Va. Democrats Criticize Police Action Against Protesters; Senate Approves 'Wrongful Death' Bill

March 6, 2012 — Several Virginia Senate Democrats in floor speeches on Monday denounced the treatment and arrest of reproductive rights supporters outside the Capitol on Saturday, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports (Nolan/Hester, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 3/5).

Thirty protesters were charged with either trespassing or unlawful assembly after they refused to leave the steps of the Capitol on Saturday during an event organized by Speak Loud With Silence. About 1,000 demonstrators marched throughout Richmond before ending at a rally outside the state Capitol (Kumar, "Virginia Politics," Washington Post, 3/5).

The protesters sought to defeat legislation that would require a woman to receive an ultrasound before abortion care. The state Senate approved the bill last week after it was amended to specify that the ultrasound would be external and not vaginal. Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), who had called for the amendment, is expected to sign the measure.

Democrats criticized police for responding to the protesters with riot gear, rifles and dogs (AP/Washington Post, 3/5). "They were marching and chanting for women's rights," Sen. Janet Howell (D) said. "And what did they face? SWAT teams, state police in full riot gear, police armed with semiautomatic guns and dogs -- dogs. Not since the massive resistance days of the 1960s have I seen such a disgraceful display of excessive police presence," she added ("Virginia Politics," Washington Post, 3/5).

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia is offering to help protesters who were arrested Saturday. "We do not know yet if anyone's free speech rights were violated," ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis said. He added, "We do know, however, that from all appearances, the police overreacted to a situation in which peaceful demonstrators gathered at a public place to exercise their First Amendment right to protest the government" (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 3/5).

McDonnell and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) said lawmakers should apologize for their remarks "attacking Virginia's law enforcement." McDonnell said, "When you get to the point where your anger over losing an election and your anger over not getting the committee assignments you want spills over ... to taking the floor to tear down our incredibly talented and brave law enforcement officers, it really has crossed the line" ("Virginia Politics," Washington Post, 3/5).

Va. Senate Approves 'Wrongful Death' Bill

Also on Monday, the Virginia Senate approved a bill (SB 674) that would permit expectant parents to sue over the wrongful death of a fetus, the Posts' "Virginia Politics" reports. The bill previously cleared the House and now advances to McDonnell, who has not publicly stated whether he will sign it. The legislation states, "No cause of action for the death of the fetus may be brought against the natural mother of the fetus."

The bill easily passed the Senate, which has been more divided on various abortion-related bills, on a vote 33-6, according to the Post. Some opponents of the bill cautioned that it was similar to a "personhood" measure that the Senate defeated (Vozzella, "Virginia Politics," Washington Post, 3/5).

Editorial, Opposing Opinion Piece Discuss Ultrasound Bills

The "new wave of laws that not only prescribe ultrasounds for every woman who seeks an abortion, but in some cases mandate what doctors must show and say to their patients," are an intrusion "into private medical decisions that ought to be made by women and their doctors," a USA Today editorial states. Often, the bills' sponsors "are the very same people who say, in other contexts, that they don't want government getting between doctors and their patients," the editorial states. The editorial concludes, "Obviously, the goal of such laws has nothing to do with good medicine. It is to dissuade women from having abortions" (USA Today, 3/5).

In an opposing opinion piece in USA Today, Mary Spaulding Balch, director of state legislation for the National Right to Life Committee, writes that ultrasound images are "a window to the womb," are "not misleading, and can lead to a more informed decision" (Balch, USA Today, 3/5).

Ga. State Representative Discusses Vasectomy Bill

In other state news, Georgia Rep. Yasmin Neal (D) discussed her recent proposal to regulate male vasectomies in an interview on NPR's "Tell Me More." Under the bill, men would be prohibited from obtaining vasectomies, except to avert death or serious injury. Neal offered the bill in response to lawmakers' efforts to regulate women's reproductive health care, including abortion. Neal said the goal of the bill was "simply to identify a medical procedure dealing with the men's ability to reproduce, and then drafting a comparative bill mimicking the intent of the abortion bill just to demonstrate to our male counterparts how it feels to become the topic of debate" (Martin, "Tell Me More," NPR, 3/5).