Ultrasound bill becomes law
Gov. McDonnell signs legislation requiring women to obtain pre-abortion imaging; set to take effect July 1
Gov. Bob McDonnell signed House Bill 462 Wednesday which requires women in the state of Virginia to undergo an abdominal ultrasound before receiving an abortion. The bill is set to take effect July 1.
According to HB 462 "a qualified medical professional... shall perform fetal ultrasound imaging and... fetal heart tone services on the patient undergoing the abortion" at least 24 hours before a woman has an abortion. A woman who resides more than 100 miles from a clinic can have an ultrasound just two hours before undergoing the abortion.
"In Charlottesville, women come from as far as West Virginia... around 100 miles away," Semones said. "What's the difference between 100 miles and 99 miles? It just makes for additional costs for childcare, lodging, [and other costs]."
Olivia Gans, president of the Virginia Society for Human Life, said mandating the ultrasound will help pregnant women make more informed decisions. \n"I think it's unfortunate that the discussion in Virginia has taken a turn that doing this procedure, which gives women more information about their bodies, [about] the state of their pregnancy, and about the development of their unborn child... all of which are completely relevant medical information,... [is bad]," Gans said. "To suggest that women shouldn't or don't want medical information is a bit hypocritical on the part of abortion providers."
The bill also requires the medical professional performing the ultrasound to offer the patient a printed copy of the ultrasound image, which is then kept in the patient's medical file for the next seven years.
"The bill's effects will be felt in the kind of treatment women will now receive from their doctors," University Democrats President James Schwab said. "The ultrasound requirement places Gov. McDonnell and the Republican state legislatures directly between a woman and her doctor in requiring unnecessary steps to receive legal medical services."
Gans, however, said she felt the bill is entirely "pro-woman."
"It is important that we not deny [a woman] information because some in the abortion industry might not want her to change her mind," Gans said.
Tanya Semones, field coordinator for Planned Parenthood in Southwest Virginia, said she did not think the bill would affect the number of women seeking abortions.
"[These women] have already made their decision," she said. "The bill just makes it harder for them [to execute it]."
The University's Center for Politics spokesperson Geoff Skelley said the conservative-leaning bill reflects Republican control of both houses of the General Assembly as well as the governorship.
"You saw this at a national level in 2008 and some people thought the Democrats overreached there," Skelley said. "[A party] does [its] best to satisfy their base and I think that's what the Republicans were trying to do [with the ultrasound bill]."
The bill signing comes at a critical time, with McDonnell on the short list to be the Republican vice presidential candidate should Mitt Romney win the party's presidential nomination, Skelley said.
"This complicates things for [McDonnell]," Skelley said. "Romney's message now and in the general election is the economy... this issue will distract from that."
Semones said protests held during this past month in response to this and other controversial bills regarding women's rights have impacted pending legislation. In its original form, HB 462 imposed a transvaginal ultrasound requirement on women seeking abortions. The signed law instead requires an abdominal procedure. Semones said "the only reason [the ultrasound bill] was amended was because of" these protests.
More than 1,000 women and men protested the bill the first weekend of March in front of the Richmond Capitol, resulting in the arrests of 30 protestors.
"No other bill has created such backlash from the Virginia populace," Schwab said.
Protesters from Roanoke, Richmond, Northern Virginia and Virginia Beach rallied for changes to legislation Feb. 23 for Virginia's pro-choice day of action.
"[These rallies] were a great opportunity to engage supporters in Virginia and raise awareness about women's health," Semones said.
McDonnell also pushed for the transabdominal amendment to the original HB 462. Skelley said McDonnell's changes hinted at attempts to find middle ground on the ultrasound issue.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) condemned the bill for being physically invasive and economically burdensome.
According to ACOG's 2009 bulletin, "the use of either two-dimensional or three-dimensional ultrasonography only to view the fetus, obtain a picture of the fetus, or determine the fetal sex without a medical indication is inappropriate and contrary to responsible medical practice."
Under these standards, an ultrasound must only be performed if there is a valid medical indication.
Because McDonnell had expressed support for the bill and his legislative record implied agreement, Skelley said the Republican Party's control of the General Assembly made the bill's passage almost inevitable.
"[McDonnell] had previously co-sponsored legislation in this realm," Skelley said. To lessen the shock value, however, "we did see him hesitate for a moment and have [lawmakers] make it a less aggressive bill"