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Catholic Conference Assesses Legislative Session

March 19, 2012

By Christine Stoddard
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia Catholic Conference experienced both triumphs and failures during the General Assembly’s recently concluded regular session.

As victories, VCC Executive Director Jeff Caruso cited the passage of a bill to require an ultrasound before a woman has an abortion – and the defeat of a bill to expand the death penalty in Virginia.

However, Caruso noted there were “missed opportunities in pro-life legislation this year.” He called it a particular “disappointment” that House Bill 1 and HB 62 got shelved.

HB 1, popularly known as the “personhood bill,” would have asserted the rights of “unborn children at every stage of development” by redefining the word “person.” In a press statement last month, Caruso explained that HB 1 was modeled after Missouri’s statutory law, which has existed for the past 25 years.

The House approved HB 1, but the Senate sent it back to its Education and Health Committee for more study. It will be considered again in 2013.

HB 62 would have forbidden the Board of Health from funding abortions for low-income women carrying a fetus that a physician believes “would be born with a gross and totally incapacitating physical deformity or mental deficiency.”

This measure also won approval from the House of Delegates but was set aside by the Senate Finance Committee.

“It is important to save as many lives as possible,” Caruso said. “People shouldn’t pay for other people’s abortions.”

Apart from those losses, the VCC, which represents the Catholic dioceses of Arlington and Richmond in matters of public policy, enjoyed several successes.

For example, the General Assembly passed:

   – HB 462, which requires that a woman pay for an ultrasound before undergoing an
abortion. During the ultrasound procedure, the woman will be offered the opportunity
to listen to the fetus’ heartbeat and see its image. Caruso explained that the law would
give a woman the chance to make a “life-altering decision.”

   – Senate Bill 131 and HB 321, giving tax breaks for donations made to nonprofits that
provide scholarships for low-income children to attend private schools. These private
schools may be secular or faith-based. 

   – SB 349 and HB 189, which state that private child-placing agencies are not required
to place foster children in a household who religious or moral beliefs and practices
contradict their own. That means a Catholic agency can decline to place a child with
a gay couple.

Another victory for the VCC was the defeat of HB 389, which would have expanded the death penalty by redefining Virginia’s “triggerman rule.”

This rule means that accessories to a capital murder cannot receive the death penalty – only the actual perpetrators can.

The House passed HB 389, but it was defeated in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.

Caruso and Associate Director Chris Ramos plan to convene with board members this summer to organize Catholic advocacy efforts for 2013.

Though unsure about the VCC’s specific agenda for 2013, Ramos said, “We hope for more gains in the pro-life area next year.”

Apart from abortion, embryonic stem cell research will likely receive more attention in 2013 than it did this year.

On the Web

To read VCC Executive Director Jeff Caruso’s statement on HB 1 and HB 62, visit:
http://www.vacatholic.org/documents/statementonHB1andHB62prolifebillsfailure.pdf.

This article was published by such CNS subscribers as the Arlington Catholic Herald.