RICHMOND, Va. - Legislation repealing a requirement that girls receive a vaccine to prevent a sexually transmitted, cancer-causing virus was killed for this year when the Senate voted 22-17 Monday to send the bill back to committee and carry it over to 2013.
Republicans John Watkins of Powhatan County and Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach joined all 20 Senate Democrats in rejecting the bill.
Del. Kathy Byron, R-Campbell County, sponsored the measure to repeal the 2007 law mandating the human papillomavirus, or HPV, vaccine before girls reach sixth grade. HPV can cause cervical cancer, and a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee recommended in 2006 that the vaccine be given to all 11- and 12-year-old girls.
Some conservative lawmakers, however, believe the vaccine promotes casual premarital sex and say the state mandate usurps parental rights. Supporters of the current law say the vaccine can save lives and note that parents can opt out for any reason.
"The source of this threat is not sex. It's a virus," Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, said in reading from a letter written by the husband of a relative who recently died of cancer.
Sen. Steve Martin, R-Chesterfield, urged the Senate not to send the bill back to the Education and Health Committee, where it was endorsed on an 8-7 party-line vote last week. He said the committee had fully vetted the bill.
Watkins, however, said more information is needed.
"Everyone needs to understand the impact of that legislation," Watkins said after the vote.
Byron also sponsors the most hotly debated bill of this legislative session: a requirement that women seeking an abortion first have an transvaginal ultrasound image made of the fetus. The GOP-backed bill has prompted protests at the state Capitol and provided fodder for television comedians, columnists and political talk shows.
Watkins said he didn't think the furor over the ultrasound bill had anything to do with the demise of Byron's HPV repeal. The Senate delayed a vote on the ultrasound bill Monday.
Texas became the first state to mandate the HPV vaccine when Gov. Rick Perry signed an executive order in early 2007, drawing harsh criticism from conservatives. The Texas Legislature later overturned his order, and Perry did not press the issue.
Several other states have enacted legislation to make the HPV vaccine available or educate the public about it, according to the National Center for State Legislatures, but Virginia is the only state that mandates the vaccine. California recently passed a law allowing children as young as 12 to be vaccinated without their parents' consent.
HPV infects about 20 million people in the United States with 6.2 million new cases each year, according to the CDC.
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