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Abortion bills bring mixed results

RICHMOND—The state Senate on Tuesday voted to repeal the requirement that a woman undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion, but apparently did so by accident.

The bill failed, 18–22, on its first vote. But someone had voted wrong. So they did it again. This time the vote was 20–20: Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam broke the tie in favor of the bill, so it passed.

But Sen. Chuck Colgan had mistakenly voted for the bill this time. Lawmakers proposed an unusual third vote, which would require unanimous consent. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mamie Locke, refused.

So the bill has passed the Senate, barely and unintentionally, and will now go to the House, where it is almost certain to fail.

The Senate failed to pass—also by a 18–22 vote—a bill that would have lifted a ban on coverage of abortion in health insurance plans sold through the federal health insurance exchange.

Both bills would not have made it to the full Senate under Republican control. But Democrats gained control of the chamber, and committees, two weeks ago.

Nevertheless, it was conservative Democrats like Colgan who voted down the insurance coverage bill and would have voted down the ultrasound bill.

Locke, D–Hampton, said the ultrasound requirement, passed two years ago, was “a measure intended to shame, judge and delay a woman’s access to the health care that she seeks.”

She said those who believe in limited government should support her bill, since it would remove government from “the business of mandating unnecessary medical procedures.”

Sen. Dick Black, R–Loudoun, said that many abortion clinics already require ultrasounds before abortions, and said the state law wasn’t an inconvenience to anyone.

“It’s easy for men to say it’s much ado about nothing,” Locke said. “They don’t have to undergo a state-mandated procedure.”

On the lifting the ban on coverage for abortions in exchange insurance plans, lawmakers debated whether the current ban had precedent—since state law already mandates insurance coverage of a number of conditions—or not, since none of those mandates specifically ban coverage of a procedure.

Sen. Dick Saslaw, D–Fairfax, told lawmakers it’s a matter of time before another court ruling stops such infringements on abortion rights.

“[It] just is nobody’s darned business except that woman and the doctor who performs it,” Saslaw said.

Chelyen Davis: 804/343-2245