Virginia Lawmaker Introduces ‘Pain-Capable’ Abortion Ban


Delegate Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper) has introduced a bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks in most circumstances, a threshold based on when the unborn are believed to feel pain.

“We’re actually making sure that it’s understood that this is about the capability to feel pain, it’s not about an arbitrary 20-week schedule,” Freitas told The Virginia Star.

He said, “This is really a question about preserving innocent human life. And obviously there’s a lot of disagreement about abortion, but the thing that I’m hoping for is that we could all agree on some sort of fundamental level that when a child in a womb can actually feel itself being aborted, that there’s something inherently wrong with allowing that to continue, especially when at this point what we’re seeing is that you can go four to five months being pregnant, and that’s the point where now science has said there’s a high degree of probability that the child feels pain.”

“We’re simply saying that, look, nothing prevents you from getting an abortion for those first four to five months, but at some point, when do we as a society come in and say look, the clump of cells argument is ridiculous. The clump of cells argument is absurd. This is obviously a human child, we know it can feel pain at this point, and so at the very least we should be able to agree that this is the point where we as a society think it’s no longer appropriate,” Freitas said.

Freitas’ HB 1274, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, is similar to laws in other states, according to Virginia Society for Human Life President Olivia Gans Turner.

“Over about 18 states have a law like this that are in effect. They have not been challenged at the Supreme Court. They are currently protecting babies capable of feeling pain,” Turner told The Virginia Star.

Turner speculated that the specific arguments in pain-capable bills protect them from challenges.

“The probability is, pro-abortion groups understand that the conversation around the pain-capable bill means that they would have to argue that they think it’s rational to take a baby’s life after that baby is capable of feeling the horrific pain that’s involved in any abortion procedure. And that’s not a good image when there’s a conversation on the nightly news,” Turner said.

In previous years similar bills have been sponsored by Delegate Dave LaRock (R-Loudoun) and former Delegate Rich Anderson, who is now the Republican Party of Virginia chair.

“This year, again, we want to have this conversation: should abortions in Virginia be prevented after the point in pregnancy when unborn children are capable of feeling pain? We know that nationally, the overwhelming majority of people think a law like this is sensible and rational,” Turner said.

After Freitas introduced HB 1274, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia tweeted, “As with all abortion bans, the supporters of this ban want to prevent people from getting essential health care and control who is allowed to make decisions about their bodies and futures. This isn’t the first anti-abortion legislation we have seen introduced by Del Nick Freitas this session. He already introduced a bill that targets abortion care providers and showed his clear lack of understanding of reproductive health care.”

“Nearly 99 percent of abortions occur before 21 weeks, but when they are needed later in pregnancy, it’s often in very complex circumstances. For example, severe fetal anomalies and serious risks to the pregnant person’s health — the kind of situations where patients and their doctors need every medical option available,” the Planned Parenthood Action Fund argues on its site, saying that most voters think abortion should be legal after 20 weeks.

Freitas’ HB 1274 includes exceptions to avert the mother’s death or avert “serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.”

Uphill Battle in the Senate

Senator Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) has expressed support for a stricter fetal-pain bill, and if the bill made it to the Senate floor, Morrissey’s vote plus all Senate Republicans would create a tie that Lieutenant Governor Winsome Earle-Sears could break, sending it to Governor Glenn Youngkin’s desk. But the bill must get out of Senate committee first, and Senate Democrats have organized the committees so that even if a Democrat flips on committee, there are enough other Democrats to kill certain bills. One long-shot method to get the bill out of committee involves a majority of all senators voting to force the bill from committee, despite the committee’s actions.

“It’s going to be difficult. We’re just going to have to try to make as good arguments as we possibly can and get as many people’s constituents engaged as possible, to essentially say that, ‘Look, this is not an unreasonable line to draw in the sand.’ And then we’ll have to see what happens. But if they vote us down, or if they send us to a committee where they’ve clearly stacked the odds, then that’s going to send a pretty powerful message to the people of Virginia about what their objective is,” Freitas said.

Senator Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) has introduced SB 170, similar to HB 1274. It is likely to die in its first stop at the Education and Health Committee, chaired by Senator Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth). Lucas and other leading Senate Democrats have styled themselves as a brick wall against House Republican legislation.

Other Pro-Life Bills in the House

There are other pro-life bills in the House of Delegates, including LaRock’s HB 1349, which would require physicians to work to preserve the life of infants who survive abortions — a reaction to former Governor Ralph Northam’s January 2019 comments on a late-term abortion bill proposal, where he said that non-viable infants could be delivered, and kept comfortable while a decision was made.

There’s also a budget amendment in the works to block some state funding for abortions not covered by federal Hyde Amendment exceptions.

Freshman Delegate Karen Greenhalgh (R-Virginia Beach) will carry an informed consent bill.

“It’s the first step in restoring some of the laws we lost in 2020. It’s a portion of the informed consent law,” Turner said.

“Her bill would restore the requirement for a written booklet, a document to be provided from the department of health the provides written information about the process of pregnancy, information about fetal life, information about the kinds of abortions that are done and what the procedure actually involves, her legal rights, the responsibilities of the baby’s father, and it puts all of that together in the situation that must be made available to her,” Turner said. “She must be told 24 hours before she agrees to the procedure that she has the right to see that information and she must be given 24 hours once she has received that information to consider it.”

The bill won’t block chemical “tele-abortions.”

Turner said, “Everybody wants to see our laws restored, but we don’t control the Senate, like I’ve said a hundred times. I’m not even sure that we’re going to be able to get out of the Senate. But it’s worth beginning the effort. It has to start now if we’re going to get these laws restored.”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Nick Freitas” by Nick Freitas. Background Photo “Embryo Week 9-10” by lunar caustic. CC BY 2.0.






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