Background on SB 924

While ORS was upside-down the past few days, there has been a lot happening. The most significant vote we had was SB 924, which mandates that first-trimester abortions only be provided in “hospitals.” (I’m summarizing but you can look the content on-line).

The bill started off in the Senate as a bill asking hospitals to enact policies on “infectious disease” and “disaster preparedness.” When it came back from the House, it had been amended to bring first-trimester abortion providers — for the first time — into the Code section regulating hospitals, which means that they will be subject to far more stringent requirements, including obtaining a Certificate of Public Need to operate. To my knowledge, Virginia is the first state in recent years to include these requirements.

There has been a lot that’s been said on this and I won’t add to it here, except to give mechanical details.

The amendment was ruled “germane” by the Senate President, i.e. the Lt. Governor, as it was drawn to the same Code Section as the original bill. As an amendment to a Senate bill, it was then subject to a vote by the full Senate — who split 20-20 on the measure. I voted “no”. The Lt. Governor broke the tie with an “aye” vote and the measure passed.

As it’s already been passed by the House, the amended bill will go straight to the Governor who has stated that he will sign it.

Once the bill becomes law, the state Board of Health will have 280 days to draw up regulations required by the bill. Once those regulations go into effect, they will likely be subject to attack if they create an “undue burden” on the constitutional right of a woman to a first-trimester abortion. Considering the past history of this issue (and the hotly-contested nature of the bill itself), I expect litigation to occur. However, nothing will happen until the actual regulations are issued.

Once it happens, Virginia will be entering uncharted legal territory on an explosive legal and moral issue.

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