HAMILTON — As promised, Republican Del. Dave LaRock will be revamping an attempt to pass a bill banning abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation at next year’s state assembly in Richmond.
If passed, the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act would have subjected physicians to a Class 4 felony charge if they perform an abortion after 20 weeks, barring severe risks to the health or life of the mother.
The bill is founded on the disputed belief that fetuses can feel pain beginning at about 5 months old.
When this year’s General Assembly gathering wrapped up in February, the bill was placed in the Courts of Justice Committee for the 2017 session, which convenes for 30 days on Jan. 11.
LaRock — who represents the 33rd District of northern Loudoun County, Clarke County (including Berryville) and a chunk of northeastern Frederick County — said Wednesday he expects the bill will die in committee this year because of inaction. He called the deferment “a way of causing a bill to disappear quietly.”
He plans to file a new version if that happens. It would be his third try since first proposing a 20-week abortion ban in 2015.
“We have a new bill drafted,” LaRock said, noting it is modeled after a similar piece of legislation that passed in Alabama in 2011. To date, 14 other states have passed the same law.
The inspiration comes from legislation modeled by the National Right to Life Committee — a Washington, D.C., nonprofit associated with the Catholic Church.
That committee has sponsored legislation to curb abortion rights in states and at the federal level since 1967.
In January 2015, a 20-week pain-capable measure called the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act passed in the federal House of Representatives, but failed to pass in the Senate. A similar effort had been staged in 2013.
Proponents of pain-capable legislation are heartened by support in the House and the recent electoral election of Donald Trump, which they see as indications of national support for at least limited abortion bans.
Critics of pain-capable legislation argue that it is unconstitutional because 20 weeks’ gestation predates fetal viability. They also see it as part of the long-term Republican strategy to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling limiting government intervention in a woman’s right to an abortion.
The Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-health research organization, puts Virginia among the most restrictive states when it comes to abortion access. As of this year, women seeking abortions are required to undergo an ultrasound of their fetus prior to the procedure and must receive state-directed counseling. Public funding is available for abortion only in cases of life endangerment, rape, incest or fetal impairment.
State law requires that second-trimester abortions are restricted to licensed hospitals and third-trimester (27 week) abortions are legal only to save the life or health of the mother. First-trimester abortions are legal and can take place in a clinic.
It is unlikely Republicans in the state legislature would be able to get a pain-capable measure, or any additional restrictions on abortion, past Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who has taken strong stances against any new restrictions on the procedure.
McAuliffe is limited to one term, which ends next year. Republicans are hoping to win back the governor’s office and thus take full control of the state’s government.
At this year’s assembly, Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Upperville; Del. Chris Collins, R-Frederick County; and Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, all acted as co-patrons of LaRock’s bill.
Collins said Wednesday that state Republicans have been “working on that bill” for some time and he will continue to support it.
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