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Northam Signs Law Removing GOP Abortion Restriction

Governor Ralph Northam stands with mask surrounded by people and flag
Gov. Ralph Northam at a press conference last year. (Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation Friday that will allow Virginia’s insurers to sell plans covering abortions on a state-run marketplace serving nearly 300,000 people. The move undoes restrictions passed by Republicans in 2011 in the wake of President Barack Obama’s signing of the Affordable Care Act.

The bills’ two sponsors, Del. Sally Hudson (D-Charlottesville) and Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), argued it did not make sense to single out the procedure in state code.

“The bill will not require any health insurers to offer plans that cover abortion,” Hudson said on the House floor last month. “Nor will it require any patient to purchase a plan that covers abortion care.”

The proposal earned universal support from Democrats. Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James City) was the lone Republican to vote in favor of the legislation.

Anti-abortion activists, including the Family Foundation, have warned the bill would pump taxpayer dollars into plans that allow abortions. 

“These bills, by allowing coverage of abortion without any limits in Virginia's health exchange, violate many taxpayers' consciences and beliefs about the sanctity of unborn human life,” Victoria Cobb, the organization’s president, wrote in a fundraising email last month. 

Northam also signed a separate bill allowing undocumented students to access state-run financial aid programs.

The proposal builds on a new law passed last year allowing those students to qualify for in-state tuition. Both plans require that eligible students to have graduated from high school on or after June, 2008, and to have paid two years of state taxes or have parents who've done so. 

The latest bill passed despite winning just three Republican votes.

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.