Virginia Senate Democrats defeat 20-week abortion ban

A Democrat-controlled Virginia Senate committee defeated a bill Thursday that would have prohibited abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy in most circumstances.

The measure from Republican Sen. Amanda Chase failed on a party-line vote of 6-9.

While a similar bill is alive in the GOP-controlled House, it has not been docketed for a hearing that legislative procedure would require take place by Friday.

“We do not see a path for the bill to pass the House, Senate, get to the governor,” said Del. Rob Bell, the chairman of the committee that would take up the bill.

Jamie Lockhart, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, said she expected that between Thursday’s Senate committee vote and the remarks from Bell, who spoke a day earlier with the Virginia Mercury, any 20-week ban was dead for the year.

She said House Republicans were avoiding taking a vote on a controversial issue.

“House Republicans know that Virginians overwhelmingly support safe, legal abortion,” Lockhart said.

Chase’s bill, as well as the House version, would have prohibited an abortion after 20 weeks post-fertilization. It allowed for exceptions if, according to “reasonable medical judgment,” the mother required an abortion to avert her death or “serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.”

The bill was not among GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s announced legislative agenda. But the Republican said during his campaign against Democrat Terry McAuliffe that he would support a 20-week ban.

Virginia law currently allows abortion during the first and second trimesters. Abortions are only allowed during the third trimester if multiple physicians certify that the continuation of the pregnancy is likely to “substantially and irremediably” impair the mental or physical health of the mother or result in her death.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision and a follow-up 1992 decision prevent states from banning abortion before viability, the point around 24 weeks of pregnancy when a fetus can survive outside the womb. But the conservative-majority Supreme Court could overturn that standard later this year.

While Chase’s bill had not been expected to clear the Senate committee, Democratic Sen. Joe Morrissey — who says he personally opposes abortion and has long supported a 20-week ban — had indicated a willingness to join with Republicans in a long-shot procedural move to try to bring it to a floor vote.

“I’ll certainly consider that,” he told reporters last week.

Several other abortion-related measures, including one dealing with counseling requirements, are pending in the House and could be heard in a committee Friday. Tuesday is the deadline for each chamber to complete work on its own legislation.

Lockhart said she thought that even if those measures passed the House, they would be defeated by the same Democrats on the committee that killed Chase’s bill Thursday.

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