RICHMOND — Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has signed a high-profile bill mandating that women undergo ultrasound imaging before having an abortion, his office announced Wednesday.
"Women have a right to know all the available medical and legal information surrounding the abortion decision before giving legally effective informed consent," Mr. McDonnell said in a statement. "Informed consent is already required prior to an abortion being performed in Virginia, based on the longstanding health care concept that complete information about a medical procedure must be given to a patient before she can freely consent to a procedure. As difficult as an abortion decision is, the information provided by ultrasounds, along with other information given by the doctor pursuant to current law and prevailing medical practice, can help the mother make a fully informed decision."
The issue inflamed passions on both sides of the aisle and attracted derision from late-night comics and cable news shows. The most recent flap came over the weekend, when approximately 30 demonstrators protesting anti-abortion legislation were arrested for refusing to leave the steps of the Virginia state Capitol.
The original measure could have required women to undergo an invasive transvaginal procedure, but Mr. McDonnell successfully proposed changes to the bill so that only a transabdominal, "jelly-on-the-belly" ultrasound would be mandatory.
"The issue of abortion raises passionate feelings among many Virginians, based on one's own views on life and liberty," Mr. McDonnell said. "While debates in the legislature over the decades may seem to indicate there is no common ground to be found on this issue, I believe that areas of agreement can and do exist. Most agree that a woman’s decision to seek an abortion is difficult, irreversible and life-altering. Nearly everyone agrees that reducing the number of abortions is a laudable goal. I believe that we become a more compassionate society when we enact reasonable legislation to protect innocent human life."
Opponents argue that it would be unprecedented for the state to order a medical procedure without having insurance companies pay for it. And since the vast majority of abortions occur in the early stages of pregnancy, the specific procedure being mandated would not be enough to provide anything discernible that would help determine the gestational age of the child, opponents say.
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