Could a Personhood Bill Pass in Virginia?
Delegate proposes a law defining personhood as beginning at conception.
RICHMOND – Now that Democrats no longer control the House or the Senate, Delegate Bob Marshall, R-Manassas, is hoping the General Assembly will pass his bill defining a human embryo or fetus is a person under the law.
House Bill 1 would provide 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 bill, which is before the House Courts of Justice Committee, says that this “personhood” status starts “from the moment of conception.”
Marshall, who is running for the U.S. Senate, said HB 1 is significant for several reasons.
“We have a situation in Virginia where a pregnant woman can be shot, and if you kill the baby, it’s feticide. But she can’t recover damages separately in a civil lawsuit,” Marshall said. “That’s kind of an anomaly.”
Democrats have criticized HB 1 as an attempt to revoke a woman’s right to have an abortion. In past years, when Democrats controlled the Virginia Senate, such bills usually died in the Senate Education and Health Committee.
“This committee kills all abortion bills,” Marshall said. “In 21 years, I have seen only one bill go through the Senate Education and Health Committee.”
But Marshall is hopeful this year will be different. The Republicans not only control the House of Delegates, but last fall, they won two previously Democratic seats in the Senate. Now the upper chamber is equally split between the two parties.
That increases the chances that anti-abortion legislation will make it out of the Senate Education and Health Committee and to the Senate floor for a vote.
“Right now, it’s a swing issue.” Marshall said. “There’s a swing vote in that committee, and I can’t predict which way it will go.”
Democratic legislators have been quick to voice opposition to HB 1.
Sen. A. Donald McEachin, chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, called the bill “an attack on women’s rights.”
Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, agreed. She said there is “overwhelming and legitimate concern” because the full ramifications of Marshall’s proposal have not been determined.
“The patron assumes many things with his legislation, in which the language is not consistent with scientific or medical terminology related to the process of becoming pregnant,” Herring said.
Herring said HB 1 could make certain forms of birth control illegal.
“It may outlaw some forms of the birth control which are FDA-approved, which in addition to acting as birth control also has uses such as treatment of endometriosis,” Herring said.
However, HB 1 states that “Nothing in this section shall be interpreted as affecting lawful assisted conception.”
Marshall said his bill is not detrimental to women’s health rights. He says that he doesn’t understand how his critics can say such a thing.
“As far as they know, roughly half of the kids aborted are females. How is saying that a mother can sue for the wrongful death of a female child an attack on women’s rights? They need to explain that.”