Editor’s note: The following information and accompanying charts were provided by the Virginia Catholic Conference.
For the Virginia Catholic Conference (VCC), this year’s 47-day Virginia General Assembly session featured successful defenses of protections for the unborn and conscience rights, expansion of the scholarship tax credit program and historic movement in the death penalty debate.
This report details key votes by Virginia Senate and House of Delegates members in these and other areas of VCC advocacy. Note: These vote charts have been prepared for Diocese of Richmond residents and therefore include only those General Assembly members whose districts are within that diocese.
Descriptions of votes
Opposing “fundamental right” to abortion. Virginia saw unprecedented legislation similar to that seen in New York which sought to make the “right to reproductive choice,” aka “right to abortion,” a “fundamental right” in the Virginia Human Rights Act.
The bill’s “right to abortion” would have superseded even conscience rights and would have been used to eliminate abortion restrictions. The VCC strongly opposed this legislation, which was defeated in an 8-7 party-line Senate committee vote (see Senate chart).
Opposing third-trimester abortion expansion. The VCC opposed and defeated extreme abortion legislation that would have eliminated most restrictions on third-trimester abortions up until birth and eliminated most of Virginia’s current protections for unborn children and expectant mothers. The measures were rejected in an 8-7 party-line Senate committee vote (see Senate chart) and a 5-3 party-line House subcommittee vote (see House chart).
Opposing abortion health plan mandate. Conference-opposed legislation, which failed in a party-line 10-4 vote in a Senate committee (see Senate chart) and 11-9 in a House committee (see House chart), would have mandated private health plans in Virginia to cover abortions, contraceptives, sterilizations and abortion-inducing drugs. The bill would have forced employers with religious or moral objections to violate their consciences.
Tightening abortion funding restrictions. By a 51-48 party-line vote (see House chart), the House adopted a conference-supported budget amendment preventing state dollars from funding abortions to the fullest extent possible under federal law.
The amendment incorporates into the state budget the federal Hyde Amendment, which for more than 40 years has prohibited federal funding of abortions under various programs, e.g., Medicaid, except in cases of danger to the life of the mother, rape or incest.
Opposing Equal Rights Amendment. The movement to “ratify” the now-moot ERA into the U.S. Constitution failed in Virginia during the 2019 session. In New Mexico and Alaska, where state constitutions include ERA language, arguments of NARAL and Planned Parenthood succeeded in invalidating limitations on taxpayer funding of abortions.
The VCC opposed the ERA due to its clear threat to the unborn. The Senate passed the ERA 26-14 (see Senate chart), but a House subcommittee stopped the ERA in a 4-2 party-line vote (see House chart).
Supporting death penalty exemption. The VCC supported a bill that would have exempted people with severe mental illness from the death penalty. The legislation saw historic passage by the Senate 23-17 (see Senate chart) before being rejected ¬¬4-1 by a House subcommittee.
Opposing surrogacy expansion. Conference-opposed legislation to expand Virginia’s surrogacy law passed the Senate 28-12 (see Senate chart) and the House 62-38 (see House chart). An estimated 620,000 frozen embryos are now stored in the U.S. and that number could greatly increase with state surrogacy law expansions.
In an especially disappointing development, a pro-life amendment to the bill that Senator Peake offered twice was defeated both times – first in a recorded Senate committee vote and then in a voice vote (unrecorded) on the Senate floor. The amendment would have prevented surrogacy contracts from requiring abortion for “selective reduction” or other reasons.
The governor signed the bill and it will take effect on July 1, 2019.
Requiring parental consent for FLE. The conference supported a parental rights bill that would have required parental consent to enroll children in public school Family Life Education programs (offered in some schools). Following party-line passage by the full House 51-48 (see House chart), a Senate committee rejected the bill 10-5.
Currently, parents only have the ability to opt out their children, but the opt-out process can be burdensome, socially awkward for the child and ineffective. Last year, the ever-evolving FLE curriculum made headlines in Albemarle County after an explicit video was shown to 14-year-old girls without their parents’ knowledge.
Helping at-risk pre-K students. Thousands of low-income Virginia students receive financial assistance to attend Catholic and other nonpublic K-12 schools through the Education Improvement Scholarships Tax Credits Program. Conference-supported legislation to expand the program to include low-income pre-K children passed the Senate 23-15 (see Senate chart) and the House 53-46 (see House chart). The governor signed the bill, and it will take effect on July 1, 2019.
Passage of the bill is a victory for unserved pre-K children, parental choice and Virginia’s Catholic school community in its efforts to provide more educational opportunities for at-risk children.
To view additional votes not included in these charts, visit www.vacatholic.org. To sign up for VCC alerts and updates, text VCC to 50457 or visit www.vacatholic.org, scroll down and click JOIN OUR EMAIL NETWORK.