Several states are already considering legislation similar to Virginia's, said the bill's sponsor, Del. Robert G. Marshall. Warner, a Democrat, would support a ban on late-term abortions, but only if it could be upheld in court, said governor's spokesman Kevin Hall. The state attorney general's office has expressed doubts about the bill's constitutionality, but the office neither supported nor opposed it.
The Senate voted 26-12 Thursday to bar the procedure abortion foes calls "partial-birth" abortion. Abortion rights groups say the ban is an unconstitutional effort to block a rarely used procedure and restrict abortions.
The bill resembles a 1998 Virginia law that banned the late-term procedure. That law was voided by a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a similar Nebraska law as unconstitutional.
The new legislation allows the procedure only when a pregnancy puts a woman at serious risk of death or "irreversible impairment of a major bodily function." Women could not be prosecuted under the bill, but doctors who violate its provisions could be punished with fines up to $100,000 and 10 years in prison. "This bill is absolutely unconstitutional," said Bennet Greenberg, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia. Greenberg promised a court fight if the bill becomes law.
Marshall said the bill is defensible because it is much more specific than the law the Supreme Court struck down. The bill passed after it was stripped of a Senate Courts of Justice Committee amendment that would have granted doctors far more discretion over when to do the procedure. It would have allowed them to proceed if, in their "good faith medical judgment," they deem it necessary to protect the life and health of the patient.
The House passed the bill 75-25 in February, well beyond the two-thirds majority necessary to override a veto. The Senate's final 26-12 vote is one vote short of the number needed for an override if Warner rejects the bill.
Opponents noted that the last time the state enacted such a bill, it cost Virginia more than $160,000 in legal fees and court costs to defend a doomed measure. "The attorney general's office--let me repeat that--the attorney general's office said they had strong doubts about the constitutionality of this bill, so we attached this health (of the mother) amendment. Well, the amendment has been stripped off," said Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, D-Fairfax.