Update: Virginia's personhood bill is now dead for the year. The bill, already approved by the state House, passed out of a Senate committee this morning and headed to the floor. But the Republican-dominated Senate voted to send the bill back to committee and carry it over to next year. It's the second big win for pro-choice advocates in Virginia this week, after Governor Bob McDonnell retracted his support for a bill requiring pre-abortion transvaginal sonograms yesterday.
"By vote of 24-14, HB 1 is rereferred to Senate Ed & Health and carried over for the year," tweeted Democratic Senator Mark Herring triumphantly. "Translation = Bill is defeated."
This morning, less than 24 hours after pro-life advocates saw a big victory over a Virginia pre-abortion sonogram bill, a Virginia Senate committee voted to move the controversial "personhood" bill forward. The bill, which would have changed the legal definition of "person" to include fertilized eggs and fetuses, passed the House last week amidst cries from Democrats. Now it's heading for a full Senate vote.
The committee added a key measure to the bill to protect access to all legal forms of birth control. As I wrote last week, the version passed out of the House carved out a specific protection for in-vitro fertilization but not for birth control, prompting some opponents to argue the legal interpretations would likely outlaw birth control. Some reproductive activists have argued that even though in-vitro is carved out, the process, which often includes discarding other fertilized eggs, could still be in a legal limbo.
It wasn't clear from the beginning that the measure would make it out of committee easily. The Education and Health Committee has seven pro-life Republicans and seven pro-choice Democrats. It also has Senator Harry Blevins, who has a mixed record on the subject. Blevins has angered both sides of the debate on reproductive rights. When I talked last week to Representative Bob Marshall, the author of the personhood bill, he was hardly confident. "I don't know what Harry's thinking on this," he said. (Blevins has not responded to multiple calls asking for an interview.)
Only a few weeks ago Blevins chose to abstain on a measure that would have outlawed abortions after 20 weeks. The bill, which would have faced obvious legal challenges, focused on 20 weeks as the age at which a fetus feels pain and was called the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. The vote in the Senate Education and Health Committee was split, with seven Republicans voting to move the bill forward and seven Democrats voting against it. As the 15th vote, Blevins' abstention stopped the measure.
The Virginia Society for Human Life, a pro-life advocacy group, sent out a press release arguing Blevins "effectively killed the bill in committee." This time around, however, I'm guessing pro-life advocates are pleased with Blevins' decision.
I asked Democratic Senator Creigh Deeds for his predictions on the personhood bill when it comes to the Senate floor. He didn't exactly give me an answer. In the past, he told me "we've been able to work together across party lines … that broke down completely this year."
(I should also mention that Virginia isn't the only state this year with a personhood bill. In Oklahoma, two different bills have been filed. One, which looks a lot like Virginia's, is through the Senate and awaiting approval from the state House.)