Va. Senate Panel Kills Last Attempt To Reverse Ultrasound Law; AG Cuccinelli Backed Measure

January 29, 2013 — The Virginia Senate Committee on Education and Health on Monday rejected the last remaining bill (SB 1332) that would have reversed a state law (HB 462) requiring women to obtain an ultrasound before an abortion, the AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports (Lewis, AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 1/28).

Last week, the committee voted to reject two measures that sought to repeal the Virginia law. 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."

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 the requirement serves no medical purpose (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/18).

Argument Over Hearing

The last remaining measure, also sponsored by Northam, would have made the ultrasound optional and at the consent of the doctor and patient. The bill was "passed by indefinitely" -- meaning it was killed -- in an 8-3 party-line vote.

Committee Chair Steve Martin (R) ordered a roll call vote after blocking attempts by Northam, who is a physician, and another physician to testify for the bill. Martin said there was "no sense having a full public hearing" because the measure had the same intent as the previous bills that were voted down by the committee (AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 1/28).

AG Cuccinelli Backed Failed Legislation

The bill's defeat came as a disappointment to state Attorney General Ken Cuccinnelli (R), one of the most outspoken abortion-rights opponents in Virginia's government, the Washington Post reports.

According to the Post, Cuccinelli last week sent his top deputy to Northam's office to convey his support for the bill and offer assistance in amending the legislation. The deputy also said Cuccinelli's office would try to persuade two Senate Republicans to vote for the bill, Northam said.

Northam said he hoped the backing from Cuccinelli would help the bill pass out of committee, but the attorney general's support "vanished" between last week and Monday's vote. Northam is seeking the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, while Cuccinelli is pursuing the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

Northam and other Democrats accused Cuccinelli of making an election-year switch on the issue. However, Chris LaCivita, Cuccinelli's top political consultant, said the attorney general's opposition to the ultrasound requirement has been "consistent."

According to the Post, a Cuccinelli spokesperson in an email to a reporter last year raised constitutional issues about mandatory ultrasounds and stated that performing one is already standard practice before an abortion. The spokesperson added that the "government can and should require" the doctor to offer the woman a chance to view the image.

Advocates' Response

Anna Scholl, executive director of ProgressVA, said, "Ken Cuccinelli has made a career out of attacking women's reproductive rights and crusading to deny us access to health care," adding that his record "is clear."

Meanwhile, abortion-rights opponent Don Blake of the Virginia Christian Alliance, said, "It would be a big letdown to [Cuccinelli's] base" if he supported softening the ultrasound law (Vozzella, Washington Post, 1/28).