Virginia state Senate girds for major abortion debate
Anti-abortion activists in Virginia believe they have the opportunity to score a majority victory in the state's stalemated fight over abortion rights, as the state Senate will debate a bill as early as Wednesday that would require Virginia's Board of Health to regulate clinics where first trimester abortions are performed.
Legislation to require clinic regulation has for years been approved by the GOP-led House of Delegates, but it has always died in a Senate committee stacked with abortion- rights supporters.
But Monday, the House of Delegates slid an amendment that would classify abortion clinics as hospitals into an unrelated bill that requires the state's Board of Health to write infection prevention regulations for hospitals and nursing homes.
The amended measure now heads back to the senate, where the full 40-member body must vote whether to accept the amendment. And among the entire chamber, the bill's fate is unpredictable.
Two conservative Democrats who oppose abortion -- Sen. Charles J. Colgan (D-Prince William) and Sen. Phillip P. Puckett (D-Russell) -- said Tuesday they plan to support the measure, in a chamber where Democrats hold a 22 to 18 majority. Their votes would raise the possibility of a 20 to 20 tie. A tie would be broken by Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), who supports regulations.
Both sides agree the rare Senate floor fight over abortion is a key moment in the decades-long debate over the controversial issue.
Victoria Cobb, executive director of the Family Foundation, called it a "historic opportunity" to debate the issue. She said the bill would not restrict access to abortions, but instead would require clinics to abide by regulations that would improve the safety of the procedures.
"Should it pass, it would be very significant for a lot of folks who have felt this is important for decades," she said.
Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, also said the vote is a key moment. She predicted that a majority of the state's 21 clinics that perform first-yrimester abortions would be forced to close if regulated as hospitals, which face rules that govern the width of hallways and doorways and how laundry must be cleaned.
"This would strike a huge blow," she said. "Especially if you're shutting down a majority of clinics that serve rural areas, urban areas, minority populations. We're talking about a big, big gap in reproductive health care."
Rosalind S. Helderman
| February 23, 2011; 6:00 AM ET
Categories: General Assembly 2011, House of Delegates, Rosalind Helderman, State Senate
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