Virginia Democrats spurn ‘personhood’ bill

Virginia Democratic leaders are speaking out against Republican legislation that they said seeks to make abortion illegal and even might restrict access to some forms of legal birth control.

The Democrats lashed out at House Bill 1, which would define a human embryo or fetus as a person under state law. The bill, introduced by Delegate Bob Marshall, R-Manassas, states that, beginning at conception, unborn children have “all the rights, privileges, and immunities available to other persons, citizens, and residents of this Commonwealth,” regardless of their stage of development.

The bill also declares that, “Unborn children have protectable interests in life, health, and well-being.”

Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Donald McEachin of Richmond and Henrico County and Delegate Charniele Herring of Alexandria held a conference call Thursday to discuss the bill and what they describe as “efforts to advance dangerous, divisive and distracting personhood legislation by state and national Republicans including George Allen and Mitt Romney.”
McEachin calls the bill “an abhorrent attack on women’s rights.”

Herring agrees.

“It could have the effect of limiting access to reproductive health care, even in the case of rape, incest or possible death of the mother,” Herring said. “It could also limit women’s access to common forms of FDA-approved forms of contraception.”

(However, Marshall’s bill states that “Nothing in this section shall be interpreted as affecting lawful assisted conception.”)

HB 1 was the first piece of legislation submitted for consideration by the House during the General Assembly session that began Wednesday. The measure has been referred to the House Courts of Justice Committee.

In previous legislative sessions, bills of this nature have been passed by the Republican-controlled House of Delegates but were halted in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Such measures often died in the Senate Education and Health Committee.

But because of last fall’s elections, Democrats lost their 22-18 majority in the Senate. The 40 senators now are evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who presides over the Senate and can cast tie-breaking votes, is a Republican.

As a result, measures like HB 1 have a greater chance of being passed and becoming law.

“We’re not in a position to stop bills like this as we once were,” McEachin said. “That’s why we’re here. That’s why it’s important to get the word out to Virginians.”

Herring said she considers the bill a distraction from problems such as poverty, joblessness, underfunded schools and roads needing repair.

“With [Republicans’] newfound power, you might expect them to get right to work in creating jobs and improving education, but unfortunately that’s not the case,” Herring said. “This kind of legislation … won’t help Virginia business, won’t make college more affordable for young adults, and it won’t make our streets safer.”

To track of comment on Delegate Bob Marshall’s bill, visit Richmond Sunlight:

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