RICHMOND, April 1, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has amended a bill passed by the General Assembly to prohibit abortion coverage from being offered by health insurance plans hosted by the state’s new health exchange.

The General Assembly had sent to McDonnell’s desk for his approval a measure that would create a state health exchange for qualified health plans by 2014 as mandated by the new national health care reform, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

The changes proposed by McDonnell ban insurance companies participating in the exchange from offering abortion as a covered benefit, except in situations of rape, incest, and threat to the life of the mother.

The governor of Virginia can amend legislation; however, both the House of Delegates and the Senate will have to vote to approve the governor’s changes before the law can go into effect. If both chambers approve, then Virginia will become the latest state to opt out of providing abortion coverage through the exchanges mandated by PPACA.

Already Arizona, Tennessee, Mississippi, Missouri, Louisiana, and Oklahoma have passed their own versions of abortion opt-out legislation. More legislation is pending in state legislatures, such as South Carolina.

Although the amended measure is expected to pass the House of Delegates easily, the Senate is a different question, where Democrats control the chamber 22 – 18. However, at least two Democrats have split from the rest of their caucus and joined with Republicans in supporting pro-life measures in the Senate, to make a 20-20 tie. If that happens this time, then pro-life Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling will cast the decisive vote.

A similar situation happened when the General Assembly passed a law that requires abortion clinics to follow the same standards for patient safety as hospitals.

Through parliamentary maneuvering, the full Democrat-controlled Senate was forced to vote on the measure in February. In that case, the resulting 20-20 split in the chamber (with two conservative Democrats joining all 18 Republican senators) allowed Bolling to break the tie and get the pro-life legislation approved.

The state Board of Health has 280 days to craft new regulations for clinics, and should have emergency regulations implemented by January 1.

Abortion advocates have complained that as many as 17 out of 21 Virginia clinics could close over the cost of complying with new requirements on hallway and doorway width, staffing, and equipment rules. Many of these rules are standard safety procedures; the regulations related to hallway and doorway size are designed to help emergency rescuers maneuver in and out of a building in the event of a medical emergency.