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Virginia GOP Leader Floated Abortion 'Grand Bargain,' Democrats Say

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VIRGINIA ABORTION BARGAIN
Senate Democratic leader, Sen. Richard Saslaw (D-Fairfax), left, and Republican leader Sen. Thomas Norment, (R-James City), right, share a laugh after a debate a resolution relating to the election of judges at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) | AP

Republican state legislators in Virginia want so badly for the public to forget about the state's recent legislative battles over abortion that they have tried to strike a deal with Democrats to keep them quiet, a Democratic aide told The Huffington Post on Friday.

According to the legislative aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Virginia Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R) began meeting with Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw (D) in early December to discuss what state lawmakers have been referring to as a "grand bargain" on women's issues. According to the terms of the alleged deal, Democrats would lay low on the abortion issue in the media and drop efforts to repeal controversial anti-abortion laws that the Virginia General Assembly has recently passed, and in return, Republican leadership would send one GOP vote over to the Democrats' side on any new piece of anti-abortion legislation that is introduced in order to ensure that it does not pass. (The Virginia State Senate has 21 Republicans, including Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, and 20 Democrats.)

Norment spokesman Jeff Ryer told The Huffington Post that the senator said any claim about a bargain being offered is "balderdash."

"Senator Norment never offered any deal or arrangement to any member of the Democratic caucus concerning the introduction of legislation related to abortion," Ryer said.

Saslaw did not immediately respond to a call for comment.

"It's about keeping media off the topic," the aide said of the alleged deal. "If Democrats came out swinging trying to repeal some of these laws, it's going get media coverage. [Republicans] really just want a state of neutrality."

Sen. Ralph Northam (D), the only physician in the Senate, said he is not agreeing to the bargain. He introduced two bills this week to repeal Virginia's mandatory ultrasound law, which the Assembly passed in 2012. "In my mind, the bargain would start with repealing what [Republicans] did last year," he told The Huffington Post in an interview. "It was an embarrassment to Virginia, and I think they realize that."

Northam said he had heard about Republicans offering some kind of deal to the Democrats on abortion, but that the deal had not gone anywhere. "I don't think anything materialized from those discussions," he said.

Regardless of whether there was an official deal on the table, Virginia Republicans clearly understood the message voters sent them in the 2012 elections. Delegate Bob Marshall (R), who authored the fetal personhood bill in Virginia and others like it, told The Huffington Post in late November that Republican leaders have become "gun-shy" about abortion since the election and pressure him "seven days a week" to drop his legislative efforts.

Whatever efforts Norment and the Republican caucus have made to keep the abortion issue under wraps this year, however, have already failed. Republican state lawmakers introduced five new bills in the first days of the 2013 legislative session that restrict access to abortion and contraception, and Sens. Northam and Mark Herring (D) have introduced bills that would repeal two new anti-abortion laws in Virginia.

Northam's bill would be the first in the nation to specifically protect the doctor-patient relationship. "No law or regulation of the Commonwealth or administrative action of an agent of the Commonwealth shall require that a person receive ultrasound imaging for nonmedical reasons or ultrasound imaging that is not medically indicated as a condition of receiving a medical procedure," the bill says.

Herring's bill would repeal legislation passed in 2011 that requires first-trimester abortion clinics to meet the same building standards as hospitals.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R), who allegedly strong-armed the Virginia Board of Health into passing the clinic regulations, is now running a tight race for governor against Democrat Terry McAuliffe. Any negative attention Cuccinelli and the Republicans receive on the issue of abortion this year could cost Cuccinelli the race, and the Democrats are clearly not going to keep quiet.

"We are going to listen to doctors and medical experts across the state that have come out against Cuccinelli's bullying efforts," Herring said of his bill in a statement. "And we are going to act, because if we don't, women across the Commonwealth will feel the effects of this right-wing crusade against women's health care.”

Update: 4:59 p.m. -- Herring told The Huffington Post on Friday that no kind of bargain among Senate leadership could keep him from trying to repeal the abortion clinic regulations.

"Nobody's going to be able to muzzle me on these issues," he said. "I won't be a part of any kind of a deal like that. This is about fighting for what's right for women."

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed a statement by Norment to his spokesman. It is Norment who called the bargain "balderdash," not his spokesman. His statements have been amended and moved upward within this article.

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