Va. Debate Reflects Larger Fight Over Ultrasound Laws

February 27, 2012 — Virginia's controversial bill (HB 462) that would require a woman seeking abortion care to first receive an ultrasound is part of a larger push by abortion-rights opponents, who have pushed for similar legislation in other states since 2005, the New York Times reports (Eckholm, New York Times, 2/25). Seven states currently require ultrasounds prior to abortion care, while 20 states have other ultrasound-related requirements and another 11 states have legislation pending.

"I think we're in the middle of a wave of ultrasound bills," Elizabeth Nash, policy analyst for the Guttmacher Institute, said (Sun, Washington Post, 2/26). The push started with several states requiring physicians to perform ultrasounds during pre-abortion counseling and offer pregnant women a chance to look at the image, but Nash said the laws are getting stricter. North Carolina, Oklahoma and Texas all passed laws that require that the ultrasound monitor face the woman. The measures also mandate what the physician must tell the woman, effectively requiring that they use a more invasive vaginal ultrasound, rather than an external ultrasound, to get a detailed image. "For a long time it was about shaming women," Nash said, adding, "And now it's about humiliating women" (New York Times, 2/25).

Va. Senate Withdraws Ultrasound Bill

Meanwhile, the Virginia Senate on Friday voted to end consideration of its version of the ultrasound legislation (SB 484), while the House version (HB 462) is expected to go before the Senate on Monday, WTVR reports (WTVR, 2/24). Both versions have been amended to require an external ultrasound, rather than a vaginal ultrasound (Nolan, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/24).

Gov. McDonnell Defends Call To Amend Legislation

Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) on Friday said that legal and medical concerns led him to call for the General Assembly to amend the original ultrasound bill, the Washington Times reports.

McDonnell said he was "certainly supportive of the concept" and "still support[s] the bill" but "found out from the medical community that in most cases the abdominal ultrasound isn't sufficient, that on their own they already do other kinds of ultrasounds, but I didn't think it was proper to mandate invasive ultrasounds, so I said, let's make those amendments" (Sherfinski, Washington Times, 2/24).

Some political analysts speculate that the decision could have long-term implications for McDonnell, who has been mentioned as a potential Republican vice presidential candidate, according to the New York Times. "This runs counter to the political identity that he has so carefully constructed," Bob Holsworth, a political analyst, said. "The open question is how permanent is this and can he pivot back," Holsworth added (Tavernise, New York Times, 2/24).

Amended Ultrasound Legislation Still an 'Unacceptable Intrusion,' New York Times Editorial States

"There is some comfort in the fact that Virginia lawmakers stepped back this week from an outrageously aggressive piece of antiabortion legislation," a New York Times editorial states. However, the amended version of the bill "is still an unacceptable intrusion into women's medical decisions." The editorial notes that the "lawmakers reversed course abruptly as opponents raised their voices" on both the ultrasound bill and a separate bill (HB 1) that would have defined fertilized eggs as people. "The response to the overreach in Virginia contains a political warning: conservatives eager to undermine women's rights proceed at their own peril," the editorial concludes (New York Times, 2/24).