This month, Virginia’s Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed more than 100 bills into law following the state’s first General Assembly under his leadership. Following the 60-day winter session, bills approved by the April 11 deadline included several supported by the state’s pro-life lobby.
Youngkin signed an extension for safe haven protections and expanded education about infant relinquishment laws and the prohibition of requiring a surrogate to abort in some circumstances. Some pro-abortion laws were voted down before reaching the governor’s desk. Democrats in the Senate attempted to pass an assisted suicide bill but did not gain traction. Virginia’s law protecting citizens from euthanasia remains one of the strongest in the country.
After years of a pro-abortion majority in a legislature led by radical, anti-life governors Ralph Northam and Terry McAuliffe, pro-life Virginians had the House on their side but lost traction to the radicals in the Democrat-majority Senate.
Democrats Spiked Bill Protecting Babies from Infanticide
Democrats were so afraid of life-affirming legislation, leadership even pocketed a bill that would protect a baby who survived an abortion. It has gotten so radical in Virginia that Democrats won’t even acknowledge that babies who are born after an abortion procedure should not be killed.
Olivia Gans-Turner, president of Virginia Society for Human Life, called the death of House Bill 304 a “fascinating” example of the Democrat majority’s fear of any bill linked to the pro-life movement.
“There was hope that the Born Alive bill might get some traction because it doesn’t stop any abortion, the abortion has already taken place and unless it’s a dismemberment abortion, the possibility of a baby surviving is quite real,” Gans-Turner said.
Yet when it came to a vote in the House, not a single Democrat voted with a Republican on the bill.
Pro-abortion advocates “understand that acknowledging there is someone else involved in an abortion acknowledges that in abortion you are taking someone else’s life,” Gans-Turner said. “Members of the Democrats in Virginia have such a commitment to the abortion industry, who gives them money every year, they might actually support infanticide.”
“This should not be controversial, but the abortion industry opposes it, and therefore the Democratic Party opposes it,” said Del. Nick Freitas, the bill’s sponsor.
Big Losses, Small Wins
Pro-life advocates could not garner the Senate votes to pass the Pain Capable Act, protecting life after 20 weeks gestation, but the Born Alive bill may have passed if Senate leadership had brought it to a fair hearing.
“We knew the Senate wanted to kill it after the House,” Gans-Turner said. “As is customary with pro-life bills, the Democrats left it until the end of the session.”
And then the gamesmanship went a step further. Initially, Senate leadership kept the Born Alive bill from a hearing by “pocketing” the bill, an uncommon move in the Old Dominion’s Senate.
“There are certain traditions in Virginia’s Senate and one of them is that every bill gets a hearing,” Gans-Turner said. “Pocketing a bill is almost never done.”
On the very last Thursday of the meeting schedule, and the last official meeting of the Senate Education and Health committee, the bill was discovered to not be on the docket. Senate Republicans on the committee immediately demanded an explanation, which led to the bill’s revival.
Supporters hoped the bill would then be sent to the Judiciary Committee, where it would receive a fair hearing. Democrat Sens. Joseph Morrissey and John Chapman “Chap” Petersen sit on the committee and were considered wild cards for a pro-life vote. But Democrat Sen. L. Louise Lucas relinquished the bill to the Rules Committee, a kill committee for most Republican bills because it is stacked with Democrats.
“I was shocked that the Senate tried to ‘pocket veto’ the bill by simply taking it off the docket,” Freitas said. “Then they sent it to a heavily stacked committee where they knew it would die. … Democratic leadership in the Senate tried to kill it without even giving people a chance to testify.”
“If it got a fair hearing you might have had several Democrats, certainly Morrissey and Petersen and Lynwood Lewis, voting [in favor],” said Republican Sen. Mark Peake.
Petersen, a member of Rules, did vote in favor of the bill. Morrissey and Lewis do not sit on the Rules committee. “Senator Morrissey would have absolutely voted yes and Lt. Gov. Sears would have provided the vote to pass it,” said Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America.
Also unexpected this session, self-proclaimed pro-life Republican Sen. Siobahn Dunnavant flipped on a straightforward informed consent bill to oppose it. “When you are undergoing a procedure that will literally take another human life, I think the patient should be informed of that,” Freitas said.
In the House and the Senate, versions of the safe-haven expansion bills were carried successfully. Republican Sen. Frank Ruff Jr. and Del. Hyland “Buddy” Fowler sponsored and passed similar bills to expand the state’s safe haven timeline. Republican Del. C. Matthew Fariss’s bill directed the Department of Social Services to increase education about the law through an informational hotline.
Pro-lifers also celebrated the defeat of a state-sponsored authorization to kill bill. Democrat Sen. Ghazala Hashmi introduced legislation to legalize assisted suicide in Virginia, but the bill was defeated in the Senate and not heard on the House side. The safe-haven expansion law and assisted suicide bill would likely have had different outcomes under the previous governor and legislature, Freitas said.
Gans-Turner is convinced that Virginia’s next legislative election cycle and the Supreme Court’s ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson could determine the future of abortion bills. “Realistically, we must change the makeup of the Virginia Senate to pass a bill like the Pain Capable bill,” she said.
“The problem is not isolated within abortion law,” Freitas said. “The real problem lies in a culture that has been increasingly influenced by an industry that pushes abortion as if it is some form of empowerment. If we want a genuinely pro-life movement, it requires changes in the law, but more than that, it requires a shift in mindset within the culture.”
Although Virginia’s regular session is complete, legislators will reconvene in Richmond on April 27 to consider vetoes and amendments. Pro-lifers plan on marching around the capitol that day and rallying in support of life legislation, with Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears as a lead speaker.