HB 963 was carried over by House committee after anti-abortion advocates opposed exemptions for mental health, fetal anomaly in already-extreme bill

Richmond, VA – This afternoon, the Virginia House of Delegates’ Courts of Justice Committee failed to advance HB 963, a bill aimed at banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy and undermining Roe v. Wade.

Earlier in the week, the original version of this extreme bill was reworked in the Constitutional Law subcommittee in an attempt by anti-abortion lawmakers to make it more “constitutional” – a move deemed unsuccessful throughout Wednesday’s hearing by several lawyers, including a representative of Attorney General Mark Herring.

The updated bill carved out extremely narrow exceptions to the ban for women who faced mental health crises while pregnant, women who would die without access to abortion, and women whose pregnancies were judged to be completely incompatible with life. Anti-abortion advocates took issue with what they deemed a “bill full of loopholes,” testifying in subcommittee that women would “claim mental health issues” just to access abortion.

Both before and after the subcommittee’s changes, Virginia women, medical professionals, and reproductive health advocates packed the hearing room to oppose HB 963 for its attempt to take personal, private decisions out of the hands of women, their families, and their doctors. They noted that later abortion most often occurs in extremely complex and difficult circumstances where women and their doctors must have every medical option available.

Alicia is a military wife from Fredericksburg who shared her story of accessing abortion at 23 weeks of pregnancy following diagnosis of a severe fetal anomaly. If born, her daughter would have suffered immense pain for an unknown period before she died. Because this fetal anomaly was technically not “incompatible with life,” Alicia’s abortion procedure would have been banned under this bill.

As Alicia told the subcommittee members on Wednesday: “My abortion was performed at twenty-three weeks. I made the decision because I didn’t want my daughter to experience the torture of repeated heart attacks, strokes, and suffocation until she died. That is the very definition of pain. If you are truly putting aside your political affiliation… you will allow women and their families to be trusted – in conjunction with the information they receive from their medical providers – to make the decision of what is right for their situation.”

“We are deeply relieved that this dangerous and callous abortion ban failed to advance out of committee,” said Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia. “We are so grateful to the women who joined us to stand against this bill by bravely sharing their own stories. Their powerful stories are a reminder of the importance of leaving personal, complex medical decisions between a woman, her families, and her doctor.”

“But let’s be very clear: this bill did not fail because anti-choice legislators suddenly decided to respect the rights of Virginia women,” Keene continued. “It failed because – even though it was about as extreme as we’ve seen in Virginia – it apparently did not go far enough for extremists who are determined to ban all abortion outright in Virginia. This is the reality of the anti-abortion movement in the Commonwealth right now.

“These are the same politicians who have proposed over 75 measures to restrict access to safe, legal abortion since 2010 alone – and we know that, despite today’s victory for women, they will not stop. NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia was proud to fight against this bill, and we will continue to stand against any measure that would restrict women’s access to reproductive health care, including abortion.”

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Contact:  Alena Yarmosky, alena@naralva.org (240-595-2972)

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