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Virginia Republicans to let 'personhood' bill die this week

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Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno

A late effort to bring new life to a bill which would grant a fetus the same rights as an everyday citizen has likely failed, an early sign that Virginia Republicans may be less inclined to press forward on controversial social issues that overshadowed this year's session when they return to Richmond in January.

Sen. Steve Martin, chairman of the Senate Education and Health Committee, does not plan to call committee members back to the capitol for a vote on "personhood" legislation before a Nov. 29 deadline to refer it to the full Senate. Proponents of the bill lobbied hard for him to schedule a meeting.

The Senate voted earlier this year to continue the bill into next session, but without action by Martin, R-Chesterfield, the bill is effectively dead.

"We don't have eight votes [a majority on the committee], and I'm not going to be spending taxpayers' dollars just to call us back into town," Martin said. "If they came up with the eighth vote in committee and could identify him, I'd be happy to call it up."

The bill passed out of Martin's committee in February. But the swing Republican on the panel, Sen. Harry Blevins of Chesapeake, has since sided against it.

Virginia Democrats railed Republicans for the conservative social bills they passed last session, tying those measures to the GOP presidential ticket and Republican U.S. Senate candidate George Allen. An Allen adviser recently lamented that the General Assembly didn't help his candidate.

Abortion rights advocates are hopeful that the personhood victory will carry over into the 2013 session, when Republicans will once again control the House and Senate.

"I don't know [that] they have the stomach for it this year," said Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia. "And with the election results in 2012, they would be wise to try to bury [such legislation]."

Del. Bob Marshall, the Manassas Republican who authored the personhood bill, plans to keep pushing an anti-abortion agenda, but he does sense fewer Republicans are less willing to embrace them.

"For years, the Republicans used to say Democrats were the ones blocking this, and now it clearly is the Republicans," Marshall said.

Marshall doesn't know yet if he'll file another personhood bill, but he already has submitted legislation that bans gender-selection abortions. Martin backs that cause.

"There might be less of an appetite [for social bills], and I want to take up the bills that we can get passed," Martin said. "There should be no gender selection of abortions going on, and I think there would be an appetite for that to be stopped for certain."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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