Virginia's 2012 HB 1 sought to define personhood as beginning at conception:

§ 1. The life of each human being begins at conception.
§ 2. Unborn children have protectable interests in life, health, and well-being.
§ 3. The natural parents of unborn children have protectable interests in the life, health, and well-being of their unborn child.
§ 4. The laws of this Commonwealth shall be interpreted and construed to acknowledge on behalf of the unborn child at every stage of development all the rights, privileges, and immunities available to other persons, citizens, and residents of this Commonwealth, subject only to the Constitution of the United States and decisional interpretations thereof by the United States Supreme Court and specific provisions to the contrary in the statutes and constitution of this Commonwealth.
§ 5. As used in this section, the term "unborn children" or "unborn child" shall include any unborn child or children or the offspring of human beings from the moment of conception until birth at every stage of biological development


If this bill had become law, what would some of its effects have been? Would it have made a woman who got an abortion not specifically protected under Roe v. Wade criminally liable for murder? What other interesting consequences might it have had?

  • 1
    (1) is in direct contradiction to what the catholic church says. Which says "6 to 8 weeks after conception". And I would like to know who pays the bill if a woman who really wants a child insists that everything possible is done to keep the human being alive from the point of conception.
    – gnasher729
    Jul 9, 2017 at 18:54
  • 1
    @gnasher729 Your claim about Catholic Church teachings is both wrong and irrelevant to the law.
    – D M
    Jun 11, 2023 at 5:40

2 Answers 2


One consequence would be that rape or robbery of a pregnant woman which resulted in the death of the fetus (not the mother) would be first degree murder, since the death arises

in the commission of, or attempt to commit, arson, rape, forcible sodomy, inanimate or animate object sexual penetration, robbery, burglary or abduction

Premeditated murder of a pregnant woman, like premeditated murder of a non-pregnant woman, is first degree murder. But with the redefinition of "person", under 18.2-31(7), premeditated murder of a pregnant woman becomes capital murder, because it is

The willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing of more than one person as a part of the same act or transaction

Unlawful abortion is a crime (unlike lawful abortion):

Except as provided in other sections of this article, if any person administer to, or cause to be taken by a woman, any drug or other thing, or use means, with intent to destroy her unborn child, or to produce abortion or miscarriage, and thereby destroy such child, or produce such abortion or miscarriage, he shall be guilty of a Class 4 felony.

whereas under the redefinition of person, abortion under unlawful circumstances would be first degree murder.

There are other harder to calculate consequences regarding fertilized human eggs. Research using such eggs would be impossible, since the egg would fall under human subject research protection. A destroyed embryo would require a death certificate. Surrogate motherhood would more complicated since it would now involves implanting a person into a host mother, and the courts would need to intervene to protect the rights of the fertilized egg. Any facility that stores embryos for later implantation would be open to a wrongful death suit in case the embryo doesn't survive. There would be other complications related to divorce and such embryos, since as people the matter they would be subject to the protection of adoption and custody laws.


In sum, it would turn ordinary individuals into criminals for exercising a right recognized decades ago in Roe v. Wade.

  • Except that the bill can't override Roe v. Wade, so a woman's right to abortion would be unchanged.
    – user6726
    Jul 11, 2017 at 0:14
  • It would constructively obstruct her right in a majority of instances.
    – A.fm.
    Jul 11, 2017 at 0:16
  • What is an example? We know that her right to abortion wouldn't be affected because of Roe, so what else do you have in mind?
    – user6726
    Jul 11, 2017 at 1:10
  • Well, aside from the fact that it would, in general, stop someone from having the procedure by establishing the act of abortion as murder under state law (see quoted text above) (and state law is where the relevant murder statutes would be found, I am thinking of laws or proposed laws from various states imposing onerous hurdles between a woman and the procedure. Forcing her to see an ultrasound image of the fetus... imposing invasive procedures using medical equipment that is.. well, imposing.. ..
    – A.fm.
    Jul 11, 2017 at 1:16
  • .... it's the same way that a poll tax does not overtly ban someone from voting (of course you can vote, just pay the fee), the effect is the hurdles put in place effectively eliminate the option for much of the population. Another example would be expropriation under international law. A relevant case is Tecmed v. Mexico, where the state over-regulates under the guise of environmental standards with the underlying goal being elimination of competition. NAFTA addresses this at length. The point is, when you make something too hard to accomplish, it is the same as eliminating the option
    – A.fm.
    Jul 11, 2017 at 1:20

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