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Virginia House advances antiabortion 'personhood' measure

February 14, 2012 |  6:14 pm

VAPersonhoodThe Virginia House of Delegates voted Tuesday to advance two antiabortion measures: a bill defining "personhood" as beginning at conception, and a bill that would require women to view sonograms of their fetuses before undergoing abortions. 

The "personhood" bill, sponsored by Republican delegate Bob Marshall, overwhelmingly passed on a 66-32 vote in the Republican-controlled House. The second bill, sponsored by Republican delegate Kathy Byron, passed 63-36. It would require women to undergo a "transvaginal ultrasound" before going through with an abortion.

"The General Assembly is dangerously close to making Virginia the first state in the country to grant personhood rights to fertilized eggs,” said Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, in a statement. 

In a phone interview, Keene said lawmakers are out of touch with Virginia voters, whom she described as only moderately conservative.

Marshall's bill had passed the House before, but was always defeated in the Senate, the Associated Press reported.

This year, however, the Senate's makeup has changed, with last fall's election ushering in a wave of Republican lawmakers.

Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, a socially conservative Roman Catholic, has said he will sign the ultrasound bill, but has taken no position on Marshall's personhood bill, his spokesman J. Tucker Martin told the wire service.

The conservative Family Foundation hailed the ultrasound measure as an “update” to the state's existing informed-consent laws “with the most advanced medical technology available.” 

Thursday's debate included a notable comment from delegate Todd Gilbert about the decision to have an abortion.

“We hear the same song over there. The very tragic human notes that are often touched upon involve extreme examples,” said Gilbert (R-Shenandoah). “But in the vast majority of these cases, these are matters of lifestyle convenience.”

At those words, a murmur rippled through the House chamber, the Associated Press said. 

The comment, Keene said in a phone interview, demonstrates the antiabortion lawmakers views' of  women's reproductive rights. 

"It doesn’t matter why a woman chooses to terminate her pregnancy," she said. "That’s a very private and personal decision to make. For these legislators to make these sweeping allegations and judgments of women just goes to show that this is not just about women’s health. It’s about curtailing abortions and punishing women."

In recent years, a number of states have considered and rejected similar "personhood" proposals, most notably in Colorado, where propositions were voted down in 2008 and 2010.

Those efforts and one in Mississippi -- which was defeated by voters last year -- have been backed by Personhood USA, a Colorado-based group that has attracted antiabortion activists fed up with waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to tilt in their favor.


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Photo: Delegate Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), standing at right, speaks during Tuesday's debate on the "personhood" bill during the House session in Richmond, Va. Many delegates dressed in red for Valentine's Day. Credit: Steve Helber/Associated Press