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Republican lawmakers change course on define life bill

Republican lawmakers in Virginia changed course on another piece of conservative legislation on Thursday, with the state Senate voting to suspend consideration of a bill that would define life as beginning at conception.

It was an abrupt reversal for Republicans, and came hours after a key Senate committee voted to approve the legislation for consideration by the full body. There was broad speculation that Gov. Bob McDonnell was behind the move.

''This is a major disgrace for the Republican leadership," said Don Blake, who runs the Virginia Christian Alliance, a conservative group that backed the bill. Republicans should have had the votes to pass the bill, he said, and the fact that they opted to suspend it raised suspicions of the governor's involvement.

''Pro-life groups are concerned that the governor had a hand in this," Blake said.

A spokesman for McDonnell, a Republican who is mentioned as a possible candidate for vice president, did not respond to messages seeking comment.


The rapid-fire procedural maneuvering came one day after McDonnell ordered Republicans in the House of Delegates to soften a bill requiring a vaginal ultrasound before an abortion. The new version, which requires a noninvasive abdominal ultrasound, appeared aimed at defusing a mounting controversy over the bill that included spoofs on television shows.

The stalling of the legislation on Thursday also illustrated the divisions among Republicans over the bill, which opponents say confers legal rights on unborn children. The eight members of the party on the Education and Health Committee approved the bill on a party-line vote in the morning, only to have it sent back several hours later with orders that it not be considered again this legislative season, which is scheduled to end in two weeks.

The measure, known as the personhood bill, could be revived at any time in the next session, which opens early next year — timing that critics of the bill point out falls safely outside the electoral cycle.

''This takes it off the late-night shows," said one Democratic aide who asked not to be identified by name because she was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Delegate Bob Marshall, the bill's sponsor, said he had approached the governor about the bill once at a reception, but did not get a positive response. Still, he had fresh hopes for it, after it passed the committee this morning.

''This could not have happened without the consent of the leadership," he said.

State Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, a Democrat who made the motion to shelve the legislation, said that he did not know whether McDonnell had intervened, but that the bill was far enough to the right that the governor would probably not have relished the prospect of signing it.

''I'm shocked that it got out of the House," he said. "The people of Mississippi had the good sense to vote that thing down. What does that say?"

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