Virginia could soon be joining New York in repealing restrictions on abortion, including terminations up until the moment of birth, under the provisions of a bill backed by Governor Ralph Northam and a substantial number of Democratic lawmakers.
The Repeal Act, introduced as HB2491 by Delegate Kathy Tran (D-Springfield), would repeal restrictions on third trimester abortions, allow abortion doctors to self-certify the necessity of late term procedures, eliminate informed consent requirements, repeal abortion clinic health and safety standards, permit late term abortions to be performed in outpatient clinics, remove ultrasound requirements, and eliminate Virginia’s 24 hour waiting period.
Tran’s Repeal Act received its first subcommittee hearing on Monday, in which the legislation’s sponsor confirmed that the bill would apply to controversial late term procedures, similar to the legislation signed recently by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Under questioning from a House subcommittee, Tran said third trimester abortions would face substantially fewer restrictions.
“How late in the third trimester could a physician perform an abortion if he indicated it would impair the mental health of the woman,” asked subcommittee chairman Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah).
“Through the third trimester,” responded Tran. “The third trimester goes all the way up to forty weeks.”
Tran also clarified that abortion procedures would be allowed up until the end of a woman’s pregnancy.
“I don’t think we have a limit in the bill,” added Tran.
In response to a question from Gilbert, Tran also suggested that partial birth abortions would be subject to the bill’s repeal of existing restrictions on the procedure.
“Where it’s obvious that a woman is about to give birth, that she has physical signs that she is about to give birth, would that still be a point at which she could request an abortion if she was so certified?” Gilbert asked.
“She’s dilating,” he continued. “I’m asking if your bill allows that.”
Tran responded that it would.
“My bill would allow that, yes,” she affirmed.
Upon further questioning, Tran explicitly addressed the hypothetical case of aborting a healthy infant, one week before the mother’s due date, on grounds of mental health.
“I certainly could have said a week from her due date and that would have been the same answer, correct?” continued Gilbert.
“That it’s allowed in the bill? Yes,” responded Tran.
Also at issue was the bill’s proposal to change the standard under which third trimester abortions may be performed in Virginia.
Under current law, third trimester abortions require the certification of two independent doctors, who each must verify that the continuation of the pregnancy would “substantially and irremediably impair the mental or physical health of the woman.”
Tran’s bill would substantially relax that standard, removing the words “substantially and irremediably,” allowing the doctor performing the abortion to self-certify the procedure which he or she will perform, without a second opinion, even in cases where a healthy infant could be delivered without risk of physical harm to the woman.
Upon questioning from the committee, Tran confirmed that was the intent of her bill.
“You do acknowledge that you substantially change the standard, by removing a couple words here, correct?” asked Gilbert. “Line eighty, you are changing the standard under which the judgement call is made.”
“Yes, I’m aware,” responded Tran. “I’m changing the standard, yes.”
As the hearing continued, committee members asked the bill’s sponsor to clarify which mental health conditions could be used to justify abortions until the moment of birth.
Tran was unable to provide a response.
“What type of mental health conditions would you anticipate would be utilized by physicians under these circumstances to determine that a child that is otherwise viable is worthy of an abortion?” asked Gilbert, as the questioning continued.
Hesitating, Tran declined to cite a condition, saying she was not a physician, but did clarify that no special mental health training would be required for doctors making such certifications.
The mental health issue was highlighted as a potential loophole allowing late term abortion on demand by Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation, a Virginia group which advocates for socially conservative policy positions.
“The most egregious part of this bill is that it would vastly widen the narrow rationale where our law allows a third trimester abortion, by no longer requiring that a woman’s physical or mental health be ‘substantially and irremediably impaired’ by the concurrence of three doctors.”
“This bill creates abortion, virtually on demand, up until the point of birth.”
The committee also inquired which conditions might require that a third trimester abortion be performed upon an otherwise healthy and deliverable infant in order to protect the physical health of the mother.
“Is there any commonly accepted medical decision to terminate the pregnancy in the late term, rather than deliver the child, if the mother’s health or life is actually in danger?” asked Gilbert.
Tran did not cite any examples before turning the microphone over to a lobbyist from NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, who was also unable to cite a case with specificity, responding only that she believed such an example happened in Ireland.
Chairman Gilbert was less than impressed with the lack of medical answers.
“Well we’re talking about a lot of physician stuff here and nobody appears to know the answer, and the doctors aren’t here, so it would have been helpful, maybe, to have those questions answered,” Gilbert said in closing.
Following the hearing, the subcommittee voted on party lines to recommend that the bill be laid on the table, though that decision is not binding on the full committee.
While the bill is not expected to pass this year, it represents a policy vision embraced by top Democrats, including Governor Ralph Northam, Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax, Attorney General Mark Herring, and a host of lawmakers, should Democrats succeed in winning legislative majorities in this fall’s elections.
Democrats have said this bill would be a priority if they should take the majority.
Currently, Republicans control the House of Delegates and the Senate of Virginia by razor-thin margins of 51-49 and 21-19, respectively.
“So when can’t change peoples minds, we need to change seats,” said Governor Northam, speaking to the upcoming November elections at a press conference earlier in January.
Watch highlights from the committee hearing below, in longer form than the summary above.