General Assembly votes to remove abortion restrictions

WINCHESTER — The Virginia General Assembly is expected to soon remove Republican-backed restrictions on abortions.

The Virginia Senate narrowly passed Senate Bill 733 on Wednesday with Democratic Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax breaking a 20-20 tie. The bill, introduced by Democratic Sen. Jennifer McClellan, eliminates the 24-hour waiting period as well as the requirements that women seeking an abortion undergo an ultrasound, receive counseling and be given a statement of the probable gestational age of the fetus.

McClellan has stated that her bill repeals “unnecessary and onerous restrictions on a woman’s access to healthcare.” The bill expands who can perform first-trimester abortions to include physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners. Currently, only physicians can perform an abortion.

The bill also removes a provision classifying facilities that perform five or more first-trimester abortions per month as hospitals — thereby absolving abortion facilities from regulations that set minimum standards for hospitals.

A day prior to the Senate vote, the House of Delegates passed similar legislation — HB 980 — with a 52-45 vote. Del. Wendy Gooditis, D-Clarke County, voted in favor of the bill while 29th District Del. Chris Collins, R-Frederick County, and 33rd District Del. Dave LaRock, R-Hamilton, opposed it.

“This week the General Assembly made progress on restoring a woman’s right to make her own decisions with the help of her chosen qualified medical professionals in Virginia,” Gooditis said. “A number of restrictions which served no medical purpose were removed by the House of Delegates. These changes are supported by the majority of Virginians.” 

The House of Delegates and state Senate still must pass each other’s version of the bill before it becomes law. Any differences will be work out in a conference committee.

“It is a huge disappointment that Democrats are removing protections that will make abortion in Virginia more dangerous and assure that women are less-informed,” LaRock said. “In my opinion, Democrats are for abortion performed by almost anyone, anytime during a pregnancy, in sub-standard facilities and paid for with taxpayer dollars.”

Collins said that “as an adopted child” he believes it is important to have a conversation about alternatives to abortion and thinks the 24-hour waiting period should remain.

“The issue I have is they may go to an abortion clinic thinking that is the only option they have and there is no other viable option,” Collins said. “So I think having that time period to say, ‘You do, in fact, have other options, maybe you weren’t aware of those, here they are.’ I think it’s important. But that argument failed on the floor.”

Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Upperville, said she objected to expanding who can perform abortions beyond doctors. She considers it unsafe.

“I think there are a number of really important health and safety regulations that are really important for women’s health,” Vogel said.