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Senate Committee rejects 2 pro-choice bills despite strong support

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RICHMOND – Five days earlier, half a million protesters showed up for the Women’s March on Washington. On Thursday, two pro-choice abortion bills were defeated 8-7 along party lines by a Senate committee.

The Senate Committee on Education and Health rejected SB 1424, which advocates had dubbed the Restoring Dignity to Informed Consent act, and SB 1549, aka the Whole Woman’s Health Act.

The panel limited testimony on the bills to two minutes, women’s rights activists said.

SB 1424, sponsored by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, would have allowed a woman who had received medically necessary information about abortion from her doctor to choose not to receive additional, non-medical information. It also would have ended the requirement that she wait a state-imposed period of time or undergo an ultrasound procedure if she decided to have an abortion.

SB 1549, introduced by Sen. Jennifer Wexton, D-Leesburg, would have removed certain state-imposed restrictions on Virginia women seeking an abortion. Those restrictions include the performance of an ultrasound and the requirement that facilities that perform five or more first-trimester abortions per month meet the regulatory standards for hospitals.

“First-trimester abortions are among the safest medical procedures performed in the United States,” said Tara Gibson, field director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia. “There is absolutely no medical reason why our health centers need to comply with the same requirements on hallway width and parking spaces that a full-service hospital is subject to.”

Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia, agreed. “Women just want to be able to access health care when they need it,” she said.

Dozens of women had traveled to Richmond to testify in support of the bills. They included students, medical professionals, mothers, wives and citizens who planned to share personal testimonies before the committee.

The committee chairman, Sen. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg, informed the group that they had a total of two minutes to speak, according to supporters of the legislation.

“Coming right off the heels of the massive Women’s March on D.C. and sister marches across the commonwealth, it’s appalling and disappointing that Chairman Newman refused to hear these women’s concerns and allow any meaningful testimony from their constituents before rejecting the bill,” said Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.

SB 1424 and SB 1549 were killed on identical votes by the Senate Education and Health Committee.

Voting to spike the legislation were Newman and fellow Republican Sens. Richard Black of Leesburg, Charles Carrico of Galax, Amanda Chase of Midlothian, John Cosgrove of Chesapeake, Siobhan Dunnavant of Henrico, Mark Peake of Lynchburg and David Suetterlein of Roanoke.

Voting against the motions that the bills be “passed by indefinitely” were Democratic Sens. George Barker of Alexandria, Janet Howell of Reston, Lynwood Lewis of Accomac, Mamie Locke of Hampton, Louise Lucas of Portsmouth, Chap Petersen of Fairfax and Richard Saslaw of Springfield.

By Maura Mazurowski/Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South.