“Personhood” Bill Fails in Virginia’s GOP-Controlled House of Delegates

Delegate Bob Marshall’s bill to begin the process of restoring civil rights for preborn children known as HB 112 was rejected by a vote of five to two in the House Courts of Justice Constitutional Laws subcommittee on Wednesday, February 10.

Delegates Albo (R-Springfield), Kilgore (R-Wise), Toscano (D-Charlottesville), McClellan (D-Richmond) and Watts (D-Annandale) voted no. Delegates Athey (R-Front Royal) and Jackson Miller (R-Manassas) voted yes. Delegate Miller moved to report HB 112 and Delegate Athey seconded the request.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli sent his Solicitor General to testify in support of passing HB 112 and to affirm its constitutionality. Attorney Rita Dunaway expertly fielded questions of Committee members. Attorney Pat McSweeney along with Delegate Marshall also testified in favor of HB 112.

The ACLU, Planned Parenthood and NARAL representatives testified against HB 112. Virginia Family Foundation (VFF) representatives were present but did not speak. The Virginia Catholic Conference (VCC) told the Committee that the bill’s purpose was acceptable, but they did not support HB 112.

Delegate Dave Albo cited the VCC’s position in his explanation for voting against HB 112. “Even the Catholic Church through its legislative affairs representative stated that “¦ the Church does not think this bill is the way to implement it. (See Black Velvet Bruce Lee (BVBL) political Blog (Comment 11 here) Delegate Kilgore in a 2/11/10 email told an HB 112 supporter that “The bill as presented was not even supported by the Catholic Church.”

Had delegates Kilgore and Albo voted for HB 112, it would have passed to the full House of Delegates! (The position of the two Virginia Catholic bishops and the Catholic Conference in not supporting HB 112 is in direct opposition to the testimony of four Catholic American Cardinals before the US Senate in 1974. The Cardinals said establishing legal personhood for preborn children was essential to outlawing abortion. For details, contact Del. Bob Marshall.)

Opponents to HB 112 claimed the bill would have adverse consequences, such as counting preborn children in the census, criminalizing miscarriages as homicide, outlawing birth control, taking income tax deductions for children before birth, or closing in vitro clinics, yet in the three states which have laws similar to HB 112, nothing like this has happened. HB 112, though not identical, was modeled after a 1986 Missouri law which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Delegates Albo and Kilgore both told Delegate Marshall and other HB 112 supporters Wednesday night at the hearing and later that had HB 112 contained the original Missouri language they would have supported HB 112. Delegate Marshall therefore had the Missouri language drawn up as an amendment the next day, hoping a Courts Committee member would offer the original Missouri language at the full committee meeting on Friday.

However, on Friday, February 12, no Republican member of the full Courts of Justice Committee brought up HB 112 in order to amend it, apparently because a Republican Caucus policy (applies only to Republican delegates) states that bills failing in Subcommittee should not be taken up by the full committee even though the Rules of the House of Delegates and Parliamentary Rules allow for such actions.

Delegate Albo noted that HB 112 did not stop even one abortion. Delegate Marshall explained that HB 112 was not introduced to outlaw abortion now. However, HB 112 challenged the two legal assumptions of Roe vs. Wade by affirming the humanity and personhood of preborn children, and providing a definition for a human being which the Roe Court said it was unable to do. However, HB 112 would require Virginia Courts to allow “wrongful death” suits for the parents of a preborn child who was killed. HB 112 would also create a public policy tension by questioning why some persons are not protected under Virginia law, and then later offering a direct challenge to the conclusion of Roe and Doe by outlawing abortion and providing for criminal penalties for doctors who perform abortions.

Delegate Albo wrote to a constituent on February 12, that HB 112 “is in violation of Roe vs. Wade.” This is not correct as the original Missouri language was upheld in 1989 by the US Supreme Court in Webster vs. Reproductive Health Services, which also affirmed Roe vs. Wade.

This fact was explained to Delegate Albo by attorney Rita Dunaway at a public hearing on February 10 and in a memo from Rita Dunaway sent to Del. Albo several days before the hearing. Del. Albo also wrote that HB 112 would make the Pill and In-Vitro clinics illegal, even though he was told that this has not happened in Missouri, Louisiana or Illinois which have similar laws, and the Dunaway memo pointed out this claim was false. Delegate Marshall also explained that a corpus dilecti, (dead body) is needed for proof of homicide, which would be impossible to produce by use of the Pill.

HB 112 provided rules of legal construction for statutes for Virginia Courts and state agencies to affirm personhood for preborn children. HB 112 could not be applied as a criminal statute because of constitutional due process requirements to clearly specify the elements of a crime.

Attorney Pat McSweeney (former Chair, Republican Party of Virginia) eloquently told the Subcommittee that it was unconscionable for legislators to duck the simple task of affirming personhood for preborn children and that legal definitions matter and have profound personal and social consequences. McSweeney pointed to the practice of German guards, who wrote on box cars containing Jews, the number of “sticke” which meant “pieces,” a dehumanizing label which allowed the Nazi’s to rationalize the killings.

Please ask your delegate if they support the original HB 112 or with the modified Missouri language. This personhood fight might not be over for 2010 just yet.

SOURCE: Delegate Bob Marshall