February 23, 2012
Amid a public uproar that prompted Virginia's governor to withdraw his support, Republican legislators on Wednesday dropped a bitterly contested requirement that women seeking abortions undergo invasive ultrasound imaging, likely dooming the bill.
The Republican-controlled House of Delegates voted 65-32 for an amended bill that requires only an external ultrasound, not the vaginal insertion of a wand-like device that emits ultrasonic waves that are used to create images of the fetus.
The House amended the bill shortly after Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell issued a statement opposing the more invasive procedure. McDonnell, who has been mentioned as a possible vice-presidential candidate, shifted ground after the proposal drew outrage from women, national ridicule from television comedians and appeals from GOP moderates.
"Mandating an invasive procedure in order to give informed consent is not a proper role for the state," said McDonnell, who had voiced support for the legislation last week. "No person should be directed to undergo an invasive procedure by the state, without their consent, as a precondition to another medical procedure."
His written statement came as the House's majority Republicans quarreled over how to handle the legislation minutes before it was to be debated. House Republicans twice recessed Wednesday's session to regroup. The final vote was mostly along party lines.
The amended bill now returns to the Senate where its sponsor, Sen. Jill Vogel, said she will strike the legislation. A House version, by Del. Kathy Byron, is pending before a Senate committee.
The invasive ultrasound measure is among three anti-abortion measures coursing their way through a General Assembly where socially conservative Republicans gained dominance after last fall's elections.
One bill would give embryos the full legal protection of personhood and criminalize their destruction, outlawing almost all abortions and, critics say, some forms of contraception. It would take effect only if the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortions is overturned.
Another would end state Medicaid funding for abortions sought by indigent women whose fetuses are severely and grossly deformed.
But the ultrasound bill provoked the most outrage and national attention.
On Presidents Day, about 1,400 people, most of them women, linked arms to form a silent human cordon along the Capitol Square walkways that legislators use between the Capitol and their legislative offices. Some demonstrators wore shirts and stickers that derided the bill as state-mandated rape.
On Wednesday, a consortium of liberal and women's advocacy groups presented McDonnell with petitions collected statewide bearing the names of 30,030 voters.
Aside from national news coverage, the bills crossed over into comedy and popular culture with a "Saturday Night Live" skit lampooning the measures and a withering comedic critique Tuesday by Comedy Central's Jon Stewart.
The bill that was amended Wednesday had already won Senate passage on a 22-18 vote. Told of the changes to her bill, she said many questions had arisen over it, "and I don't have all the answers."
Like the original bill, the House-approved measure would require women seeking abortions to wait at least 24 hours after undergoing the external ultrasound fetal imaging before they could have the abortion if they live within 100 miles of the abortion clinic. If they live farther, they must wait only two hours.
Also like the earlier bill, the House measure does not compel women to view ultrasound images or hear the fetal heartbeat, if there is one.
Religious conservatives were unhappy with what seemed to be an overnight reversal of fate for one of their marquee bills.
"We are extremely disappointed in this outcome," Victoria Cobb of the conservative, Richmond-based Family Foundation said after the vote. But given McDonnell's action Wednesday, she reasoned, a mandated external ultrasound law beat nothing at all.
"If an ultrasound bill does not ultimately pass the General Assembly this year it would be, in our opinion, a far worse outcome then the amendments that passed today. For this reason, we ceased our opposition to the amendments," she said.
Democrats were not satisfied with the amendments, either, arguing that they made the bill worse because they did not include exemptions for certain types of miscarriages, nor does it excuse victims of rape or incest.
"Legislatures should not walk into doctors' offices and dictate what happens," said Del. Charnielle Herring, D-Alexandria. "There is no consideration given here to the woman who is raped in the street."
To read Gov. McDonnell's full statement on the bill, click here.
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