floor yesterday becomes law.

Under the current law, police can ticket a driver for a seat-belt violation only if the motorist is stopped for another traffic offense.

The Senate Transportation Committee voted 11-4 to endorse Sen. Thomas K. Norment’s bill allowing “primary enforcement” of the seat-belt law.

If the bill makes it through the full Senate as expected, its next stop will be a House of Delegates committee where a similar measure died last week. Delegate Joe May, Loudoun Republican, tabled his bill because he didn’t have enough votes to get it out of the House Transportation Committee.

State Police Superintendent Steve Flaherty said 64 percent of the 456 persons killed on Virginia highways last year were not wearing seat belts.

Many of them likely would have survived had they buckled up, he said.

“A primary enforcement law will increase the number of people wearing seat belts,” he said. “This is the most effective change we can make for highway safety.”

Mr. Norment, James City Republican, said 30 percent of unbuckled drivers and passengers involved in accidents are thrown from the vehicle, and 73 percent of them die.

Sen. Creigh Deeds, Bath Democrat, said he has opposed the primary-enforcement measure in previous legislative sessions but changed his mind after a friend was ejected from a vehicle and killed.

Gov. Mark Warner pushed hard for the seat-belt legislation in 2003 but has stayed out of the fight this year.

Last year’s bill passed the Senate and then squeaked through the House by one vote, but delegates reconsidered the bill a day later and killed it — again by one vote.

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