With ''veto-proof'' majority, state abortion foes optimistic
By LOUIS HANSEN, The Virginian-Pilot
© January 22, 2003
Last updated: 12:44 AM
| ABORTION-RELATED BILLS
At least two dozen bills related to abortion have been offered by the General Assembly. Here are some prominent abortion-related measures.
Supported by abortion opponents:
SB1124: Requires a physician to obtain written consent from a parent before performing an abortion on a girl under the age of 18. Expands on a law passed in 1996 requiring parental notification, with exceptions for cases of abuse.
SB1205: Bans the so-called ``partial-birth abortion'' procedure, and redefines ``live birth'' to an earlier period in pregnancy.
HB2367: Requires abortion clinics to comply with more costly and strict requirements on building size. Opponents say no clinics in the state would meet the proposed requirements. A House panel on Tuesday approved the measure.
Supported by pro-choice advocates:
SB1104: States that contraception will not be governed by the same rules as abortion. The bill would protect contraceptives from the restrictions placed on abortion.
Enter the numbers above in the Bill Tracker to read the bills and follow their progress.
The addition of two conservatives to the state Senate this winter might give the General Assembly a veto-proof majority in favor of establishing new abortion restrictions.
Longtime activists on both sides of the debate say it is all but assured that the General Assembly will pass laws requiring physicians to obtain parental consent before ending the pregnancies of minors, outlawing so-called partial-birth abortions, and requiring abortion clinics to adhere to expensive structural standards.
``I think it is a breakthrough year not just in Virginia but across the nation,'' said Anne B. Kincaid, a state anti-abortion lobbyist for 15 years. ``The truth is prevailing.''
Bennet Greenberg, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, an abortion-rights organization, seemed pessimistic.
``They've been chipping away,'' he said. ``Pretty soon, the chips are going to become chunks.''
Today marks the 30th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision, which made abortion legal.
Abortions have declined in Virginia and nationwide since 1996, according to The Alan Guttmacher Institute in New York. The nonprofit organization tracks sexual and reproductive health issues, and its studies have been accepted by advocates on both sides of the debate.
Guttmacher researchers believe the decline is due to the increased use of emergency contraception, such as the morning-after pill.
The number of abortions in Virginia peaked at 35,000 in 1981 and has since declined, according to the institute. About 28,000 abortions were performed in 2000, the last year of available data.
The decrease has not quieted the debate.
At least two dozen bills to limit access to abortion will be considered by the General Assembly this year. The most prominent and controversial include parental-consent requirements for minors and a ban on the so-called ``partial birth abortion.''
A ban on that procedure, in which a fetus is partly delivered, passed the General Assembly last year, only to be vetoed by Gov. Mark R. Warner. The House overrode the veto, but the Senate fell three short of the needed 27 votes.
The Senate may have the votes to topple a Warner veto this session, with anti-abortion Republican Sens. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II and James K. O'Brien Jr. replacing two moderate members. The third vote comes from Sen. Stephen H. Martin, R-Chesterfield, a socially conservative senator who was absent for last year's override ballot.
Kincaid said the General Assembly now is ``basically veto-proof.''
Sen. Stephen D. Newman, R-Lynchburg, the bill's patron, said he would like to see the governor sign the legislation.
``I hope we don't need an override,'' he said.
Warner has said he would consider a narrowly drawn partial-birth abortion ban that would provide an exemption for women whose health would be endangered by continuing a pregnancy.
A parental-consent bill was on the verge of passing last year, only to be scuttled on parliamentary maneuvers by then-Sen. Warren E. Barry, R-Fairfax, a social moderate who chaired a committee overseeing abortion legislation.
Barry left the Senate last year to take a job in the Warner administration. His chairmanship has been filled by a lawmaker who favors parental consent, Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., R-Winchester.
Warner has signaled that he might be unfriendly to a consent bill, saying ``Virginia does not need more restrictions'' on abortion.
Physicians now are required only to notify parents before performing abortions on minors.
Sixteen states require parental consent, and eight others mandate notification of parents or guardians, said Louise D. Hartz, former president of the anti-abortion Virginia Society for Human Life.
Opponents say the issue will place an additional burden on girls from abusive or broken families.
A bill sponsored by Northern Virginia Democrat Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple does have support from lawmakers who support abortion rights. It states that contraception does not constitute abortion.
Whipple said she wants to protect contraception from being inadvertently restricted by anti-abortion legislation.
Other proposals being considered by the General Assembly would place heavier regulation on abortion clinics, would allow pharmacists to refuse to administer contraceptives, and would let drivers order a ``Choose Life'' license plate.
Conservatives say they have momentum.
Del. Robert G. Marshall, R-Prince William, a staunch abortion foe, said he expects parental notification and a late-term abortion ban to become law. Even if his proposals fail, he said, ``Getting people on the record is a victory.''
Staff writers Warren Fiske and Robert McCabe contributed to this report. Reach Louis Hansen at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (804) 697-1563.