Va. doctors could face felonies under proposed 15-week abortion ban

On the first day of Virginia’s 2023 legislative session, Republican lawmakers introduced a bill that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy and punish doctors who violate the ban.

“We have said that there would be no criminal penalties whatsoever when it comes to the mother,” said Virginia Republican Sen. Steve Newman, who introduced the legislation in the Senate.

While mothers wouldn’t be charged with a crime, doctors could face serious charges.

Under the bill called the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” doctors would be charged with a felony when they were to perform an abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

There are exceptions for rape and incest.

Additionally, abortions could be performed after the 15-week period if “the continuation of the pregnancy will result in the death of the woman or substantially and irreversibly impair one or more of such woman’s major bodily functions, not including psychological or emotional conditions.”

Newman said 15 weeks is when an unborn child can potentially start feeling pain.

“This is a common-sense bill to say that if a child feels pain, we should protect him or her,” Newman said.

Republican Del. Kathy Byron introduced an identical bill in the House of Delegates.

Abortion-rights advocates were quick to respond.

Jamie Lockhart, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, said that the bill would “would hurt Virginians and put politicians where they don’t belong: in control of people’s private medical decisions.”

Lockhart said that it would “deny Virginians the fundamental right to control their own bodies, lives and futures.”

“Seventy-percent of Americans want some form of limitations on abortion,” Newman said. “They are simply not in favor of abortion on demand.”

But it won’t be easy to pass such a bill in Virginia’s divided government, with Republicans controlling the house of delegates and Democrats in control of the Senate.

Abortion is currently legal in Virginia through the first and second trimesters of pregnancy, which is about 26 weeks.

Pregnant mothers can still get an abortion in the third trimester, but they need three doctors to sign off, saying that their health is at risk.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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