By Olivia Gans Turner, President, Virginia Society for Human Life (VSHL)
Odd year sessions at the Virginia General Assembly are often described as a Demolition Derby, a high-speed car race, or like drinking from a fire hose. All accurate descriptions of the madness that comes with these short legislative sessions in Virginia’s off year election cycles.
The 2023 session was no different.
From day one on Jan 11th, a staggering number of bills moved rapidly through the committee process and were passed or defeated with surgical precision. Pro-life Virginians were kept on red alert with urgent reminders to contact their legislators almost every other day as the bills came up fast and furious.
VSHL tracked over 30 bills, both pro-life and pro-abortion ones. Some of the bills were never assigned to a committee or were not docketed, and some were pulled by their patron for various reasons during the session. All of this left us with a smaller number of bills to track but each one had great significance.
VSHL is extremely grateful to every pro-lifer who took the time to contact their legislators. We are particularly grateful for everyone who came to Richmond to attend Defending Life Day on February 1st. and the March for Life. Over 500 people came to advocate for life in the General Assembly members offices and later that day several thousand marched with Gov. Glen Youngkin. We make a huge difference when we are present!
The struggle to get any pro-life bills through both the chambers of the General Assembly was evident even before the session began. The Senate leader and Chair of the powerful Senate Education and Health Committee made it clear that she personally would ensure that every pro-life bill that was introduced this year would be summarily killed in the Senate. The Senator made sure of that even going so far as to joke about her efforts, tossing copies of the bills into a trash can for the benefit of her twitter account.
Gov. Youngkin had asked the General Assembly to pass a life-saving version of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. From the start of the session pro-abortion forces claimed (of course) that this compassionate bill was a total ban on all abortion. Their lies were echoed in the media and made it hard for pro-life facts about this bill which enjoys widespread support to get out to the public.
In the first week of the 2023 session, the Senate version of this bill, sponsored by Sen. Steve Newman, (R), was defeated after only ten minutes of public comment by the pro-abortion Senate Education and Health Committee.
As a result, the House version of the same bill was never heard. Other bills introduced by various Senators met with a similar fate.
On the House of Delegates side multiple good bills were introduced, each designed to provide greater protection to the unborn and their mothers. The House of Delegates currently has a pro-life majority which meant that there was good reason to expect that these bills would get passed there.
Four bills passed successfully out of the House, a Born-Alive Abortion Survivor Protection act, sponsored by Del. Nick Freitas, (R); a Women’s Right to Know Informed Consent bill, sponsored by Del. Karen Greenhalgh (R); a bill to fix Virginia’s Unborn Victims of Violence law; and a bill to create a website through the Virginia Department of Health to list free pro-life pregnancy support programs and services offered in Virginia.
Each of these bills passed along strict party lines with only Republican members voting for each of these sensible bills. Not one Democrat supported these bills.
Gov. Youngkin had also added an item in his proposed annual budget that would prevent to use of tax funds to pay for abortions of babies who have a serious disability. Under the state rules now Virginia’s Medicaid program goes beyond the Federal Hyde Amendment and does cover these types of abortions. Sadly, under the last two pro-abortion governors the number of abortions for the reason of disability has continued to go up.
While the House did vote for Gov. Youngkin’s budget item, the Senate did not. That means there will be a fight in the months ahead to create a budget. It may be resolved on Veto Day or in a special session later.
On a different, but equally important pro-life front, pro-life efforts helped to prevent the passage of a bill to undermine Virginia’s law that prevents physician-assisted suicide. That law protects vulnerable people from being urged to commit suicide if they are considered too old, too sick, or too disabled for more care.
Despite pressure from pro-suicide organizations, VSHL, working with many Virginia disability rights and medical groups, was able to stop a bill sponsored by Sen. Karen Greenhalgh (D) to make assisted suicide legal in Virginia.
“Right to Abortion” Amendment defeated
Nothing was more dramatic to watch during the 2023 session then the process to get a “Right to Abortion” Amendment passed. The amendment, if passed, would enshrine unrestricted abortion through all nine months of pregnancy, and wipe out all remaining pro-life laws in Virginia, did pass in the Senate. Several pro-life state Senators spoke out about the radical nature of the amendment but in the end, they didn’t have the votes to stop it. The bill’s sponsors, Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D) and state Senator Jennifer McClellan (D)–since elected to Congress–both stated clearly that unborn children don’t deserve protection because “they aren’t human persons until birth.”
A similar version in the House was defeated in the House Courts of Justice Committee and so was the Senate version. But pro-abortion delegates had plans to try and force a vote on the floor by changing the rules of the House of Delegates.
Over the course of the last five days of the session pro-abortion Delegates made speeches defending their position in favor of the radical amendment. They were met by pro-life speeches about the truth behind this dreadful bill. Pro-life members spoke powerfully about the unborn child and the fact that every abortion kills a baby and hurts a mother. Ultimately, pro-life Republicans blocked the rules change and defeated the Right to Abortion Amendment for 2023.
This doesn’t mean Virginians have heard the last of this dangerous bill. In fact, abortion and the right-to-abortion amendment will be a prominent part of the upcoming elections for every seat in the House and Senate.
Every Virginian must educate their friends about this radical Right to Abortion amendment. We must have a strong pro-life majority in both chambers to stop it going forward. Gov. Youngkin has no part to play in a Constitutional amendment.
We have only seen the first round of this struggle to pass protective laws. We must be alert.