RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia General Assembly has approved a 24-hour mandatory waiting period for women seeking abortions.

The state Senate approved the measure Feb. 6 in a 24-16 vote, following approval a week earlier in the House of Delegates.

Under the bill, physicians must provide counseling, including medical explanations of the procedure and its alternatives, to women at least 24 hours before an abortion is performed. Other information, such as pictures of fetal development and information about adoption, must also be offered.

Doctors must receive a patient's written consent, except in cases of medical emergencies, before performing an abortion. Failure to abide by the bill could result in a $2,500 fine.

It marked a major milestone in a 20-year effort by pro-lifers to restrict abortion, The Washington Post noted.

The vote cheered state prolifers, who said they are close to victory on a political and social agenda they have advanced.

Other successes included passage four years ago of a law requiring teen-age girls to notify their parents before undergoing the procedure.

Opponents of the waiting period measure say it is a barrier to abortion access.

“Forcing a woman to wait after she's already made the decision is demeaning,” said Dayle Steinberg, a Planned Parenthood representative in Pennsylvania, where a similar law took effect in 1994. “It assumes that women haven't already given thought to their decision.”

The bill now goes to Governor James S. Gilmore III, who has made the 24-hour waiting period and other abortion restrictions a centerpiece of his legislative agenda. “I think it's a good thing for women to have the maximum amount of information,” he told reporters.

If Gilmore signs the bill, it will take effect Oct. 1.

(From combined wire services)

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