RICHMOND — A “fetal pain” bill that would prohibit abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy in most cases failed to clear a key Senate committee hurdle Thursday — a day after the full body passed a measure that would require all women to undergo ultrasound imaging before having an abortion.
After passionate testimony from both sides of the issue, senators deadlocked 7-7 on the bill from Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, Harrisonburg Republican, and it failed to get out of the Education and Health Committee. Sen. Harry B. Blevins, Virginia Beach Republican, abstained from the vote.
Tara Schleifer of Haymarket was one of several to deliver testimony on the bill. Her voice breaking, she told the wrenching story of her decision to terminate a pregnancy after tests revealed her unborn child would be born with mental disabilities.
“Families facing these circumstances will be blindsided at 20 weeks,” she told the committee. “Terminating is honestly the last thing that I wanted to do.”
She went on to say that the government should not be in the business of dictating to a woman whether she should be forced to bring a disabled child into the world if it’s against their conscience.
“I am serious when I tell you that I would rather have died than do this to my baby,” she said.
John W. Seeds, a medical doctor, testified that he has seen infants younger than 20 weeks make purposeful movements in response to pain.
Six other states — Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska — have passed bans on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy on the basis that babies can feel pain.
Senate Democratic Leader Richard L. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat, asked Mr. Obenshain if there had been any court challenges to the law in other states. Mr. Obenshain said that, to his knowledge, there had not been.
“You can pretty much count [on] it happening here,” replied Mr. Saslaw. “I guarantee it.”
Mr. Obenshain responded by noting that perhaps the desire to file lawsuits was deterred by the fact that his side was correct as to the constitutionality of the law.
The abstention of Mr. Blevins, long considered a swing vote on abortion issues, was among the most notable developments from the committee meeting. He voted for the ultrasound bill, saying he thought it important for a mother considering an abortion to have access to an ultrasound imaging. He said, however, that the measure being considered Thursday was completely different.
“In this case, it was just traumatic for me to sit there and think about what that woman was going through,” he said.
So were it not for her testimony, would his vote have been different?
“I think she had a big impact,” he said, adding that he did listen carefully to both sides and had not made up his mind before coming into the room.
He added, however, that his committee vote should not be seen as an indicator of future decisions on abortion-related issues, since all of the bills are intended to accomplish different things. Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William Republican, has cited Mr. Blevins as a swing vote who could determine whether his “personhood” bill that defines life as beginning at conception emerges from committee.