RICHMOND -- Virginia took another step Monday toward restricting abortions by defining life as something that starts at conception and giving fetuses the same rights as any citizen during a marathon legislative session in which Republicans pushed their most controversial measures.
The House of Delegates gave preliminary approval to the so-called "personhood" bill a day before the General Assembly deadline to send legislation to the other chamber, and it's likely to get a final vote Tuesday before heading to the Senate.
The Senate, meanwhile, lifted the state's long-standing one-handgun-a-month limit, quickly passing the House's version of the bill and sending it to Gov. Bob McDonnell, who supported the ban as a lawmaker but promised to sign the legislation into law.
During more than eight hours of debate, House Republicans advanced a litany of conservative initiatives ahead of Tuesday's deadline, including bills that would allow the death penalty for accomplices in murder cases and create a voucherlike program that would give tax breaks to companies that pay for low-income students to attend private schools.
The latest bills emerging from the House are likely to test just how conservative the Virginia Senate has grown since last November's election split the chamber between 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans and left Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican, with the tiebreaking vote.
Legally defining a fetus as a person is just one measure that could face a difficult road in the Senate. A Senate committee previously killed a bill that bans abortion after 20 weeks, with Democrats contending that the personhood measure is far broader in its impact.
Abortion-rights advocates warn that giving a fetus the same rights as people is a slippery slope that would ultimately outlaw abortions and possibly make illegal some birth control pills and Plan B, the "morning after" pill. But there are legal ramifications as well.
"There are 25,000 references to 'person' in the Virginia code," said Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria. "What does this have to do with our inheritance laws, our probate laws? What does it have to do with redistricting?"
Del. Bob Marshall, R-Manassas, the bill's chief patron, rejected the concerns as baseless.
"The purpose is to recognize unborn children as human beings without changing the birth control rules of the commonwealth," Marshall said.
The Senate also approved an amendment to Virginia's constitution that bans localities from taking private property for anything other than public uses. The resolution also passed the General Assembly in 2011 and if it passes the House, voters would decide whether to adopt it this fall.