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Ultrasound Abortion Bill Nears Vote in Virginia

(Photo: B.K. Dewey)


Ultrasound Abortion Bill Nears Vote in Virginia

(Photo: B.K. Dewey)

Richmond, Virginia – A bill requiring a woman to get an ultrasound before having an abortion is poised to pass Virginia’s legislature this week, placing it on track to be signed into law by Gov. Bob McDonnell.

The bill, which could pass the Republican-led House of Delegates as early as Tuesday, is one of the stronger ultrasound laws passed by states in recent years. If it is adopted, Virginia will become the eighth state to require ultrasounds before abortions, a rule that anti-abortion forces hope will cause some women to change their minds but that women’s advocates call an effort to shame women and interfere with their privacy. The Senate, which is split evenly along party lines, narrowly adopted the bill this month.

Mr. McDonnell, a Republican who sponsored similar legislation when he was a lawmaker, initially voiced strong support. But the bill has drawn intense public attention, and a spokesman struck a more muted tone over the weekend, a shift that opponents said could mean that the governor might amend it before signing it. A throng of the bill’s opponents held a vigil outside the Statehouse on Monday in protest.

“If the bill passes, he will review it, in its final form, at that time,” said the spokesman, Martin Tucker. In Virginia, a governor can amend a bill after final passage by the legislature.

The nature and tone of legislation is particularly important for Mr. McDonnell, political analysts say, because he is seen as a possible contender for vice president on the Republican ticket and could be calculating how the bill will be perceived by a national audience.

Requiring ultrasounds before abortions has become one of the principal tactics of the anti-abortion movement, with similar rules now in effect in seven states and being held up by legal challenges in two more — Oklahoma and North Carolina.

While the Virginia bill does require an ultrasound, it does not require the woman to view it, making it less strict than laws in Texas and Oklahoma, where the doctor must place the screen in front of the woman.

In its current form, Virginia’s bill requires that the ultrasound find and monitor the fetal heartbeat and provide an image of the shape of the fetus. As in other states with ultrasound laws, this will often require a probe to be inserted into the vagina. The nonintrusive abdominal ultrasound, on the other hand, often cannot capture the fetus at its small size in the first trimester, when most abortions are performed.

Vaginal ultrasounds are often performed by doctors before abortions anyway, but opponents say that the legal act of requiring it for nonmedical reasons is a violation of the doctor-patient relationship. Delegate Charniele L. Herring, a Democrat who opposes the bill, said the requirement that the probe be inserted vaginally was tantamount to “state-sponsored rape.”

Anti-abortion groups say that it is a tool for “informed consent,” and that they hope some women will be deterred when they see or hear about the physical traits of the developing fetus.

As in other states, Virginia’s rule would impose a 24-hour wait between the ultrasound and the abortion, which critics say adds unnecessary expense and inconvenience. It would also require that a printout of the ultrasound image be placed in a woman’s medical record, whether or not she wants to view it. Critics also say that in the current bill, the cost of the ultrasound will be borne by the woman.

“This is a forced bodily intrusion, and it could be going against a doctor’s better judgment,” said Tarina Keene, executive director of Naral Pro-Choice Virginia. “If a woman says she doesn’t want to have an ultrasound, she shouldn’t have to have one.”

Delegate Bob Marshall, a Republican who plans to vote for the bill, contends that the argument does not ring true because the abortion itself is far more invasive.

“The intrusion is already taking place,” he said.

This article, “Ultrasound Abortion Bill Nears Vote in Virginia,” originally appeared in The New York Times.

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