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Virginia Senate narrowly passes bill relaxing abortion laws after tiebreaking vote

The bill lowers standards for abortion facilities

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Democrats' efforts to use their new majority to change Virginia's abortion laws took another step forward on Wednesday after an abortion bill narrowly passed in the state Senate.

WRIC-TV reported that lawmakers came to a 20-20 tie on the bill, which was subsequently broken by Democratic Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax. The Associated Press reported that the tie was the result of one Democratic senator breaking ranks to vote with Republicans against the measure.

As National Review pointed out, the Senate's measure will remove Virginia's law requiring that women receive a "full, reasonable and comprehensible medical explanation of the nature, benefits, and risks of and alternatives to the proposed procedures or protocols to be followed in her particular case" prior to an abortion, as well as a requirement that women get an ultrasound before prior to the procedure. It also gets rid of a requirement that only doctors perform abortions and lowers health standards for clinics that perform first-trimester abortions, no longer classifying them as "as hospitals for the purpose of complying with regulations establishing minimum standards for hospitals."

In a tweet after the vote, the bill's sponsor — Democratic state Sen. Jennifer McClellan — criticized the targeted abortion restrictions as "unnecessary and onerous."

But opponents say the proposed changes benefit abortion providers while doing a disservice to women.

"Today, abortion industry controlled elected officials in the General Assembly voted to ensure that the industry's profit increases at the expense of women and unborn lives," a statement from the Family Foundation's Victoria Cobb said, WRIC reported. "Women making life-altering decisions deserve the dignity of a doctor giving her the best information available and no less expertise than when they obtain any other outpatient surgery."

A similar measure passed the state's lower chamber by a vote of 52-45 Tuesday. As for when the changes might be signed into law by the governor, a Democratic Senate aide told CNN that the two chambers will evaluate differences in each other's bills in order to reconcile them when they exchange legislation for consideration next month.

Virginia's abortion debate became the subject of national discussion after Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam's highly controversial remarks about a more extreme abortion bill proposed in the state legislature last year after the bill's sponsor said it would even allow for abortions to be performed during labor.

"If a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen, the infant would be delivered," Northam said in an interview last January. "The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that's what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother."

President Trump criticized Northam's 2019 comments at last week's March for Life in Washington, D.C. "We love the Commonwealth of Virginia," the president remarked, "but what is going on in Virginia?"

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