One bill, Republican Del. Bob Marshall's House bill 1, would define personhood at conception and "provides that unborn children at every stage of development enjoy all the rights, privileges, and immunities available to other persons, citizens, and residents of the Commonwealth." The second bill requires that women be required to undergo an ultrasound procedure prior to having an abortion.
The personhood bill, which passed by 66-32 in the Virginia state House, does not ban abortions, the legality of which are protected under the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade. It would, however, make illegal certain types of contraceptive measures, including emergency contraception. Women's health advocates say it could also open the door to banning birth control pills and intrauterine devices (IUD).
Opponents of the personhood bill decry the legislation for curbing women's rights to contraception, and argue that the bill is meant to serve as a "trigger ban," which would make abortion illegal immediately in the event that Roe V. Wade is overturned.
"The General Assembly is dangerously close to making Virginia the first state in the country to grant personhood rights to fertilized eggs," said Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, in a statement.
Democratic Virginia Delegate Charnielle Herring, an outspoken opponent of the two bills, called the bill "an attack on women's health."
In an interview with Hotsheet, Keene argued that, beyond the potential ideological questions associated with granting a fertilized egg the same rights as people, passing the bill would yield immediate practical consequences that "we can't even fathom at this point."
Keene noted that there are more than 25,000 references to the word "person" in the Virginia legislative code, and that applying all of the laws pertaining to "persons" to all existing fertilized eggs would inevitably become complicated.
She pointed to an example in which a couple undergoing in vitro fertilization successfully becomes pregnant without using as many eggs as were fertilized in the procedure. Those additional eggs would thus be considered "persons," and the couple could use exploit those "persons" to get additional tax breaks, she argued.
Herring also argues that the personhood bill is being used as a tool by Republicans to "lay the groundwork" for overturning Roe v. Wade.
"The government has no place mandating procedures," she told Hotsheet. "We're legislators, we're not physicians."
One issue that has come under the microscope with relation to the ultrasound bill is its requirement that some women undergo a transvaginal ultrasound probe, which is considered more physically invasive than other procedures.
While the bill does not explicitly mandate the use of transvaginal ultrasounds, many women would inevitably be required to undergo them; in the early stages of pregnancy, that procedure is often the only form of ultrasound that can detect a fetus' heartbeat.
Republicans argue that the ultrasound bill will protect women from complications during abortion procedures, and that providing a woman with the gestational age of the fetus is crucial to her "informed consent" to have an abortion.
"This may be the most important decision that she ever makes in her life. A tough decision. And we determined over a decade ago that we were going to ensure that a woman has a right to have all the information avail to her before making that decision," said Republican Delegate Kathy Byron, the sponsor of the ultrasound bill, in debate on the House floor.
The conservative Family Foundation also heralded the requirement as a necessary update to the Commonwealth's informed consent law, providing "modern technology, ensuring that a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy and considering abortion has as much information as possible available to her."
Keene, conversely, argues the requirement is a way to "shame women and try to convince them to change their minds and not have a procedure they've probably already thought long and hard about."
The two bills have already become a hot-button issue for some political candidates in the state, and could gain prominence on the national stage if they are signed into law.
Former Democratic Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, who is running against Republicans George Allen and Marshall for the state's open Senate seat in 2012, decried the personhood bill as "reckless," and challenged Allen to publicly embrace it.
According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Allen on Wednesday affirmed his support for the bill.
"This measure is about protecting innocent unborn life. If a criminal hits a pregnant mother injuring or killing the unborn child, then there would be a cause of action for that child as well," said Allen spokeswoman Katie Wright.
"Democrats are desperately trying to make this a battle over contraceptives. As George Allen has often said he is opposed to the government prohibiting or banning contraceptives - and this bill doesn't do that," she added.
The Virginia state Senate has already passed an ultrasound bill, and Republican Governor Bob McDonnell is expected to sign the legislation when it lands on his desk. He does not have a formal position on the personhood bill.
The Virginia state Senate is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats; Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican, would be the tie-breaking vote on the personhood bill if members voted along party lines.
When asked Tuesday whether or not he knew how he would vote on the issue, Bolling said he did not, according to the Times-Dispatch.
Delegate Herring said that if the governor were to sign the personhood bill, it would show "just how far [Virginia Republicans] are willing to go to infringe on a woman's right to choose."
This article has a little more detail about the ultrasound bill:
The bills passed over bitter yet futile objections from Democrats. And one GOP delegate caused the House to ripple when he said most abortions come as "matters of lifestyle convenience."
Del. Bob Marshall's House Bill 1 on personhood at conception passed on a 66-32 vote. And on a 63-36 vote, the House passed a bill that requires women to have a "transvaginal ultrasound" before undergoing abortions.
Opponents said the bills were unprecedented intrusions into the prerogatives and decisions not just of pregnant women but of women trying to avoid conceiving.
"The General Assembly is dangerously close to making Virginia the first state in the country to grant personhood rights to fertilized eggs," said Tarina Keene of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.
Marshall's bill for years had passed the conservative House only to bog down and die in a moderate Senate. This time, it stands to survive a Senate under new conservative control after last fall's election stripped the Democrats of power. Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, a socially conservative Roman Catholic, has said he will sign the ultrasound bill, but has taken no position on Marshall's personhood bill, said his spokesman J. Tucker Martin.
Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, speaks on... View Full Caption
The ultrasound legislation would constitute an unprecedented government mandate to insert vaginal ultrasonic probes into women as part of a state-ordered effort to dissuade them from terminating pregnancies, legislative opponents noted.
"We're talking about inside a woman's body," Del. Charnielle Herring, a Democrat, said in an emotional floor speech. "This is the first time, if we pass this bill, that we will be dictating a medical procedure to a physician."
The conservative Family Foundation hailed the ultrasound measure as an "update" to the state's existing informed consent laws "with the most advanced medical technology available."
The debate over the ideologically divisive issue evoked some of the sharpest exchanges of the 2012 legislative session.
Del. Joseph Morrissey, the House Democrats' sharp-tongued point man, was twice rebuked by House Speaker Bill Howell for calling the GOP majority hypocritical in advancing the abortion bills then contending the state has no business urging young girls to be vaccinated against a virus that can later cause cervical cancer.
Del. Eileen Filler-Corn said the bill would make reproductive rights in Virginia more restrictive than states of the Deep South. In fact, she contended, it would restrict access to contraception.
"I cannot sit quietly today and do nothing while this body decides what rights will be stripped away from my daughter and others in regard to their own health," said Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax. "I do not want to see a day when the only option for women and men to obtain the contraception of their choice is to leave our state and go to (Washington,) D.C. or to Maryland."
She also noted that similar measures, when put to recent referendums, had been rejected by voters in Colorado in 2008 and again in 2010, and by Mississippians last fall. "Did I say that that was Mississippi?"
Republicans said opponents of both bills were alarmists who had exaggerated the consequences.
No comment provoked more surprise than that of Del. Todd Gilbert in diminishing the gravity of the decision to have an abortion.
"We hear the same song over there. The very tragic human notes that are often touched upon involve extreme examples," said Gilbert, R-Shenandoah. "But in the vast majority of these cases, these are matters of lifestyle convenience."
A murmur rippled across the House chamber as members reacted to Gilbert's words.
In a statement Tuesday night by Gilbert's office, the delegate sought to mitigate the furor his words caused. He called abortion a "sad and deeply serious occurrence."
Del. Kathy Byron, R-Campbell, speaks on her... View Full Caption
"I recognize that few women undergo the procedure lightly. It leaves scars, both mental and physical, that can last forever. I regret that my comments earlier today ... were insensitive to that reality," he said.
The bills now go to the Senate, which has passed Sen. Jill Vogel's companion to Del. Kathy Byron's ultrasound measure. There is no Senate mirror legislation to Marshall's personhood bill, which prescribes criminal penalties for those who would violate its provisions, but Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, won passage Tuesday of a measure that would permit wrongful death civil lawsuits against those who kill a fetus.
The bills have passed in the House, so now they have to go through the Senate, and quite honestly it sounds like they'll make it. Personally, I was quite disturbed after finding out about this. I don't live there, but my heart goes out to the Virginians who oppose this.