RICHMOND, Va.—The fight over abortion rights will take center stage again in January when state lawmakers return to Richmond. The first bill filed for the upcoming General Assembly session is a measure that defines a human fetus as a person.
This isn't the first time Virginia lawmakers have seen "personhood" legislation. Manassas Delegate Bob Marshall has introduced the bill before, and last year it passed the House by a wide margin. The legislation has never made it out of committee in the State Senate, but this year the prospect of a Republican majority there could change the equation.
"Thomas Jefferson said all men are created equal, endowed by the creator with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," Marshall said Tuesday in a telephone interview. "Jefferson could have used the term born equal. He didn't."
Marshall says his legislation is consistent with The Declaration of Independence. It wouldn't outlaw abortion by itself, he maintains, but could lay the foundation for future restrictions.
Al Bedrosian is an abortion opponent, who says Marshall's proposal makes sense to him. "I think even science points out the fact that you've got a living human being inside of you," Bedrosian said Tuesday afternoon, "and so... quite frankly, i think this should be pretty easy."
On the other side of the debate, supporters of abortion rights say the bill is part of an "ultra-conservative agenda" intended to outlaw abortions. They say the legislation could have other consequences as well.
Jessica Honke is the Public Policy Director for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia. "It has ramifications for not only legal and safe abortion procedures, but also some forms of birth control and Plan B, the morning after pill," she said.
Honke says abortion rights advocates will work to defeat the legislation as they have in the past, but right now both sides say they are unsure of how the November elections will affect the debate. The ongoing dispute over power sharing in the State Senate will decide the make-up of committees, and could determine whether abortion restrictions find an easier path in the General Assembly next year.