Virginia Genetic Counselors Can Legally Turn Away Gay People, Plus Lie To Parents If They Might Consider Abortion, Which Is Just Great

Inn Virginia, genetic counselors are allowed both to refuse service to gay people, and to withhold any test information which a counselor believes could lead to an abortion. If this takes you by surprise, it's because the laws which allow this to take place are brand-new — signed into law by Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe in February and March.

The crucial factor here is the so-called "conscience clause," a phrase that ought to ring bells if you're passionate about women's health issues. Across the United States, various legal impositions against abortion and contraception access have been pursued under the mantle of "religious freedom." Arts-and-crafts chain Hobby Lobby's Supreme Court case, being heard Tuesday, is the most recent example.

The law reads:

Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to require any genetic counselor to participate in counseling that conflicts with their deeply-held moral or religious beliefs.

With that simple sentence, Virginia's women have had yet another avenue of their reproductive rights closed. On top of a laundry list of restrictions to access abortion in the state — from forced ultrasounds and 24-hour waiting periods, to limits on when women can even get health insurance to cover an abortion — they could also now pay for important information about the health of their fetus, only to have the results hidden from them.

In the event that a counselor fears a result on a test could be cause for an abortion, they can't overtly lie about the results. But there's a profound moral bankruptcy to it. Holding back life-altering information from parents of a severely or terminally ill infant, for example, is as big a betrayal of the relationship between patient and professional as one could imagine.

It's also, as it happens, a betrayal by Gov. McAuliffe. McAuliffe campaigned and won his 2013 race against former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, whose own social conservatism, on abortion in particular, was so far-right as to be politically toxic. McAuliffe promised to be a strong advocate for women's reproductive rights, and rode into the governor's seat at least in some part on the strength of that pledge, gaining high turnout among female voters.

It's impossible to say what exactly the next chapter in this ongoing, state-by-state legislative battle over abortion rights is going to be. But there are two easy conclusions to draw — there is definitely going to be another chapter, and it's probably going to unfold quickly. At least, if the first few months of 2014 serve as any indication.