* Measure advances to state Senate
* Unclear if governor would sign measure
By Matthew A. Ward
PORTSMOUTH, Va., Feb 14 (Reuters) - Virginia lawmakers
took a step on Tuesday toward trying to outlaw abortion by
approving "personhood" legislation that grants individual rights
to an embryo from the moment of conception.
The Republican-controlled House of Delegates voted 66-32 in
favor of defining the word person under state law to include
unborn children "from the moment of conception until birth at
every stage of biological development."
The measure now heads to the state Senate, which is evenly
split between Republicans and Democrats but with Republican
Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling wielding the tie-breaking vote.
Republican Delegate Bob Marshall, an abortion rights
opponent who introduced the legislation, said the 1973 Roe v.
Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in the United
States would not have been rendered if Texas state law had
regarded the unborn as a person "in the full sense."
"So this is a first step, a necessary step, but it's not
sufficient to directly challenge Roe," Marshall said in a phone
A spokesman for Republican Governor Bob McDonnell said the
governor would review the measure if the Senate sent it to his
desk but did not give any insight into whether McDonnell would
sign it into law.
Virginia's approach differs from failed attempts to define a
fertilized egg as a legal person in Colorado in 2008 and 2010,
and in Mississippi in 2011 where voters rejected the measure.
Virginia's effort avoids involving a constitutional
amendment like those states, instead seeking changes throughout
the legal code, said Elizabeth Nash, public policy associate at
the Washington-based Guttmacher Institute, which studies
reproductive health issues.
But she said the intent was the same, with the measure
ultimately aimed at banning abortion, contraception and
"Should this bill become law, it could have a far-reaching
impact on women's access to health care," Nash said. "No state,
as yet, has adopted anything like this."
Marshall said the measure did not have the authority to ban
birth control or infertility treatment.
"Let's just say that the imaginations of the opponents are
fertile, but their arguments are sterile," he said.
Ted Miller, a spokesman for abortion rights supporter NARAL
Pro-Choice America, said state Republicans pushing the Virginia
measure had hoodwinked voters after campaigning on the economy
and jobs before last autumn's general election, when the
Republican Party gained seats in the General Assembly.
"That agenda is out of touch with the values and priorities
of Virginians, as well as Americans across the country," Miller
Similar legislation failed last year in the Virginia Senate,
which was then controlled by Democrats.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Daniel Trotta and Peter Cooney)
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