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Va. Republicans Block Effort To Repeal Ultrasound Law; Senators Also Reject Other Abortion-Related Legislation

Va. Republicans Block Effort To Repeal Ultrasound Law; Senators Also Reject Other Abortion-Related Legislation

January 18, 2013 — The Virginia Senate Committee on Education and Health on Thursday rejected two measures that would have repealed a state law (HB 462) requiring women to obtain an ultrasound before an abortion, the Washington Post reports.

The first of the bills -- introduced by state Sens. Ralph Northam (D) and Barbara Favola (D) -- would have banned the state from requiring women to receive a "transabdominal ultrasound" before an abortion. The second bill would have prevented the state from requiring an ultrasound for "nonmedical reasons."

Both bills failed by an 8-7 vote.

The ultrasound law spurred controversy last year because it originally would have required women to receive a vaginal ultrasound, which is typically used in the early stages of pregnancy. The legislation was later amended to specify an external ultrasound would be used, but critics argued that such a test serves no medical purpose (Vozzella, Washington Post, 1/17).

Northam told committee members, "I am giving you the opportunity to right the wrong committed last year."

During the committee meeting, the Virginia American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Medical Society of Virginia spoke in favor of repealing the ultrasound requirement. However, Victoria Cobb, president of the antiabortion group Family Foundation of Virginia, argued that abortion providers are "hiding the picture" of the ultrasound to ensure that women go through with obtaining an abortion (Bassett, Huffington Post, 1/17).

Other Committee Action

The committee also rejected two other bills, proposed by state Sen. Mark Herring (D), that would have reinstated exemptions from a state requirement for abortion clinics to meet the same building standards as new hospitals.

Further, the committee voted against a bill (SB 826) introduced by state Sen. Thomas Garrett (R) that would have banned Medicaid coverage for abortions in cases in which the fetus has severe mental or physical disabilities (Washington Post, 1/17).

Garrett's bill would have repealed a provision of Virginia law that allows the state Board of Health to pay for abortions for women who are eligible for Medicaid if a physician certifies that "the fetus will be born with a gross and totally incapacitating physical deformity or with a gross and totally incapacitating mental deficiency."

Lauri Kalanges, deputy director of Family Health Services, told the American Independent  that three physicians are involved in the application process. First, a physician must submit a form on behalf of the woman explaining the medical situation and the fetus' likelihood of survival. For the funding to be approved, two physicians employed by the state Department of Health must review the application and agree that the fetus is not likely to survive.

According to Department of Health data, 58 applications for the funding were submitted between July 1, 2009, and Jan. 3, 2013, and 46 of them were approved (Moore, American Independent, 1/16).