By Matthew A. Ward
PORTSMOUTH, Va (Reuters) - Virginia would halt taxpayer-funded abortions for low-income women in cases where the fetus is severely physically deformed or mentally deficient under Republican-backed legislation passed Friday by state lawmakers.
The House of Delegates voted 64-35 to strip the Board of Health of its ability to fund abortions for Medicaid recipients when a physician certifies that the fetus would be born with a "gross and totally incapacitating physical deformity or mental deficiency."
The measure comes amid a raft of conservative bills in the Virginia General Assembly, which shifted to the right following the 2011 general election.
Separate legislation backed by the state Senate on Wednesday would require women to be given an ultrasound and the chance to see the fetal image before an abortion is performed.
Legislation that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy was narrowly defeated in a Senate committee on Wednesday.
The Virginia Progressive Caucus said in a statement that the de-funding bill passed by the House on Friday lacked compassion and put government in the middle of a painful decision.
"When you are denying Medicaid funding for abortion, for some women you are denying their ability to get one," Democratic Delegate Jennifer McClellan argued during the House debate.
But Republican Delegate Mark Cole said the bill he co-sponsored would not ban abortions for poor women.
"All we're talking about is who's going to be forced to pay for this. There's organizations like Planned Parenthood that could pay for this," he said.
Democratic Delegate Mark Sickles told House members that only 10 abortions fitting the bill's criteria occurred last year.
The House also approved legislation on Friday that would allow faith-based adoption agencies to deny placements based on religious beliefs, including opposition to homosexuality. Lawmakers approved the measure 71-28 without debate.
Under the measure, private adoption agencies would not be required to consider or consent to foster care or adoption placements in conflict with the religious tenets of the agency's sponsor or any organization or institution affiliated with the agency.
The measure prohibits damages claims for such refusals. It would put into state law a controversial Board of Social Services decision last year to allow state-licensed adoption agencies to consider sexual orientation, age, disability, gender, family status and political beliefs during placements.
Critics of the bill argue that its main intent is to allow discrimination against prospective parents who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
Noting that a Senate version of the bill also received final committee endorsement on Friday, Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish said lawmakers were more concerned about protecting agencies' financial interests than children in the system.
"What we're even more concerned about, there's nothing protecting LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender) children in the system from being placed in unfriendly homes," he said.
A spokesman for Republican Governor Bob McDonnell told Reuters in an email Friday that the governor would sign the adoption bill and review the abortion measure if they reach his desk.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Tim Gaynor)
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