A message from Victoria Cobb, President of VA Family Foundation:
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Victory Alert: Abortion Center Safety Passes Senate On Lt. Governor Bolling’s Tie-Breaker Vote!
After a long and passionate Senate floor debate that spanned a few hours over two days, the Virginia Senate voted 20-20 this afternoon to direct the Board of Health to promulgate regulations for abortion centers. After a brief pause for the Senate clerk to announce the vote, Lt. Governor Bill Bolling cast his constitutionally authorized tie-breaking vote in favor of the bill. It now will go to Governor Bob McDonnell for his signature, who has long supported abortion center safety regulations. After more than two decades of hiding behind a veil of political secrecy, abortion centers in Virginia will face greater scrutiny and better health standards.
It was the first time ever that such legislation has even reached the Senate floor, despite numerous bills passed by the House. Each year, including earlier this session, the Senate killed the legislation in committee. But today, all 18 Republicans held together and two brave pro-life Democrats, Senators Phil Puckett (D-38, Tazewell) and Chuck Colgan (D-29, Manassas), resisted pressure from their caucus’ leadership.
While the session has gone according to script this year, with the House passing and the Senate Education and Health Committee killing pro-life legislation, a dramatic turn occurred only a few days ago, in the last days of session. SB 924, patroned by Senator Ryan McDougle (R-4, Hanover), passed the Senate and went to the House. There, Delegate Kathy Byron (R-22, Lynchburg), one of the pro-life leaders in the House, offered an amendment to add abortion centers. Liberals challenged its germaneness (whether the amendment fit the intent of the bill), but House Speaker Bill Howell (R-28, Fredericksburg) dismissed the objection and the House passed it overwhelmingly. That change required it to return to the Senate where the GOP caucus began to coalesce around the amendment. The vote was scheduled yesterday, but after a half-hour of debate it was passed by until today. Senate Democrat leaders pressured its two wayward colleagues but by the tenor of today’s 90-minute debate, it was apparent there were no cracks in the coalition.
Unfortunately, instead of offering logical or accurate arguments against the amendment, opponents demagogued the issue. At one point Senator Janet Howell (D-32, Fairfax) mocked Senator Mark Obenshain’s (R-26, Harrisonburg) recitation of federal court decisions upholding abortion center regulations, even though he was replying to her colleagues’ calls for proof of legal precedent. It prompted this exchange (see our blog.) Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-35, Springfield) told his colleagues to “get a life!” if they thought the bill was about anything other than restricting abortion, ignoring his own colleagues’ faux concerns for the Constitution.
Senator John Edwards (D-21, Roanoke) repeatedly claimed the bill was unconstitutional with wild assertions and vague stretches of case law (he was seen getting information from the ACLU outside the chamber), all of which were refuted by Senator Obenshain, who cited federal appeals and U.S. Supreme Court decisions. Senator Obenshain concluded by saying, “standing up and saying so doesn’t make it so,” and read from a court opinion which plainly disproved Senator Edwards’ assertions.
Several liberal senators predicted horrors such as back alley abortions even though states such as South Carolina regulate abortion centers with no such reports. They also claimed first-trimester abortions were among the “safest procedures” despite absolutely no corroborating evidence because there are no reporting requirements mandated in Virginia. Senator Dave Marsden (D-37, Farifax) even compared the bill to the poll tax and efforts to keep minorities from voting in the Jim Crow era.
Another desperate aspect of the debate was the demand by several liberal Democrats that Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli issue an opinion on the constitutionality of the amendment, perhaps the first time they’ve wanted his advice. Of course, it was a tactic to delay and kill the bill. Senator Edwards sarcastically said the Attorney General would love to defend the bill if it became law because of the other legal actions he’s pursued. But the fact was, and they knew it, he issued an opinion in August in support of the constitutionality of such regulations. He even accommodated Senators with a letter composed during a Senate recess – to confirm his previous opinion.
Opponents’ arguments, so twisted, inevitably contradicted each other, with Senator Howell’s unwitting admission that abortion is, in fact, used for contraception when she said the bill would take away one method of “determining the size of families.”
This was a monumental vote and a historic day. Advocates for, after years of pursuit, finally won a major pro-life victory, perhaps the most important victory since parental notification! Thank you to all who contacted their Senators on this important issue! We also thank the twenty Senators who voted for this important bill, as well as Lt. Governor Bill Bolling for the tiebreaking vote! There were also several Senators that spoke in defense of the amendment on the Senate floor, including Senators Jill Vogel (R-27, Winchester), John Watkins (R-10, Chesterfield), Steve Martin (R-11, Chesterfield), Mark Obenshain, Tommy Norment (R-3, Williamsburg), Jeff McWaters (R-8, Virginia Beach) and Bill Stanley (R-19, Franklin).
We now look forward to working within the regulatory process to ensure the regulations by the Board of Health ensure abortion centers are safe for women who make the unfortunate choice of abortion.