The make up of the Senate Education and Health committee changed dramatically after November's election, but the attitude of the majority of the committee toward reasonable pro-life legislation remains the same. This morning the committee quickly dispatched with three pro-family, pro-life bills that are Family Foundation priorities, all on 10-5 party line votes, with the Democrat majority prevailing each timeSB 437, patroned by freshman Senator Jill Vogel (R-27, Winchester), would require abortion clinics to be licensed by the state, and come under some form of oversight just as any other outpatient surgical center. This legislation has long been a pro-life priority.  Despite compelling testimony from one of Virginia's leading OB-GYN doctors on the disparity between how abortion clinics are treated compared to other medical facilities, the bill was defeated. Most interesting were statistics presented by an opposition witness from a women's medical health group, who claimed, "Abortion is the safest medical procedure you can have," and cited statistics on the procedure's safety; which is odd because reporting abortion facility statistics is not required in Virginia. If she was citing hospitals, that makes the case for licensure because hospitals are regulated.

Countering these arguments, in addition to Senator Vogel and the M.D., were a number of groups who clearly outnumbered the pro-abortion forces, including two college student organizations, Democrats For Life, Virginia Society For Human Life, The Family Foundation and the Virginia Catholic Conference.

Conservative Senator Steve Newman (R-23, Lynchburg), a committee member, cited that language in the bill the committee had strenuously objected to in past years was removed.  Additionally, a waiver was in the bill for facilities that couldn't immediately meet the proposed regulations. Senator Newman, chairman of the Senate Republican Caucus, also cited the bill's accompanying fiscal impact statement, asking, "If the bill is not needed, why is there a fiscal impact?"

SB 762, patroned by freshman Senator Ralph Smith (R-22, Roanoke), would prohibit forced or coerced abortions. Under the bill, any person who forces or coerces a pregnant female of any age to have an abortion against her will is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.  Some studies show that between 30 and 60 percent of abortions are coerced in some way. Senator Smith's bill also failed, despite a parliamentary effort by Senator Newman to amend the bill and refer it to the Courts of Justice Committee, where the committee ratio is 8-7.

SB 542, patroned by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg) would ban any provider of abortion services from providing information or course materials related to human sexuality or sexually transmitted diseases. In essence, Senator Obenshain's bill would de-fund Planned Parenthood and keep them from profiting by infiltrating our schools and teaching so-called "comprehensive sex education" where the word "abstinence" is rarely heard. (In fact, one middle school curriculum mentions "condom" 650 times and "abstain" 18.)

It is a conflict of interest for a group that openly works against abstinence education, which is the official policy of the Commonwealth, to get state contracts to teach it, and profit from it. Tellingly, when Senator Newman asked the Planned Parenthood representative if she would accept the bill if the section she testified against was removed, she emphatically said, "No!"

A similar bill, HB 1538, introduced in the House of Delegates by Delegate Brenda Pogge (R-96, Yorktown) was carried over for a year by the House Education Committee yesterday after concerns over the language of the bill were raised by several members of the committee.

On a positive note, the new Senate Education and Health Committee chairman, Senator Edd Houck (D-17, Spotsylvania) ran the committee in a professional manner, a vast and welcome improvement over the past chairman. Instead of allowing witnesses to be badgered and even ridiculed as the past chairman had, Senator Houck openly chastised members of his own party who began to cross the line of decorum. We appreciate Senator Houck's actions.

This is not the last time the committee will hear pro-life bills. After crossover the bills that have passed the House of Delegates will be debated in the Senate, including clinic safety, informed consent improvements and others.