Pro-Choice Coalition Disappointed Anti-Woman Members of Senate Courts of Justice Committee Report Bill Chipping Away At Abortion Access
Richmond, Virginia—On Monday morning, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee reported and referred to the Committee on Finance Senator Obenshain’s SB541, a bill that would require a person to be prosecuted for involuntary manslaughter if, as a result of driving under the influence, he or she causes the death of a fetus. While the loss of a fetus due to the criminal actions of another is a tragedy, we already have laws on the books that would punish people for this crime. This bill is a fetal personhood bill in disguise and would further chip away at access to abortion and birth control in Virginia.
“We all agree that a criminal act that results in the loss of a pregnancy is tragic and should be punished, but SB541 is not about punishing criminals or protecting women. Conservative politicians continue to push fetal personhood bills like SB541 to chip away at abortion rights,” Jennifer Allen, CEO of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia and member of the Pro-Choice Coalition said. “If SB541 ultimately passes out of the General Assembly, we are so grateful that Governor Northam will have his veto pen ready.”
“Whenever a woman loses a wanted pregnancy, it is a tragedy, whatever the cause. This bill is not about protecting the woman. Neither is it about preventing DUIs or criminal negligence. This bill is about enshrining in Virginia law the pernicious concept of ‘fetal personhood’ and an ideological position that can be used to limit a woman’s access to abortion and birth control as well as prosecute pregnant women,” said Tarina Keene, Executive Director NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.
“It is already a serious crime in Virginia to drive while intoxicated. The unexpected loss of a fetus is a tragedy, and if the loss is the result of a crime, the perpetrator will be punished already according to Virginia law,” Anna Scholl, Executive Director of Progress Virginia and Pro-Choice Coalition member said. “This bill does nothing to protect women, but it is part of a national effort to chip away at access to abortion and birth control by defining a fetus as a person. The goal of legislation like this is to ultimately eliminate a woman’s right to comprehensive reproductive healthcare. Our communities thrive when women have access to abortion and birth control, and we cannot support any bill that erodes access to critical healthcare services.”
There are two statutes in Virginia code that already cover this situation—Sec. 18.2-51.4, which makes it a Class 6 Felony when an intoxicated driver maims or seriously injures another person, and Sec. 8.01-50(B), which allows a pregnant woman to press civil charges against the intoxicated driver. Creating a separate criminal offense for the loss of a pregnancy at any stage of development—including even a fertilized egg—would lead to major enforcement problems. This is particularly true in cases in which neither the alleged perpetrator, and possibly even the woman suffering the injury, are aware of the pregnancy. SB541 is based on model legislation drafted by Americans United for Life, a national group opposed to safe and legal abortion and many forms of contraception—including long-term, reversible solutions like IUDs.