By Chris Suarez
Capital News Service
RICHMOND — Two abortion-related bills were passed this past week by The Virginia Health and Education Senate Committee a day after the House of Delegates struck down a pair of identical measures in committee.
The Senate bills — SB617 and SB618 — introduced by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton — passed on party-line votes a week after Democrats took Senate control and reorganized several committees, including Health and Education.
The Senate bills seek to add abortion procedures to health care coverage and to repeal a required ultrasound law for women seeking an abortion.
“It’s nobody’s damn business,” said Senate Majority Leader and committee member, Richard L. Saslaw, D-Fairfax. “The state has no business injecting their big nose in anybody’s business.”
The issue has the state legislature split, as both measures attempt to overturn laws that were passed in 2012 and 2013 under a Republican-controlled General Assembly.
Senate committee Democrats say they doubt their bills will pass in the House.
“This is about the 30th year we’ve been dealing with this issue,” Saslaw said. “Quite frankly, I don’t know when it’s going to end.”
With Republicans controlling the House of Delegates by 67-32 vote, the Senate bills are likely to be dead on arrival. Earlier this week, a House companion bill to remove the ultrasound requirement was tabled in subcommittee.
“The General Assembly has told women, ‘you are on your own,’” said NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Executive Director, Tarina Keene.
Because abortion coverage is prohibited from being considered an essential health benefit by health insurance companies, 74 percent of Virginia women seeking an abortion are paying out of pocket, according to Keene.
Pro-life organizations — the Family Foundation, Virginia Society for Human Life and the Virginia Catholic Conference — were in attendance as well, saying the laws now in place give women more time to make an educated decision and prohibit subsidizing of abortion procedures.
“This bill is about conscience protection, not access to abortion services.” said Jessica Cochrane, a Family Foundation Policy analyst.
Cochrane later said requiring an ultrasound before deciding on abortion allows women “a window into the womb” in order to make a choice with “less regret and second guessing.”
Supporters of the bill, including the Medical Society of Virginia, say they believe the procedure is invasive of doctor-patient confidentiality and attempts to shame women seeking an abortion.
Dr. Marissa Levine, the state’s acting health commissioner, pledged the support of Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration to repeal the mandatory ultrasound law. The pledge aims to fulfill a McAuliffe campaign promise to women concerned about reproductive health issues.
Both Senate bills will be introduced into the House of Delegates in the next week. A large number of Virginia abortion clinics might close down before the bill passes or fails, as new regulations mandated by the 2013 Republican-dominated General Assembly fall on the clinics later this year.