- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 23, 2012

RICHMOND — The Virginia Senate on Thursday voted to re-refer a so-called “personhood” measure defining life as beginning at conception back to committee, killing it for the 2012 session.

The Republican-controlled Education and Health Committee had approved the measure, introduced by Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William Republican, on a party-line 8-7 vote Thursday morning.

But Thursday afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat, made the motion on the Senate floor to continue the bill to next year. He was backed by Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr., James City Republican, who said legislators needed more time to study the issue. The motion passed on a 24-14 vote.

An amendment had been attached to the bill saying that nothing in the bill would affect “lawful contraception.” Delegate Vivian E. Watts, Fairfax Democrat, proposed a similar amendment as the measure was moving through the House of Delegates, but it was rejected.

Proponents say the personhood measure creates legal liability in cases of the wrongful death of a fetus, while opponents have argued that the bill would outlaw abortion in the event that the landmark Roe v. Wade decision is overturned and make some forms of contraception and in-vitro fertilization illegal.

“Protecting a child, getting important coverage for a child, is not an extreme measure,” said Mr. Marshall, who added that his bill would not have affected contraception or in-vitro fertilization anyway. “Those who say that either don’t read the bill or intentionally are misrepresenting the bill.”

Voters have rejected similar ballot initiatives in Mississippi and Colorado in recent years.

The committee room was packed with people on both sides of the hot-button issue, and Sen. Stephen H. Martin, Chesterfield Republican, several times threatened to have security remove people who shouted as the bill was being debated.

Protesters yelling “Shame!” at Mr. Marshall after the committee hearing were escorted from the General Assembly building by Capitol police. Pro-choice advocates then lined the walkway from the General Assembly building to the Capitol, alternately standing in silence as Republicans passed but cheering Democrats when they walked by.

The committee also approved a revised version of a bill from Delegate Kathy J. Byron, Campbell Republican, mandating that women undergo ultrasound imaging prior to having an abortion. At the request of Gov. Bob McDonnell, the House of Delegates amended a version of the bill introduced by Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, Fauquier Republican, striking a section that would require a more invasive, transvaginal ultrasound. That requirement was also stricken from the bill that cleared committee Thursday morning.

“The informed consent is providing information to women before they make a decision altering the life of another human being,” Ms. Byron said.

Mr. Saslaw, however, was skeptical that was the true intent of the bill.

“No one in this room should kid themselves,” he said. “This bill has one purpose: to make it as difficult as possible for women to get an abortion.”

The prospects for the measure are unclear. Ms. Vogel said Wednesday she planned to strike the bill once it came back to the Senate.

The committee also signed off on another conservative priority, one that would repeal a mandate that young girls receive a vaccination to prevent the human papillomavirus, which is known to cause cervical cancer, instead making it an “opt-in” provision. The measure currently on the books already has an opt-out clause that allows parents to reject the vaccine for any reason.

“We are racing to the dark ages for ideological reasons,” said Sen. Janet D. Howell, Fairfax Democrat, who sponsored the original mandate that took effect in 2008.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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