- The Washington Times - Friday, February 29, 2008

RICHMOND (AP) — A Senate committee known for killing anti-abortion legislation lived up to its reputation yesterday, rejecting several such proposals passed earlier in the session by the House of Delegates.

Most of the Education and Health Committee votes were split 10-5 along party lines, with Democrats prevailing.

One of the bills would have required licensure and inspection of abortion clinics. It was a scaled-down version of legislation requiring clinics to meet the same standards as outpatient surgery centers — an idea the committee has rejected several years in a row.

Others pertained to mandatory ultrasounds, information about fetal anesthesia, coerced abortions and a pregnant woman’s deliberate killing of a fetus by means other than a legal abortion.

Proponents of the bills said their goal was to protect women’s health, but opponents suggested the aim was to make abortions more expensive and less accessible.

“This is just another thinly veiled attempt to deny women their constitutional right,” Wendy Klein, deputy director of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Institute for Women’s Health, said of the clinic licensure bill.

Delegate Matthew J. Lohr’s bill originally was the same as the previously unsuccessful clinic regulation measures. Mr. Lohr, Rockingham Republican, recognized the futility of presenting the same idea to the committee and offered the less sweeping substitute bill.

Along with requiring licensure and semiannual inspections, the legislation would have required clinics to have emergency equipment on hand.

“This is good, common-sense legislation,” said Steve Rossie of the Family Foundation of Virginia. “No one can say with a straight face this substitute is too far-reaching.”

The fetal anesthesia bill was also a weakened version of legislation previously rejected by the committee. Instead of mandating an injection of painkillers for a fetus at least 20 weeks old, Delegate Benjamin L. Cline’s bill would have just required doctors to offer the shot.

Ann Hughes of the Medical Society of Virginia said the organization does not take stands on abortion issues.

“But this goes beyond that,” Miss Hughes said. “Legislators should not legislate medical standards of care.”

Opponents of legislation requiring an ultrasound to determine the gestational age of a fetus before an abortion raised the same objection.

“I’m not sure who is more demeaned by this legislation, the doctor or the patient,” Miss Klein said. “It’s an inappropriate intrusion into the physician’s role.”

She also said ultrasounds already are standard practice before an abortion.

“If it was the standard of care, we wouldn’t hear about botched abortions and women being rushed to the emergency room because somebody misguessed the gestational age,” said Delegate Kathy J. Byron, Campbell Republican and sponsor of the bill.

Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William Republican, said legislators should support his anti-coercion bill regardless of their position on abortion. The bill would have made it illegal for anyone to force or coerce a woman to have an abortion.

Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat, said a person could violate the proposed law with a statement as simple as “if you have this child, you’re going to have to raise it on your own.”

Mr. Saslaw also spoke against legislation by Delegate S. Chris Jones making it a felony for a woman to terminate her pregnancy by means other than a lawful abortion. Mr. Jones, Suffolk Republican, said a woman in his area shot herself in the stomach, killing the fetus, but could not be prosecuted.

“Had she delivered and abandoned the baby and the baby died, she could have been charged,” Mr. Jones said.

“Can you imagine how desperate some woman has to be to do this?” he said. “There has to be something wrong with her state of mind.”

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