Virginia bishops deplore House passage of ‘drastic’ taxpayer funded abortion bill

Virginia state capitol building. Virginia state capitol building. | Shutterstock

The bishops of Virginia lamented the House of Delegates’ “tragic decision” to pass legislation that would permit abortion coverage for any reason in taxpayer health insurance plans on the state’s taxpayer-funded health exchange.

“Replacing the current life-saving restrictions on abortion with a policy of abortion coverage without limits in our state exchange is drastic, dangerous and will result in the tragic end to more unborn lives,” said Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington and Bishop Barry Knestout of Richmond in a January 26 statement.

The statement came in response to legislation passed by the House earlier that day. In a 55-45 party line vote, the chamber approved House Bill 1896, which would allow taxpayer-funded elective abortions.

With the federal passage of the Affordable Care Act, Virginia set up a health exchange allowing for citizens to shop for health plans on the state’s “marketplace.” The proposed legislation would remove a phrase state that health plans offered on Virginia’s exchange would not cover abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at risk due to the pregnancy.

A companion bill passed the Senate last week. Now approved by the House, the legislation will be sent to Gov. Ralph Northam, who is expected to sign it.

The Catholic bishops voiced opposition to taxpayer funding of abortion in the state.

“Taxes pay for managing the exchange, and for subsidizing health plans of tens of thousands of low- and middle-income Virginians using the exchange to provide healthcare for themselves and their families,” they noted.

They urged all Virginians to be active in working against future threats to human life and dignity.

“Every day, without discouragement, may we each continue to advocate with relentless determination for life and dignity. Our baptism calls us to do no less,” they said.

The push for taxpayer funding of abortion is the latest legislative effort to expand abortion access in Virginia under Gov. Northam, who is known as a champion of abortion rights.

In 2019, Northam supported a bill that would have permitted a legal abortion to take place even if the woman was in active labor. On a local radio show, Northam said that he believed that if a baby happened to survive an abortion attempt, it should be left up to “the woman and her doctor” to decide whether or not to keep the child alive. The bill failed to make it out of legislative committee.

Last year, Northam signed legislation that allowed physicians assistants and nurse practitioners to perform abortions; it also struck down existing requirements that women be informed about the abortion procedure and receive ultrasounds before having an abortion, and deregulated safety standards at abortion clinics.

The state’s current consideration of taxpayer-funded abortion is taking place as the federal government is also considering repeals of pro-life protections against public funding of abortion.

The Biden administration is reportedly set to reverse the Mexico City Policy, which bars federal funding of foreign NGOs that perform or promote abortions.

House and Senate Democrats have also signaled a desire to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding of abortions in spending bills.

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