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General Assembly passes laws protecting abortion, gay marriage

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(The Center Square) — Joint resolutions that would have enshrined abortion access and the right to marry regardless of sex, gender or race in Virginia’s Constitution failed to make it out of committee; however, laws protecting both have passed.

Virginia already allows abortion up to just over 26 weeks, and the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationally in 2015, but state constitutional amendments would further protect these freedoms should legislators attempt to restrict them or if the Supreme Court overturns its Obergefell decision.

To expand abortion protections in the commonwealth, Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, introduced Senate Bill 15, which exempts Virginia from participating in the extradition of any woman who travels to the commonwealth for an abortion prohibited in her state as long as she complies with Virginia’s abortion laws. Virginia allows abortion up to just over 26 weeks.

The bill passed the Senate 21-19, which saw swing votes from Republican Dels. Carrie Coyner, David Owen and Kim Taylor in the House for a final tally of 54-46. Its companion bill, House Bill 1539, also passed and now sits in a Senate committee.

A bill from Sen. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William, also passed along similar lines, which seeks to protect doctors who have performed abortions legally in the commonwealth from punitive measures like the revocation or denial of their medical license. Like the constitutional amendments, this is more of a forward-looking bill, anticipating situations in Virginia in a “post-Roe reality.”

“We have to do everything in our power to prevent other states’ laws and stigma from discouraging people who are providing critical abortion care that is legal in Virginia from doing so in the commonwealth,” said Lexi White, policy director for REPRO Rising Virginia, when testifying for the bill.

“Providers should not be penalized for performing legal health care procedures and should always be protected against fear-mongering from anti-abortion states that aim to discourage providers from delivering care that is legal here in the commonwealth,” White said.

Finally, HB 174 and an identical Senate bill, SB 101, passed the House and Senate, encoding same-sex marriage into Virginia law. Virginia’s Constitution still contains a prohibition on same-sex marriage, nullified by the Supreme Court’s decision in 2015. Still, it would supersede state law if the high court were to reverse that decision.

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