Henrico legislators content to postpone personhood debate

Despite conflicting opinions, local Henrico legislators said they were content with the decision that Senate committee members made to postpone discussion of the “personhood” bill until the 2013 session.

The bill, HB 1, provided that unborn children at every stage of development enjoy all the rights, privileges and immunities available to other citizens of Virginia. Members of the House passed the bill on Feb. 14 in a 66 to 32 vote.

“HB 1 has evolved and I’m not sure that we had all of the information in the beginning that became available in the House,” said Del. John O’Bannon, R-73, who voted in favor of the bill. “I am very comfortable with the decision to put it aside.”

Del. Riley Ingram, R-62, who also voted for the bill, agreed that the members of the Senate’s Health and Education committee made the right decision.

“It gives us all time to look at what we are really doing over here,” Ingram said. “We need to see exactly what is what and I think they [members of the Senate] probably did the right thing.”

The bill lays the groundwork to outlaw abortion and contraception if Roe v. Wade or Griswold v. Connecticut were ever overturned, said Del. Jennifer McClellan, D-71, who opposed the bill.

In Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the decision to have an abortion was protected by the 14th amendment and was private between the woman and her doctor. In Griswold v. Connecticut, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a Connecticut law that made contraceptive measures illegal.

“I’m concerned about the larger implications that the bill has not only for unwanted pregnancies, but for wanted pregnancies,” McClellan said. “HB 1 has so many broad implications for any medical decision, starting from fertility treatments through to the labor and delivery room.”

Under this bill, if a woman chose to have an amniocentesis, which resulted in a miscarriage, the doctor could be charged for assault and battery, McClellan said. If someone disagreed with a woman’s decision to have an amniocentesis, that person could file a lawsuit against her in court, she said.

Similarly, if a pregnant woman wanted to deliver her baby vaginally and her doctor recommended that she have a Caesarian section, a doctor or family member could seek a court order to require her to have a Caesarian section as a next of friend to the fetus, McClellan said.

McClellan said the bill would also have implications for many forms of in-vitro fertilization.

“By interpreting co-sections to determine a person as a fetus, anything that could cause injury or potentially kill that fetus, would be outlawed,” McClellan said. “This raises the question if it would be lawful to freeze embryos or if it would be lawful to donate embryos that are not used after in-vitro fertilization to stem cell research.”

If a doctor made a mistake in labor and delivery, he or she could be held legally accountable, McClellan said.

“He [the doctor] could be arrested for assault and battery or involuntary manslaughter,” McClellan said. “I just think that goes way too far.”

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