News Abortion

Virginia Senate Passes Bill Repealing Mandatory Ultrasound Law

Emily Crockett

The bill passed the state senate on a tie-breaking vote from the lieutenant governor, while a bill repealing a ban on insurance coverage for abortion failed.

The Virginia senate narrowly passed a pro-choice bill Tuesday that would repeal the state’s medically unnecessary mandatory ultrasound law.

Women—and men—from across Virginia have been clear: they’re done with politically motivated bills that attack women’s health,” said Cianti Stewart-Reid, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, in a statement. “Those Senators who stood with women today and voted to repeal the medically unnecessary ultrasound requirement have shown they understand the will of Virginia voters.”

The bill, SB 617, initially failed to pass on an 18-22 vote, but was reconsidered and received a 20-20 tie vote. Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam broke the tie in favor of the bill.

Leading medical organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, oppose mandatory diagnostic tests that are unnecessary and add to the expense of abortion care.

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Another pro-choice bill, SB 618, failed in the senate Tuesday on an 18-22 vote. That bill would have repealed a law that forbids insurance providers on the federal exchanges from covering abortions. The two bills are part of the Virginia Pro-Choice Coalition’s “Healthy Women, Healthy Families” agenda, which seeks to proactively protect women’s health and gain back lost ground on that issue.

The ultrasound repeal now moves to the Republican-dominated state house.

News Health Systems

Virginia Governor Stops ‘Out of Touch’ Effort to Defund Planned Parenthood

Nicole Knight Shine

Gov. Terry McAuliffe said the GOP funding restrictions were likely unconstitutional and noted that federal courts have struck down similar laws in North Carolina and Texas.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) on Tuesday vetoed legislation to defund Planned Parenthood, thwarting the latest GOP-led attempt to gut reproductive health-care services.

HB 1090 would have prevented the Virginia Department of Health from issuing grants or contracts with organizations that provide abortion care, except for licensed hospitals. The bill, sponsored by Delegate Ben Cline (R-Rockbridge County) carved out exceptions for providers who perform procedures in cases of rape, incest, fetal anomaly, or in cases of life endangerment.

The legislation had cleared the house in a 64-35 vote and the state senate 21 to 19. Republicans dominate the state house and have a two-seat edge in the state senate.

“This bill, aimed at Planned Parenthood, would harm tens of thousands of Virginians who rely on the health care services and programs provided by Planned Parenthood health centers by denying them access to affordable care,” McAuliffe said in a statement issued Tuesday following the veto.

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“They are out of touch with women, with health care providers, and with Virginia families,” McAuliffe said of legislators who supported the Republican bill, according to the Virginian-Pilot.

McAuliffe said the measure would have outlawed contracts between the health department and the nonprofit Virginia League for Planned Parenthood, which conducts at its facilities about 500 annual tests for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

The state health department has two contracts with Planned Parenthood totaling $26,200, as the Virginian-Pilot reported. The contracts are for STI education and testing.

fiscal impact statement prepared by the state Virginia Department of Planning and Budget indicated the measure had the potential to “increase the rates of sexually transmitted disease, increase health care costs resulting from undiagnosed disease, and lead to increased cases of ophthalmic gonorrhea/chlamydia in the newborns of infected women.”

McAuliffe said the GOP funding restrictions were likely unconstitutional and noted that federal courts have struck down similar laws in North Carolina and Texas.

The measure was the latest salvo in a Republican-led campaign to strip Planned Parenthood of funding, after a series of deceptive, covertly recorded videos by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) purported to show the health-care provider illegally trafficking in fetal tissue. Two key figures from the anti-choice front group, which has worked closely with Republican lawmakers, now face charges related to the discredited smear videos.

Twenty states have either cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing or declined to investigate the health-care organization.

Republican lawmakers, however, remain undeterred. An ongoing congressional investigation is now subpoenaing the names of doctors, patients, and clinic staff in what Democratic leaders have called a “dangerous witch hunt.” Congressional Republicans have tried repeatedly to defund Planned Parenthood.

In 2015, 11 state legislatures introduced, passed, or enacted measures to gut funding of health-care providers like Planned Parenthood, the Guttmacher Institute found.

The Guttmacher analysis shows that defunding Planned Parenthood could seriously curtail health-care access. Planned Parenthood sites are the sole safety-net family planning center in one-fifth of counties in which they are located. Planned Parenthood health centers serve at least half of those obtaining birth control from safety-net health centers in two-thirds of the 491 counties where they are located.

News Abortion

GOP-Controlled Virginia Senate Committee Defeats Pro-Choice Bills

Nina Liss-Schultz

A Virginia Senate committee last week defeated three bills that would have improved access to abortion in the state.

A Virginia Senate committee last week defeated three bills that would have improved access to abortion in the state.

All three bills would have struck down current Virginia law. SB 733 would have repealed the state law requiring patients undergo a transabdominal ultrasound before getting an abortion, while SB 920 would have removed the part of the ultrasound law requiring that it be given 24 hours prior to the abortion.

“As an administrator of three women’s health centers in the Commonwealth, I have witnessed first-hand the barriers that Virginia’s mandatory ultrasounds and 24 hour waiting period requirements have on Virginia women and the doctors that serve them,” Jill Abbey, administrator of the Richmond, Roanoke, and Charlottesville Medical Centers for Women, said in a statement. “Our patients are often forced to return to our facility as many as three times before accessing an abortionwhich can mean additional travel expenses, child care costs, and time off work.”

A third bill, SB 769, would have repealed a Virginia law banning the coverage of abortion in health insurance plans sold through the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges.

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These bills were among six pro-choice pieces of legislation introduced in the state this session. The state senate introduced four reproductive-related bills, including the three defeated last week. The fourth, SB 1277, was defeated earlier in January.

Virginia’s legislature includes a slim 21-19 GOP state senate majority and a 68-34 Republican advantage in the house.

Meanwhile, several anti-choice bills are moving forward in the state, including one that would ban abortion after 20 weeks post-fertilization.