Informed Consent Heads for Passage in
Virginia after Long Battle
Pro-lifers in Virginia are elated that victory in a battle that began 22 years ago appears near.
A measure providing for "A Woman's Right to Know--Informed Consent" overcame a major hurdle February 6 when it passed the Virginia Senate 24-16. The Virginia House of Delegates passed a similar bill three days before on a vote of 64-34.
Each bill now goes to the other body, but since the informed consent wording is the same, further significant problems are not expected. Governor James S. Gilmore has given strong support to the issue and is certain to sign.
In his January 10 "State of the Commonwealth" address Gov. Gilmore said, "I support legislation to require informed consent and establish a 24-hour waiting period for abortion."
"Virginians recognize that no woman can make an informed choice in an informed choice in an informational void," said Louise D. Hartz, president of the Virginia Society for Human Life (VSHL). VSHL State Legislation Director Fiona Givens explained, "This Woman's Right to Know bill will empower all women in the Commonwealth who are considering abortion with the information they need to make an informed choice." The office of Senator J. Randy Forbes, chief patron of the Senate bill, has been deluged with over 23,000 letters and petitions from Virginia citizens expressing their support for this legislation.
Geline Williams, NRLCBoard Chairwoman and VSHLDelegate to the NRLCBoard, observed that, "Many Virgina women who had suffered because they had not been properly informed before undergoing an abortion sought this legislation. "Both houses of the Virginia General Assembly, she said, "are to be commended for listening to women and passing this legislation so that other women will not have to suffer because of the lack of proper information which has been routinely withheld by abortionists."
"Now who's against this bill?" Forbes asked, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "The abortion clinics are against it and their lobbyists are against it, and it's just like the Casablanca movie: At the end of the movie, instead of rounding up the usual suspects, they round up the usual excuses."
For the past three years, this legislation has passed the Virginia House of Delegates by substantial margins, only to be stymied in the Senate Education and Health Committee, a persistent graveyard for pro-life legislation. Last year, Gov. Gilmore even exercised his special prerogative by sending his own bill down late in the session in an unsuccessful attempt to have the bill assigned to a different Senate committee.
This year, however, a procedure was used in the Senate to accomplish the same objective. The Senate Rules Committee reassigned the informed consent bill to the Courts of Justice Committee. The vote in this committee was still very close, but the bill emerged on an 8-7 vote with all Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed. The bill will require, at least 24 hours before an abortion, that a woman be told the probable gestational age of the baby at the time of the projected abortion; be given a full medical explanation of the nature, benefits, and risks of and alternatives to the proposed procedures; instructed that she may withdraw her consent at any time prior to the procedure; and be offered an opportunity to speak to the physician who is to perform the abortion to answer her questions.
In addition, she must be offered the opportunity to review printed materials to be published by the Virginia Department of Health giving detailed information on alternatives to abortion, on scientifically accurate medical facts about the development of her unborn child, and on commonly employed abortion procedures.
Attempts were made on both the House and Senate floors to weaken these provisions and to remove the 24-hour waiting period, but all such attempts were rejected.
This issue has been active in Virginia since 1979 when the first informed consent bill was proposed. That bill was passed but only after it was substantially weakened to only require the abortionist to tell a woman of medical risks "if any" in her particular situation. Now Virginia is finally enacting provisions that were first proposed 22 years ago.