Virginia "personhood" bill stalls in Senate

PORTSMOUTH, Virginia Thu Feb 23, 2012 7:44pm EST

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PORTSMOUTH, Virginia (Reuters) - A Virginia bill aimed at outlawing abortion by granting individual rights to an embryo died on Thursday when lawmakers returned the bill to committee, scuttling its prospects for this year.

The state Senate voted 24-14 to send the so-called "personhood" bill back to a committee to be taken up again in 2013.

Earlier this month, the Republican-controlled House of Delegates voted in favor of defining the word person under state law to include unborn children "from the moment of conception until birth at every stage of biological development."

No such measure has yet to pass both legislative chambers in any state, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America. Virginia, however, had been the third state where a personhood bill had been approved by a single legislative chamber, following North Dakota and Alabama.

Similar legislation failed last year in the Virginia Senate, which was then controlled by Democrats. The Senate is now divided evenly between the two parties.

The Senate's move came a day after another effort aimed at inhibiting abortions was dealt a crucial setback when Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, shifted his stance on the legislation.

That bill, which would require women seeking abortions to have an ultrasound, originally would have also required an invasive internal ultrasound when deemed necessary by a doctor. McDonnell backed off that amid large protests at the Capitol in Richmond.

An amended version, which at McDonnell's urging dropped the requirement for an internal procedure, passed the House but its future in the Senate is now clouded.

The personhood bill's prospects were also harmed by McDonnell -- this time by his refusal to signal whether he would sign it. "This cannot have been done without the consent, or tacit approval, of the governor," said Delegate Robert Marshall, a Republican sponsor of the bill in the House.

(Reporting By Matthew A. Ward; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Dan Burns)

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