RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Republican-dominated Senate committee narrowly killed a bill Thursday that would have barred state-funded abortions for poor women carrying mortally deformed fetuses.
But the panel blocked bids to repeal Virginia's year-old laws mandating pre-abortion ultrasound exams and to hold abortion clinics to the same architectural regulations as new hospitals.
On an 8-7 vote, the Education and Health Committee killed legislation to deny public funding for Medicaid patients whom doctors have told have little or no chance of delivering babies that can survive after birth.
The measure failed after Sen. Harry Blevins, R-Virginia Beach, who joined the committee's seven Democrats after hearing nearly an hour of often graphic testimony and emotionally freighted arguments.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Tom Garrett, R-Louisa, said it would not deny women access to abortion but conforms policy in Virginia to federal law by denying public funding for it.
"There's been much talk about the limiting of access" Garrett said. "I ask you at what point the term access became something paid for by someone else?"
Garrett said he was offended a year ago when an abortion rights backer talked about prenatal defects that were "tragically incompatible with life." The term, he said, evokes American "eugenics" programs in the 1920s that forced the sterilization of people deemed undesirable and Nazi Germany's genocidal pogroms a decade later in a quest for "the master race."
Against that emotional backdrop, dialogue between Garrett and the bill's Democratic critics — including Sen. Ralph Northam of Norfolk, a pediatric neurologist running for lieutenant governor — was often tense and biting.
"Do you know how many abortions were done in 2012 under this (law)," Northam asked Garrett, who guessed a range from 9 and 14.
"There were seven," Northam said. "Do you know what the cost, senator, to the commonwealth was for those seven abortions?"
"Enlighten me," Garrett replied tersely.
"It's $4,544," he snapped. "You made a comment, senator, that you would not be the judge of what is incompatible with life. I respect that, but would you agree that a physician such as myself could assess a fetus and determine whether that fetus was incompatible with life from a medical condition?"
"I reject the notion that one human being can judge what is and isn't compatible with life," the former prosecutor said. He claimed that under Virginia's law, Helen Keller could have been aborted at taxpayer expense, a contention Senate Democratic Leader Dick Saslaw vehemently rejected.
Witness testimony at times was wrenching.
Mike Dennehy, a father of 12, testified with his 8-year-old daughter Hope — one of eight adopted children, four of them born with afflictions that he said would have permitted their abortions. Hope was born without arms or legs.