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Democrats seek a constitutional amendment for abortion access protections

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Democratic legislators are kick starting an effort to get a state constitutional amendment that would enshrine abortion access in Virginia's state code.

Constitutional amendments require the bills to pass the legislature two years in a row with an election in the House of Delegates in between. Than the amendment would go to voters in a state referendum.

With Republicans controlling the House of Delegates and Democrats controlling the Senate, movement on the process is to be determined. Bills on abortion access tend to fall along partisan lines, with most Republicans in opposition.

Should the efforts fail, Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, said at a Tuesday morning news conference, that her party won’t stop trying to get it through and the next possible time a referendum could happen would be 2026.

She is carrying the bill in the House of Delegates. Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, and Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, are chief patrons of the Senate version.

House Minority Leader Don Scott, D-Portsmouth, noted the “challenging journey” ahead for his colleagues to get their bill through the chamber, in which Republicans hold a 52-48 edge. In the meantime, he criticized Republicans in the House of Delegates for not yet reviewing the abortion banning-bills several have filed.

Abortion bills have so far been heard in subcommittees but none have yet to report to full floor votes.

Scott went on to echo the sentiment when the House convened at noon — accusing Republicans of not wanting to debate the contents of the bills following the election of Sen. Aaron Rouse, D-Virginia Beach. Protecting abortion access was a pillar of his campaign and he won election to a seat that was mainly held by Republicans in recent years.

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Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, fired back, adding that Democrats are not championing human rights if they are supporting abortions.

“I think that says something about us when we hold up as the pinnacle of rights, the ability to take an innocent human life for any reason,” he said.

Current Virginia law allows abortions for any reason through the second trimester. Abortions that occur later in the pregnancy are allowed if three physicians have signed off on it.

Freitas added: “ I too want to have the debate. I do want to discuss the bills that are coming before this body.”

House Speaker Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, issued a news release asserting that the proposed amendment would "remove all limits on elective abortion."

But the legislation indicates that only “compelling state interests” can prevent a person from having an abortion should the amendment be included in Virginia’s constitution.

Earlier in the day Herring said that each pregnancy is different and that the state legislature should not prevent the decision to have an abortion.

“The choice to have an abortion should never be politicized. It is each person's decision based on what's best for them,” she said. “Politicians should not be involved in someone's personal medical decisions about pregnancy.”

Charlotte Rene Woods (804) 649-6254

cwoods@timesdispatch.com

@CharlotteWords on Twitter

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