Late last night (after 9:00), life advocates achieved a significant policy and historic victory when the Democrat controlled Virginia Senate concurred with the House of Delegates on Governor Bob McDonnell's budget amendment eliminating elective, taxpayer funded abortions by a dramatic 20-19 vote (see Washington Post Virginia Politics Blog)! Despite Icelandic volcanic eruptions, a pro-life senator's personal travel conflicts, and outright lies from pro-abortion legislative leaders and opponents, Virginia finally adopted provisions of the federal Hyde Amendment — enacted in 1982! — to de-fund state dollars from use in low-income, elective abortions. The Family Foundation and our pro-life allies have been working for decades to achieve this victory and, despite all odds, life triumphed. The amendment brings Virginia substantially in line with federal law that requires we pay for abortions only in the instances of rape, incest or life of the mother (see Washington Post). Prior to the governor's amendment, Virginia was one of only 17 states that funded elective ("health" of the mother) abortions. Other than in cases of "gross and totally incapacitating physical deformity or with a gross and totally incapacitating mental deficiency," this will no longer be the case (see Norfolk Virginian-Pilot). We gratefully thank Governor McDonnell for introducing this important pro-life amendment and all the delegates and senators who voted for it.
Here's how it happened:
The day began early in the morning as legislators and lobbyists flooded the capitol. While confident of a win in the House, the Senate vote was on a knife's edge. That chamber is almost evenly divided politically (22 Democrats and 18 Republicans), but with two pro-life Democrats. A 20-20 tie with would be broken by pro-life Lt. Governor Bill Bolling. But in something not remotely seen in anyone's memory, the Lt. Governor was stranded in Italy, after completing an economic development mission last week, due to the well publicized volcanic ash cloud — and tie votes kill bills and amendments.
To make matters worse, pro-life Senator Steve Newman (R-23, Forest), had a flight to catch on personal business and as session dragged on through the afternoon — mainly on technical amendments on non-budget bills — it became apparent he would have to leave before the vote on the elective abortion funding amendment came up. Another vote had to be found.
Meanwhile, the House did its part during the afternoon by agreeing to the amendment 64 to 30 (see vote here). It received bipartisan support — about a fifth of Democrats voting voted for it, including those from rural, suburban and rural areas.
Back in the Senate, the amendment (technically, "Governor's recommendation #91") didn't come to the floor until 9:00 p.m. Majority Leader Senator Dick Saslaw (D-35, Fairfax) unloaded one of his typical "Saslawstic" comments, firing full bore against the amendment. In a bizarre statement, and in contradiction to a legal opinion from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, opposition lawmakers claimed that if the amendment passed, state employee abortions would no longer be covered by the state health plan. But state employees cannot be reimbursed for abortion expenses anyway, so the claim is unfounded.
The one and only senator countering the deception was Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg), who articulately defended the amendment from the bizarre attacks and argued brilliantly for its passage. Then, in a moment that directly parallels the Bible story of Gideon’s army, where the odds of victory were logically impossible, the vote was taken — and when the electronic board lit up, the total read: 20 yeas, 19 nays! Joining pro-life Democrat Senators Chuck Colgan (D-29, Manassas) and Phil Puckett (D-38, Tazewell) was Senator Roscoe Reynolds (D-20, Martinsville) and the 17 Republicans in attendance. Long odds made longer with two key absences were overcome and the victory long sought by pro-life advocates was a reality (see vote here).
The Family Foundation would like to thank everyone who contacted legislators to encourage them to vote for this amendment. As the close vote shows, your voice was crucial in this success. We will post information in the coming days to assist you in thanking the important people who made this victory possible. In the meantime, we hope you will celebrate this monumental victory for life and truly meaningful change for the better.