Virginia Axes ‘Health’ Exception in State Funding for Abortions

The Virginia General Assembly has approved budget changes requested by pro-life Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell on Wednesday, which would prohibit state funding for elective abortions except in cases of rape, incest, fetal abnormality or when the life of the mother is in jeopardy.

The Republican-dominated House of Delegates approved the changes to the budget by an overwhelming majority of 64 votes in favor, 30 against, with 1 abstention. The Democrat-led Senate just approved McDonnell’s amendment narrowly by a 20-19 vote, with three conservative Democrats joining 17 GOP Senators in supporting the changes.

Sen. Charles J. Colgan (D-Prince William), Sen. Phillip P. Puckett (D-Russell), and Sen. William Roscoe Reynolds (D-Franklin) broke with their caucus to pass the governor’s amendment.

The amendment stops the state from having to reimburse Medicaid abortions justified for “health” reasons, and could potentially save hundreds of unborn babies from abortion per year. According to the Virginia Conference of Catholic Bishops, approximately 150 babies every year for the past four years have been aborted for “health” reasons.

Pro-life advocates were on edge for the Senate vote, because Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, the tie-breaking vote in the Senate, was stuck in Europe because of flights cancelled from last week’s volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland.

In fact, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia quipped on its blog that a “pro-choice volcano” was keeping Bolling delayed in Italy for the Wednesday budget vote.

Nonetheless, it was NARAL that erupted on Wednesday when the General Assembly approved McDonnell’s amendment. The Virginia chapter declared on their Facebook page: “The Virginia Legislature has let all Virginians down by approving the Governor’s budget amendment to deny Medicaid funding to women needing abortions because the pregnancy threatens the woman’s health, or in cases of severe fetal anomaly.”

However, NARAL’s latter claim is not true: McDonnell’s budget amendment only prohibits the health exception, as another Virginia statute requires the state to pay for low-income abortions when the unborn child has developed “severe or gross fetal abnormality.”

The Virginia Society for Human Life expressed gratitude to McDonnell for bringing “Virginia more closely in line with federal law, the Hyde Amendment, that requires Virginia tax dollars to pay for Medicaid abortions in cases of rape, incest and life of the mother.”

Olivia Gans, president of VSHL, told that the governor’s amendment will save the lives of hundreds of babies that would be aborted every year under the “health exception.”

But she noted that the amendment “does not completely bring Virginia into federal law,” pointing to the fetal abnormality exception.

“Unfortunately the governor was unable to prevent paying for abortion in the case of ‘gross fetal abnormality’ which is required under a pre-existing Virginia statute,” said Gans. “That requires going back to the General Assembly and changing that pre-existing statute.”

Gans indicated that the best shot for replacing the statute will be the 2011 Senate elections, when pro-life advocates could regain a pro-life majority.

She added that various sources, including the governor’s office, believe that the Virginia exception of “gross fetal abnormality” refers to only a few types of fetal abnormality that are “so gross or compounded that they fairly ensure that the baby cannot live outside the womb.”

“Our understanding is that this is an extraordinarily rare circumstance, but it is one which the governor’s office, the governor himself, along with all of us in the pro-life movement would like to see lifted as well.”

The evidence, Gans said, indicates that there were less than 30 abortions performed in the last 3-4 years that fit the criteria of “gross or fetal abnormality,” and that less disabled unborn children, such as those with Down’s syndrome, have not been construed to fall under that exception.

However, she added that in the interim the governor’s office is working on using their authority to narrow the interpretation of the statute’s definition of gross fetal abnormality in the Virginia Code in order to guarantee “conclusively” that abortionists do not attempt to contort that term to abort viable disabled babies in the womb.

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  • plowshare

    “According to the Virginia Conference of Catholic Bishops, approximately 150 babies every year for the past four years have been aborted for “health” reasons.”

    This is no indication of what the number would be if Medicaid funding were made available for “health” reasons. In fact, I am pretty sure the reason that 150 per year figure is so low is that women do not have to give any reasons for having abortions for which they are currently ineligible for government aid–but that would change radically if “health” were made grounds for this aid.

    Past history has shown that a huge majority of those cases where “health” was used to obtain either legal abortion (in the days before Roe v. Wade, when abortion was more restricted, or for post-viability abortions) or government aid or insurance payments for abortion, gave mental reasons, not physical ones.

    In fact, “mental health” covered even social reasons such as not wishing to miss out on a prom — in Kansas, where well over 150 post-viability (22 weeks or later) abortions were done per year before Tiller was murdered, and all done for reasons of “mental health”!