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Panel cuts off abortion funding


RICHMOND—A House of Delegates committee on Tuesday approved a bill that would cut off state funding for poor women seeking to abort fetuses that could be severely disabled.

House Bill 62, sponsored by Del. Mark Cole, R–Spotsylvania, would repeal the code provision that allows the state’s medical assistance plan to cover abortions in cases where a doctor has certified “that he believes the fetus will be born with a gross and totally incapacitating physical deformity or with a gross and totally incapacitating mental deficiency.”

Cole said his bill simply brings the state Medicaid plan into line with federal regulations.

But opponents—including several women who have had such abortions—said the state is depriving poor women of the ability to make the same choice they did, and that doing so will cost the state much more money in the long run, to care for severely ill children.

Stafford County resident Christie Brooks said she and her husband chose to deliver their third daughter early and stillborn, after doctors discovered the baby had a hole in her diaphragm that meant her lungs were unlikely to develop and all her internal organs had shifted into her chest.

It was a difficult emotional decision, Brooks said, and the cost of the procedure “would have bankrupted us” if she and her husband hadn’t had health insurance.

“I don’t think it’s right for the state of Virginia to just do the bare minimum for the women of Virginia,” Brooks said. “Are you going to look back and be proud that you took money away from poor women in desperate situations?”

Tara Schleifer of Haymarket cried as she told lawmakers about her and her husband’s decision to terminate her second pregnancy, after doctors said the baby had multiple developmental problems and would likely die before he was a year old, and that she herself could be at risk of dying if she carried the baby to term.

“You really feel that you would rather  be dead than to have to make these choices,” she said.

Schleifer said she and her husband made that choice because they didn’t want to subject their baby to painful medical procedures that might still end in his early death, nor did they want to cloud the life of their 2-year-old son with medical crises and parents who couldn’t fully pay attention to his needs.

“Each family follows their own conscience,” she said. “It’s very important these remain personal, private and medical decisions. None of this belongs in the legislature.”

Schleifer and others questioned whether Cole’s bill was a cost-saving measure, as they said the cost to the state to cover the health needs of a severely disabled infant would be far greater than the cost of ending the pregnancy—which the women who testified to the committee said ran into  thousands of dollars.

Saving money wasn’t the impetus of the bill, Cole said.

“People who believe this procedure is morally wrong are being forced to pay for it,” he said.

The bill had been heard previously in a subcommittee meeting, and there was no testimony from supporters of the bill.

The committee approved the bill on a 12–8 vote. It now goes to the full House for a vote.

Chelyen Davis:  804/343-2245