House GOP leadership scuttles bill to bar abortions after 20 weeks

By: - February 9, 2022 7:30 pm

Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, speaks on the floor of the House of Delegates in 2020. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Republican leaders in the Virginia House of Delegates say they don’t plan to consider legislation filed by a member of their party to ban most abortions after 20 weeks.

House Courts of Justice Chairman Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, said he decided not to give the bill a hearing because he believed it stood no chance of passing in the Senate.

“We don’t currently see a path for that bill to pass both bodies and reach the governor,” Bell said on Wednesday.

The decision also protects vulnerable members of the House GOP caucus, many of whom avoided the topic of abortion on the campaign trail, from going on record on the issue.

Currently elective abortions are permitted up to the 25th week of pregnancy, though the vast majority take place in the first trimester. The bill’s patron, Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, declined to comment.

Pro-life groups said they were not disappointed by the decision, even if they had hoped to see the bill advance.

“One has to be realistic. The Senate is an obstacle course for any legitimate, substantial pro-life legislation,” said Olivia Gans Turner, president of the Virginia Society for Human Life. “We have another year to wait before some changes occur in the Senate. And one hopes we will see a more pro-life Senate.”

While Democrats do hold a one-seat majority in the Senate, one pro-life Democrat in the chamber, Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond, had said he would support the 20-week ban and potentially go so far as to help Republicans with the procedural maneuvers necessary to get it to the floor.

Republicans, however, did not appear to take the offer very seriously and Bell declined to discuss Morrissey’s overtures.

“I’m not going to go into all that thinking,” Bell said.

Jamie Lockhart, who directs Planned Parenthood’s political advocacy operations in Virginia, said the decision not to pursue the bill reflects how unpopular the measure would be.

“House Republicans have avoided debate on this abortion ban because they know Virginians overwhelmingly support safe, legal abortion,” she said.

Two other abortion related bills are advancing through the House’s committee system. One would create felony penalties for doctors who don’t take certain steps in rare cases in which abortions result in live births. A second would have reinstituted a 24-hour waiting period for abortions as initially drafted, but was amended and in its current form only requires providers obtain “informed written consent” prior to any abortion.

In the Senate, a bill prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks is still pending but lawmakers on the committee assigned to hear it say it has no chance of advancing.


This story has been updated to reflect amendments to legislation that initially would have reinstated a 24-hour waiting period for abortions.

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Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association.