Va. Senate Attempts Repeal of Antiabortion-Rights Laws

February 12, 2014 — The Virginia Senate on Tuesday narrowly passed a bill (SB 617) that would repeal a state law requiring ultrasounds before abortions but defeated a measure (SB 618) that would have allowed private health plans sold through the state's health insurance exchange to offer abortion coverage, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports.

SB 617, which would repeal the ultrasound law, was approved 21-20, with Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) casting a tiebreaking vote to pass the measure.

According to the Times-Dispatch, the bill would have been defeated by a 21-19 vote, but state Sen. Charles Colgan (D) mistakenly voted in favor of the repeal. He later corrected his vote for the record with the state Senate's clerk. A motion to hold another vote was rejected.

SB 618, the abortion coverage bill, was defeated in a 22-18 vote. The vote fell mostly along party lines, except that Colgan and state Sen. Phillip Puckett (D) voted against it.

Political Implications

The votes were largely symbolic because neither bill is expected to pass the Republican-controlled state House, according to the Times-Dispatch (Nolan, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/12). Nonetheless, the votes signal that "state Democrats are willing to expend political capital and energy on the issue," according to MSNBC (Carmon, MSNBC, 2/12).

Abortion-rights advocates applauded SB 617's passage. NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Executive Director Tarina Keene said, "We are absolutely thrilled to see the Virginia Senate take a strong stance for women's health and rights and vote to pass this critical bill," adding that the "ultrasound law is a gross invasion of women's personal privacy and the doctor-patient relationship" (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/12).

Planned Parenthood Advocates for Virginia Executive Director Cianti Stewart-Reid added, "Virginia state senators have finally understood that [the ultrasound law], which is medically unnecessary and unwarranted and is really only meant to shame and judge women, needed to be repealed" (MSNBC, 2/12).