Sen. John Edwards (D-21, Roanoke/Montgomery/Giles) joined the other eight Democrats in the Virginia Senate Education and Health Committee to kill a bill that would have protected unborn babies from abortion after around 20 weeks, the stage of their development where they can feel pain. In a straight 9-6 party-line vote on Thursday, February 10, the Democrat-controlled committee killed Senate Bill (SB) 710, the Pain-Capable Unborn Children Protection Act.
By the time an unborn child has reached 20 weeks (5 months), she has a heart that can pump blood, functioning organs, eyelids, can move her limbs, suck her thumb, and show a radiologist his or her gender. About this time is when the mother can begin to feel her baby moving inside her.
Sen. Amanda Chase (R-11, Chesterfield) had sponsored the bill.
Despite advances in science that now indicate an unborn child can feel pain within 12-20 weeks after conception and all the recent commands to “follow the science,” the 9-6 vote killed the bill for this session of the General Assembly.
With one Senate Democrat promising support for the bill and pro-life Lt. Governor Winsome Sears holding the tie-breaking vote in the Senate, the bill probably could have passed the entire Senate chamber, had it gotten that far. In that case, it probably would have also passed in the House of Delegates which again has pro-life leadership and been signed into law by pro-life Governor Youngkin.
As a result of Thursday’s Senate Committee vote, the sponsor of the accompanying pro-life bill in the House of Delegates pulled it, citing “no way forward” to get it passed this year.
Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, (R-12, Henrico), a medical doctor, said Virginia should end legal abortion after the first trimester of pregnancy.
“We are out of sync with the rest of the world,” she said. “We are out of sync with medicine. We are out of sync with good sense. And it is time for us to look at bills like this and do the right thing.”
In contrast, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Virginia hailed the bill, calling it “Great news.” “Our lawmakers are leaving these decisions where they should be – with people, their families, & their doctors. Thank you to those who fought back against this restrictive bill!”
Edwards, a lawyer who has made support for abortion an unwavering centerpiece of his political career, voted against the bill despite a 2021 Associated Press poll that showed 65% of Americans opposed most or all second-trimester abortions and that number jumped to 80% for the third-trimester. Moreover, pro-life sentiment runs strong across much of Southwest Virginia.
Some observers of Southwest Virginia politics infer that Edwards is able to vote for many left-wing positions despite the region having a largely conservative culture because of his district’s extreme gerrymandering. The 21st district lumps together the Democrat strongholds of Roanoke City and the Virginia Tech area, with a thin corridor of rural and suburban voters thrown in to connect those two places; also, rural Giles County was added to give the district enough voters to make the district large enough.
When Edwards first won a seat in the Virginia Senate in 1995, Democrats held four of the six senate seats in Southwest Virginia. However, as more voters in this region are showing apprehension or antipathy toward the modern Democrat Party, Edwards is now the only remaining Democrat in the state Senate from the western one-third of Virginia.
Edwards’ February 10 vote shows he still supports a woman’s right to an abortion but, in contrast, his January 27 vote shows he does not support a woman’s right to know if her child is being exposed to pornographic materials in schools.
Edwards is no stranger to controversy. Despite inflation now roaring at a 40-year high, a record-breaking $30 trillion national debt, and weakening dollar, Edwards on January 17 voted to keep raising the minimum wage in Virginia.