A week after the legislature's bill mandating an internal ultrasound before an abortion caused a national uproar, the Virginia Senate on Tuesday narrowly approved a version that still requires women to get an ultrasound, this time without the vaginal probe.
RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia Senate narrowly approved Tuesday a modified version of a contentious proposal that would require women to get an external ultrasound before an abortion.
The 21-19 vote, mostly along party lines, came a week after Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnell asked legislators to revise the bill following protests on Capitol Square and repeated mocking on national television. Lawmakers amended the original bill, which mandated women to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound, a procedure that requires a probe be inserted into the vagina.
The House and Senate had already approved versions of the ultrasound legislation. But a national uproar over the measure and opponents’ graphic detail of the ultrasounds in early pregnancies led McDonnell — an abortion opponent — to intervene.
An abdominal — or “jelly-on-the-belly” — ultrasound before an abortion would still be required.
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Sen. Janet D. Howell, D-Fairfax, described the original version of the bill as “state rape” and said the new version is tantamount to “state assault.”
In a long and impassioned debate Tuesday, Democrats argued that the ultrasound procedure was merely designed to discourage women from seeking abortions.
The bill will head back to the Republican-led House of Delegates. McDonnell, who signed legislation last year that imposed new regulations on clinics that perform abortions, told reporters that he will review the legislation but supports the concept.
The Senate amended the bill to exclude women who have reported to law-enforcement agencies that they are victims of rape or incest, but it did not exempt women who know that their babies would suffer from birth defects.
Opponents of the bill, including Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and the American Civil Liberties Union, said they have not decided whether to challenge the legislation in court should McDonnell sign it. Seven other states have similar laws.
Republicans, who control both chambers of the General Assembly, have considered several abortion-related measures in the 60-day legislative session. But most, including those ending state subsidies for low-income women to abort fetuses that have serious birth defects, and giving rights to fertilized eggs, have been killed.
Similar ultrasound legislation is pending in 11 other states. If all of the measures pass, more than half of the 50 states will have laws governing ultrasound exams before abortions.
“I think we’re in the middle of a wave of ultrasound bills,” said Elizabeth Nash, a policy analyst with the Guttmacher Institute, which studies reproductive health.
In most states that require ultrasounds, as will be the case in Virginia, women must wait at least 24 hours between abortion counseling and the procedure and make at least two trips — one for the counseling and ultrasound, and another for the abortion.
Providers say scheduling of those trips, and not the ultrasound, has been the most cumbersome and costly effect of the law.
Women who live more than 100 miles from a provider would not have to make two trips.
In several states that require women to make two trips, the number of abortions has fallen, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
As in other states, Virginia’s rule would require that a printout of the ultrasound image be placed in a woman’s medical record.