Virginia Senate votes to repeal ultrasound bill
Bill likely to fail in the House
The Virginia State Senate passed a bill Tuesday to repeal a law requiring women seeking an abortion to receive a transabdominal ultrasound before undergoing the procedure. The bill is expected to fail in the House of Delegates.
SB 617 was brought to the floor by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Newport News. Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat and former physician, cast the deciding vote in favor of repealing the law when faced with 20-20 gridlock in the chamber.
A Republican-controlled House and Senate passed the bill in 2012, when it was signed into law by former governor Bob McDonnell.
The original version of the bill required women to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound before receiving an abortion, but lawmakers revised the bill to require only a standard ultrasound after significant public backlash. A standard ultrasound uses a transducer over the abdomen to create 2-D images of the abdominal cavity,
Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax, voted for the law’s repeal in Tuesday’s vote.
“I think we have an absurd bill on our hands,” he said. “In the early stages of pregnancy, an abdominal ultrasound will show nothing … in the earliest stages of pregnancy, the only way you can have an image is to have an internal ultrasound.”
Barker drew a distinction between the reasoning and the rationale behind the Republican-backed law. Barker said though the rationale is to provide standard medical care, the reason behind the law is to dissuade women from pursuing an intended abortion.
“The perception is that this would lead women to change their minds, but research shows it does not have that effect,” he said. “Even if it were, we don’t write into the code of Virginia everything that’s standard medical practice.”
Supporters of the bill, meanwhile, believe there is a need for women to have an ultrasound before proceeding with an abortion.
“Considering the fact that health procedures far less complicated than abortions require ultrasounds, I do see a viable argument that requiring an ultrasound for an abortion is a legitimate health and safety regulation,” said fourth-year College student Peter Finocchio, chairman of the College Republicans. “I think that every Virginian, whether pro-life or pro-choice, agrees that abortion ought to be a safe procedure.”
State College Republicans Chair Elizabeth Minneman, a third-year College student and pro-life advocate, recognized the resistance toward the law.
“As a proponent of individual freedom, I understand concerns that the intervaginal ultrasound method of providing information to women is overly invasive and medically unnecessary,” Minneman said.
Instead, Minneman said she thought a less invasive and more educational approach would be more effective.
“I would be more in favor of laws similar to the ‘Women’s Right to Know Act’ in Minnesota, which requires women who have abortions to receive information about their fetus’ level of development, how the abortion is performed and how the abortion affects the fetus,” she said.
The bill has spurred particular backlash from women’s groups, which Center for Politics spokesperson Geoffrey Skelley said may be a problem for Republicans.
“Female voters are already predisposed to vote Democratic for assorted socioeconomic reasons, and limiting abortion rights probably hasn’t helped the GOP with that bloc of voters,” Skelley said.
Skelley said that though the United States is split relatively evenly among “pro-life” and “pro-choice” supporters, the majority of Americans deem abortion an acceptable practice in some cases. Democrats have attacked the language of Republicans on the issue of abortion, Skelley said, claiming the GOP is waging a “war against women.”
Skelley said the likelihood of the bill even making it to the House floor for a vote is low.
“Republicans control the Virginia House of Delegates by a 67 to 32 margin, so there is pretty much a zero percent chance of the bill passing the House,” he said.
Barker agreed with Skelley’s analysis.
“It will not pass,” he said. “There is no question about that.”
Multiple Virginia Republican lawmakers were contacted, but did not respond to requests for comment.