RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — An effort to prohibit abortions in most cases after 20 weeks appears dead after Virginia Democrats rejected a bill and Republicans conceded the current makeup of the state Senate would keep it from passing.
On a 9-6 party-line vote Thursday, the Senate Education and Health Committee defeated legislation from state Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) that would have banned abortions in Virginia after 20 weeks unless the mother faces a risk of death or serious damage to a major bodily function.
Unless the measure is revived with an unlikely procedural step, the vote prevents the bill from going to the full state Senate, a closely divided chamber where one Democrat has previously voiced support for a 15-week ban.
Republicans in the Virginia House of Delegates predicted such an outcome when opting not to move forward with a similar bill sponsored by Del. Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper). Del. Freitas introduced the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” the same title as Sen. Chase’s bill, in January.
Del. Rob Bell (R-Albemarle), chairman of the House Courts of Justice Committee, confirmed to 8News’ Jackie DeFusco Thursday that he did not give Freitas’ bill a hearing due to the long odds it faced in the Virginia Senate. The Virginia Mercury first reported Del. Bell’s decision.
In a previous interview about his pain-threshold bill, Freitas said, “When a child can feel itself being aborted I do think it is reasonable for people to step in and say look, this is a line too far. You’ve had four or five months to make that decision with no restrictions on your ability to do so.”
On Thursday, Freitas declined to do an on-camera interview but told 8News he “looks forward to the pro-life legislation being considered” this session. He didn’t directly address Bell’s assessment that his bill wouldn’t get through the General Assembly and reach Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s desk.
Freitas has also introduced a bill that would require doctors performing abortions to take steps “to preserve the life and health of a human infant who has been born alive” during such a procedure. If passed, doctors who fail to do so could face a Class 4 felony. Each chamber has until Feb. 15 to finish its own legislative work before crossover.
In a statement responding the Senate committee’s vote on Thursday, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia Executive Director Jamie Lockhart said, “Like all abortion restrictions, this ban was designed to deny people power over their own bodies, lives, and futures and would have been devastating for patients. Planned Parenthood trusts Virginians to make their own decisions about their health care in consultation with their trusted providers – not politicians.”
Democrats hold a 21-19 majority in the Virginia Senate but state Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) has described himself as “unapologetically pro-life” and previously said he would back a bill that would ban abortions after 15 weeks, as long as it has exceptions for rape and incest.
Sen. Morrissey joined Republicans in 2020 to vote against a bill that removed rules requiring women to wait 24 hours and to get an ultrasound before getting an abortion.
The bill was approved in the chamber with a tie-breaking vote from former Democratic Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax. Republican Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears, who will break ties in the chamber for the next four years, signaled support for tighter abortion laws like one in Texas during her campaign.
Gov. Youngkin has repeated that he’s pro-life but that he supports exceptions in cases of rape, incest and where the mother’s life is in danger. The bills from Freitas and Chase do not mention exceptions for rape or incest.
Under current law, Virginia allows abortions during the second trimester — 14 to 26 weeks — and only after the second trimester in circumstances when three doctors conclude “the continuation of the pregnancy is likely to result in the death of the woman or substantially and irremediably impair the mental or physical health of the woman.” Most abortions are done well before the second trimester, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.