Virginia Senate OKs undoing GOP-backed abortion restrictions

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The Virginia Senate approved legislation Wednesday that would undo restrictions on abortion put in place when Republicans controlled the legislature.

The new Democratic majority voted to roll back provisions including a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion and a requirement that women seeking an abortion undergo an ultrasound and counseling.

The 20-20 vote came after about an hour of heated debate. Sen. Joe Morrissey split with fellow Democrats and joined all the chamber’s Republicans in voting against the measure. Democratic Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who presides over the Senate, broke the tie.

Morrissey said in an interview that he personally opposes abortion as a practicing Catholic but doesn’t think it’s the government’s place to tell a man or woman “what to do with their bodies.” He said he opposed numerous provisions in the bill, including one that would allow nurse practitioners to perform first-trimester abortions.

Republicans argued that the measure would make abortions less safe and that the restrictions in place also protect unborn children.

“We’re fighting for people who can’t speak for themselves,” said Sen. Jen Kiggans, a nurse practitioner.

Supporters of the legislation said current Virginia laws are not medically necessary and make obtaining an abortion overly burdensome.

“It is a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion, and it is time to tear down the barriers set by the government that will restrict a woman’s choice,” Sen. Jennifer McClellan, the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement.

The bill, which is part of Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s legislative agenda, would also roll back strict building code requirements on facilities that provide abortions.

Wednesday’s vote came after the House passed a similar version of the measure a day earlier on a 52-45 vote. Each chamber still must pass the other’s version. Any differences would be resolved in a conference committee.

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