The very first bill introduced for the 2012 session of the General Assembly may in
part set the agenda for the session.
House Bill 1, introduced by Del. Bob Marshall of Prince William County, would write into Virginia law that “the life of each human being begins at conception.” The bill goes on to state that “unborn children have protectable interests in life, health, and well-being…The laws of this Commonwealth shall be interpreted and construed to acknowledge on behalf of the unborn child at every stage of development all the rights, privileges, and immunities available to other persons, citizens, and residents of this Commonwealth...” A similar measure was defeated by Mississippi voters in a referendum earlier this month.
The ramifications of defining a fetus as a person with full rights of citizenship are unclear. Would all forms of abortion be murder? Would the doctor performing
such procedures on a woman who had been raped be guilty of murder? Would taking a morning after contraceptive pill become illegal? Would a legal guardian be appointed to protect the interests of the fetus now described as an unborn child? Could a miscarriage be considered involuntary manslaughter? No one knows the answers to these questions. Such issues arise when legislative bodies attempt to take on subjects about which theologians, moralists, and medical scientists have not been able to reach agreement.
You can be sure that Del. Marshall is sincere in introducing the bill. He is quite savvy in the legislative process and persistent in his pro-life goals. Over his 20 years in the House of Delegates, he has introduced dozens of bills and floor amendments to limit a woman’s right to make reproductive choices and to end stem cell research.
If the committee that receives his bill does not act on it favorably, he will introduce it as an amendment to other bills on the floor. Given the composition of the membership of the House of Delegates after the November election, he may well get the bill passed in the House. With the House Republican Party’s binding caucus rules, moderate Republicans may find themselves having to vote for the bill or face a primary challenge in the next election or the loss of important committee assignments. Votes on the bill will not be along straight
partisan lines, as some downstate Democrats may vote with the Republican caucus
The outcome in the Senate is even less certain. Should there be a tie vote, the Lieutenant Governor would have to cast his vote with the Attorney General peering over his shoulder and the next governorship nomination hanging in the balance.
The bill sent to the Governor would have him weighing it with his vice presidential aspirations. Maybe House Bill 1 does not simply set the agenda for the legislative session; it may influence political direction for the year!