Va. House Approves Amended Version of Ultrasound Bill After Gov. Endorses Compromise

February 23, 2012 — After Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) withdrew support for a bill (HB 462) that would require women seeking abortion care to first receive an ultrasound, members of the House of Delegates on Wednesday voted to approve an amended version, the AP/Washington Post reports. The original bill had drawn national attention amid outrage and public protests from women's health supporters (AP/Washington Post, 2/22).

In a 65-32 vote, the House approved a modified bill that would only require an external ultrasound, not a more invasive vaginal ultrasound (Ward, Reuters, 2/22). Under the amended bill, physicians would be required to offer women a different type of ultrasound if the fetus is not visible in an abdominal screening, but women would be able to reject it (Tavernise, New York Times, 2/22). In addition, women would have to wait at least 24 hours after the ultrasound before obtaining an abortion if they live within 100 miles of the abortion clinic; in other cases, the wait would be two hours (AP/Washington Post, 2/22).

The bill now returns to the Senate, where its future is unclear. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Jill Vogel (R), said she plans to withdraw it, but it is not clear if rules would permit her to do so, according to the New York Times (New York Times, 2/22). "There are moments when you are a legislator when you have to stop and you have a moment of real conscience," Vogel said, adding she "had that moment this morning considering the outcome and the fate of this bill" (Meola/Hester, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/22). McDonnell on Wednesday said discussions with physicians, lawyers and lawmakers led him to conclude that amendments should be added to the original bill. "Mandating an invasive procedure in order to give informed consent is not a proper role for the state," McDonnell said in a statement. "No person should be directed to undergo an invasive procedure by the state, without their consent, as a precondition to another medical procedure," he added (Kumar/Vozzella, Washington Post, 2/22).

McDonnell initially supported the legislation, but a spokesperson last weekend indicated that his stance was less concrete (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/22). Some political analysts speculate that McDonnell -- who has been mentioned as a potential Republican vice presidential candidate -- made the decision "with an eye to a broader national audience that might not look favorably on the passage of such a conservative bill," according to the Times (New York Times, 2/22).

McDonnell Reversed To 'Cut His Losses,' Washington Post Editorial States

"McDonnell, possibly worried that his vice presidential prospects could evaporate in the intensifying heat and glare of the national abortion debate, has flipped," a Washington Post editorial states. The governor was "[p]reviously an enthusiastic advocate of the ultrasound bill -- and almost every other measure antiabortion purists could dream up," the editorial notes, adding that "until the political winds shifted, a state-mandated probe inserted into the vagina was fine by him."

The editorial notes that the majority of advocates for the Virginia bill, as well as similar measures in other states, "are Republicans who decry government intrusion -- into health care, public schools, private industry, you name it." The editorial argues that the decision to include an ultrasound prior to abortion care should be made by a physician and a patient. "When lawmakers and governors intervene in that decision, they politicize women's health care," the editorial concludes (Washington Post, 2/22).