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Virginia House of Delegates approves personhood legislation

The Virginia House of Delegates [official website] passed a bill [HB 1text, PDF; materials] Tuesday that defines life as beginning at conception. The bill passed 66-32 [floor vote] moving the state toward banning abortion [JURIST news archive]. The bill, introduced by Rep. Bob Marshall (R) [official website], says: "Life of each human being begins at conception" and that "Unborn children have protectable interests in life, health, and well-being." The bill seeks to expand the rights of personhood under state law to unborn children at all stages development from conception:

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, subject only to the Constitution of the United States and decisional interpretations thereof by the United States Supreme Court and specific provisions to the contrary in the statutes and constitution of this Commonwealth.
It will head to the Virginia Senate where it is unclear whether it will pass [Reuters report]. With this bill, Virginia lawmakers are attempting to pass such legislation without running into the difficulty of amending the state constitution that has hindered similar attempts in other states. Constitutional amendments redefining personhood failed in both Colorado and Mississippi [JURIST reports].

The Virginia Senate recently approved legislation requiring a woman to have an ultrasound before an abortion [JURIST report]. Last November, Mississippi voters rejected a ballot measure [Initiative 26 materials] that would have amended the state constitution to define the word "person" or "persons" to include "every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof." The initiative, which would have given fetuses rights from the moment of conception, was defeated by more than 55 percent of the state's voters. The primary goal of the legislation was an attempt to make abortion illegal on the theory that a woman's right to choose an abortion cannot outweigh the fetus' right to life. Colorado voters rejected a similar state constitutional amendment in November 2010. JURIST Guest Columnist Caitlin Borgmann [profile] argues that redefining personhood is just one of several approaches aimed at curtailing abortion [JURIST op-ed].

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