Va. Senate Defeats 'Personhood' Bill; Senate Comm. Approves Modified Ultrasound Bill

February 24, 2012 — The Virginia Senate on Thursday sent a bill (HB 1) that would define fertilized eggs as people back to committee, ending the measure's chances for this session, Politico reports (Weinger, Politico, 2/23).

The Senate voted 24-14 to return the "personhood" bill to the Senate Education and Health Committee (Kumar, "Virginia Politics," Washington Post, 2/23). Earlier on Thursday, the committee endorsed the measure 8-7 along party lines after the addition of an amendment to clarify that no provision in the measure would restrict the use of federally approved contraceptives (AP/USA Today, 2/23). Opponents of the bill argued that it could prohibit some forms of birth control, as well as in vitro fertilization (Kumar, "Virginia Politics," Washington Post, 2/23).

The bill could be revived during the 2013 session. Critics of the bill noted that the postponement means that the bill would not be debated until after election season, according to the New York Times. The delays on the measure also highlight divisions among Republicans over the bill, the Times reports.

"Pro-life groups are concerned that [Gov. Bob McDonnell (R)] had a hand in this," Don Blake, head of the conservative group Virginia Christian Alliance, said. The vote came one day after McDonnell told Republicans in the House of Delegates to amend a bill (HB 462) that would require women to obtain ultrasounds before receiving abortion care (Tavernise, New York Times, 2/23).

Senate Comm. Approves Modified Ultrasound Bill

The Senate Education and Health Committee also voted on Thursday to approve an amended version of the ultrasound bill that would require an external ultrasound, not a more invasive vaginal ultrasound, UPI reports. The full state Senate could vote on the bill as soon as Friday (UPI, 2/24).

In related news, a Washington Post analysis traces "the slow-motion unraveling of the original ultrasound bill" over the weeks leading up to McDonnell's decision to withdraw support for the measure (Vozzella/Kumar, Washington Post, 2/23).

Ultrasound Laws in Other States

Although the Virginia bill sparked intense protests and drew national media attention, several other states already have laws requiring an ultrasound before abortion care, the AP/U-T San Diego reports. According to the Guttmacher Institute, none of the states specifically requires a transvaginal ultrasound. However, Elizabeth Nash, Guttmacher's state issues manager, noted that under some of the laws, physicians essentially have no other option because an external ultrasound cannot provide the detailed image of a first-trimester pregnancy that is required (Lewis, AP/U-T San Diego, 2/23).

The Texas Tribune notes that the political environment in Virginia is very different than it was in Texas when that state's ultrasound bill was passed last year, which could explain the difference in media coverage of the two bills. "Virginia is a battleground state with two Democratic U.S. senators," Matt Mackowiak, a GOP consultant said. "It's a state that President Obama won in 2008," he noted, adding, "Texas is a deep-red state, with every statewide elected official being Republican."

Sarah Wheat, co-interim CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region, said, "There was no 'Saturday Night Live' skit when Texas passed its sonogram law." She added, "But now we're in a year that has widely been reported as a war on women" (Ramshaw, Texas Tribune, 2/23).