RICHMOND — A Senate committee on Thursday struck down a series of abortion measures designed to repeal some of the Virginia's anti-abortion laws and legislation to further restrict abortions, essentially leaving the issue at a stalemate.
The Senate Education and Health Committee used a procedural maneuver to quash measures that would have repealed the controversial mandatory ultrasounds before abortions law on a party-line vote.
Republicans on the committee also stopped measures that would have repealed new regulations for abortion clinics that would make them meet building requirements for hospitals, or at least exempt existing clinics from the new regulations.
The efforts went both ways as one Republican joined the seven Democrats on the committee to stop a bill that would have ended state Medicaid funding for abortions for women with fetuses deemed unable to survive if carried to term.
Sen. Ralph Northam, D-Norfolk, who is a pediatric neurologist, sponsored the measure to repeal the ultrasound law. Northam argued that lawmakers put in place a law that mandates doctors perform an unnecessary procedure — thereby inserting itself into the "sacred" relationship between physicians and their patients.
Victoria Cobb, president of the anti-abortion Family Foundation, said lawmakers should not repeal a "good law" they passed last year, noting that administering ultrasounds before abortions is "standard protocol" for most abortion providers.
Sen. Mark Herring, D-Loudoun, carried two measures dealing with regulations that mandate abortion clinics that perform more than five first-trimester abortions a year to meet the same building codes as new hospitals, known as the targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP).
The first measure sought to repeal the regulations altogether. The second bill would exempt the state's existing clinics. The state Board of Health approved regulations exempting those clinics earlier this year, but reversed the decision under pressure from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
Herring argued that it is normal practice to grandfather in existing hospitals when new building regulations are adopted, and that complying with the regulations would cause many abortion clinics to close their doors. He also pointed out that no other types of outpatient surgery clinics have to comply with the standards for hospitals.
Proponents of the TRAP regulations argued that state inspections by the Department of Health of many existing clinics found "widespread violations of health and safety violations."
Bringing back a measure that failed last year, Sen. Tom Garrett, R-Louisa, asked that the state's Medicaid program stop funding abortions for women whose fetuses have fetal abnormalities that would make it very unlikely they would survive once born.
Garrett said the bill was intended to keep abortions from being financed on the taxpayers' dime, and not about restricting access to abortions.
Northam pointed out that only seven such abortions were performed last year at a cost to the state's Medicaid program of $4,544.
Opponents of the measure argued that the law targeted "disadvantaged" women, who are unable to afford the procedure without the Medicaid funding.