The Virginia General Assembly is positioned to pass a bill eliminating numerous abortion restrictions and allowing physician’s assistants, nurses, and nurse midwives to perform first-trimester abortions, a major expansion of abortion access in the state.

The House passed HB 980 on Tuesday, and the Senate is preparing for a vote on parallel legislation. The bill is expected to pass due to the Assembly’s historic new pro-choice majority in both chambers, a result of the 2019 election.

In addition to broadening the range of practitioners who may perform abortions, the bill eliminates mandatory pre-abortion ultrasounds and biased counselling, the 24-hour waiting period, and the requirement that clinics meet building code standards for hospitals. The bill does not eliminate the requirement that patients provide written consent for abortions.

The legislation is a rollback of decades of anti-abortion restrictions backed by conservative state legislators. Currently, only eight percent of counties in Virginia have abortion clinics, and abortion restrictions targeted by HB 980 and SB 733 have survived previous legal challenges. In a 2019 ruling, a Virginia federal judge upheld laws requiring abortions to be performed by a licensed physician and mandating a medically unnecessary ultrasound and a 24-hour waiting period prior to an abortion.

Advocates hope that with this new legislation Virginia can become a pro-choice stronghold for people from bordering conservative states seeking abortions, particularly if the U.S. Supreme Court weakens or overturns Roe v. Wade and its guarantee of a national right to abortion.

The Senate bill was introduced by Senator Jennifer L. McClellan, who, in 2010, was the first pregnant delegate to participate in a Virginia legislative session.

Source: Rewire News 1/27/20; Richmond Times-Dispatch 1/23/16; Voice of America 1/8/20; WAMU 1/27/20; WHSV 1/28/20

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