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Va. Senate passes bill mandating ultrasound before abortion

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2012

RICHMOND — The Virginia Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that would make the state the eighth in the nation to require women to undergo ultrasound imaging before having an abortion — a high-profile conservative priority for which Gov. Bob McDonnell helped broker a compromise.

The measure passed by a 21-19 vote over the objections of Democrats, who said women should not have to go through a medically unnecessary procedure to exercise a constitutional right and that the government should not be in the business of telling doctors how to do their jobs.

The final vote was largely along party lines. Democrats Charles J. Colgan of Prince William and Phillip P. Puckett of Russell allied themselves with Republicans, and one Republican, John C. Watkins of Powhatan, voted against the measure.

Legislators, at the behest of Mr. McDonnell, removed a provision from the original bill that could have forced women to undergo an invasive transvaginal procedure after the bill drew national attention and mockery from late-night comedians.

Mr. McDonnell said he was "pleased" that the bill passed.

"Obviously, I've said from the beginning I support an informed-consent bill because I think women have a right to know all the medical information," he said.

Sen. Janet D. Howell, Fairfax Democrat, proposed a series of unsuccessful floor amendments — one would have made the ultrasound optional, while another would have exempted women with children who have fetal anomalies. Others would have required either insurance or the state to cover the cost of the procedure.

The Senate agreed to an amendment saying that if a woman is a victim of a rape or incest, if the incident is reported to law enforcement authorities, she would not have to undergo the ultrasound.

But Ms. Howell said that, even in its current form, the bill was unacceptable.

"Very rarely do I get angry," she said. "But I am angry about this bill."

The bill has passed the House of Delegates, but because the Senate amended it, it must be approved again by the House before it heads to Mr. McDonnell's desk.

Befitting a bill that has drawn thousands of protesters to the Capitol, the floor debate Tuesday heated up quickly, with Sen. L. Louise Lucas, Portsmouth Democrat, going as far as saying women would turn to back-alley abortionists to avoid the procedure.

"I would do whatever is necessary to keep you out of my business," she said.

Democrats also argued that because the vast majority of abortions are performed in the first trimester, an external ultrasound performed that early wouldn't even serve the stated purpose of determining the gestational age of the child.

Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat, got into a back-and-forth with his counterpart, Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr., James City Republican, over whether the state has ever mandated a medical procedure. He later said that he hoped his GOP colleagues would drop their "smaller government, people knows best" campaign message.

"You might try voting the way you campaign," he said.

The vote came on the same day that the Senate Finance Committee killed a separate bill that would repeal state funding for low-income women to have abortions if a doctor determines that the child would be born with a physical deformity or mental deficiency.

The votes follow the defeat of a "personhood" measure that would define life as beginning at conception and the tempering of the ultrasound bill last week.

Both proposals quickly drew national attention and late-night mockery. The ultrasound proposal was lampooned on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," while NBC's "Saturday Night Live" poked fun at both measures.

Mr. McDonnell, frequently mentioned as a possible GOP vice-presidential selection, has been forced to navigate a political minefield on hot-button social issues during the General Assembly session and rejected the notion that the issues have tarnished either the state's image or his own in recent weeks.

"I've introduced nearly 200 bills, at my request," he said. "And all of them have been about kitchen-table issues. I think it's a gross misrepresentation for anyone in the press or the Democratic Party to say there was a focus on social issues. The Democrats might be focusing on it. I'm not."

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