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UPDATE: Virginia Senate on Tuesday signed off on a revamped proposal that requires most women to undergo an external ultrasound before having an abortion.
The Washington Post reports that the measure passed narrowly, 21-19. The state's lower chamber had previously signed off on a similar version of the scaled-down legislation but because of a separate Senate amendment, the bill will once again need House approval before it heads to the desk of Republican Gov. Robert McDonnell, who has suggested he will sign it into law once he has the chance to.
The legislation originally required that all women undergo an ultrasound procedure, even if that meant that those in the early stages of their pregnancies would need to have an invasive, intravaginal procedure. But after a backlash—amplified in large part by comedy shows like The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live—McDonnell urged the bill's backers to reconsider, which they ultimately did, giving those women the chance to opt out and avoid the invasive procedure.
Under the bill that passed the Senate Tuesday, women who have reported to police that they are victims of rape or incest will not be required to have the external ultrasound. Women who know that their fetus suffers from birth defects, however, will still be required to undergo one prior to an abortion.
Wednesday, Feb. 22, 4:58 p.m.: Virginia lawmakers have dropped a controversial proposal that would have mandated that some women undergo an invasive, intravaginal ultrasound before having an abortion.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that the state House passed a revised bill on Wednesday that still requires a pre-abortion ultrasound for most women, typically occurring as an external procedure known as a transabdominal ultrasound. Those who are early in their pregnancy and would normally be subjected to an intravaginal procedure, however, will be given the choice of opting out.
The revised version passed the lower chamber by a vote of 65-32 and now heads to the Senate, where it's fate remains uncertain. The Senate sponsor of the original bill, Republican Jill Holtzman Vogel, reportedly says she plans to strike the bill if given the chance.
Wednesday, Feb. 22, 3:55 p.m.: Governor Robert McDonnell on Wednesday floated several proposed amendments to the controversial Virginia ultrasound bill. As originally written, the bill would require many women to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound before having an abortion.
Although it is not clear if supporters of the bill will accept the changes, McDonnell is calling for an amendment that would explicitly require only a transabdominal (external) ultrasound be performed on all women who wish to have an abortion, ensuring that "no woman in Virginia will have to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound involuntarily."
McDonnell, who is anti-abortion, explained the decision with language that, in some parts, echoes the language used by the bill's opponents:
"I believe there is no need to direct by statute that further invasive ultrasound procedures be done. Mandating an invasive procedure in order to give informed consent is not a proper role for the state. No person should be directed to undergo an invasive procedure by the state, without their consent, as a precondition to another medical procedure."
Wednesday, Feb. 22, 10:58 a.m.: Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, a Republican who identifies himself as strongly "pro-life," appears to be rethinking his unconditional support of the controversial ultrasound bill that passed through the state legislature earlier this month.
McDonnell's administration began walking back support of the bill as early as last week, when Alternet's Andy Kopsa spoke to press secretary Jeff Caldwell, who said “the governor will review it if it passes and will see what the final language of the bill is,” noting that McDonnell is "generally a pro-life candidate." Previously, the governor's aides said that he'd sign the bill if it made it to his desk.
The Washington Post reports that the governor's team met with delegates Tuesday night to work on finding a way to appease McDonnell's concerns with the bill's current language. As Kopsa and the Post noted, the change of heart has to do with the specific ultrasound procedure required, which the governor's administration claims is more invasive than they originally believed.
Women seeking an abortion could be forced to have a transvaginal ultrasound in order to meet the requirements of the bill, a procedure that involves the insertion of a probe into the vagina. As Slate's Dahlia Lithwick has explained, the procedure meets the federal definition of rape under any other circumstances.
While many anti-abortion advocates still hope the governor will sign it into law, the bill has apparently given McDonnell pause, quite possibly for political reasons: McDonnell is in the unofficial running for the GOP's VP nomination.
Tuesday, Feb. 2: Women looking to get an abortion in Virginia will be required to have an ultrasound and given the chance to see an image of the fetus under legislation passed by the state's legislature on Wednesday.
The Washington Post reports that Democrats and moderate Republicans in the Senate had rejected similar efforts in years past, but that now that the body is more conservative, abortion and other social legislation are back on the front burner. Lawmakers in the lower chamber have already signed off on the bill and Republican Gov. Robert McDonnell has indicated that he will soon sign it into law, making the state the seventh with similar pre-abortion counseling measures.
Once the bill becomes law, women will have to sign a form for their permanent medical record if they choose not to see an image of their fetus. The U.S. Census documented 28,520 abortions in the state in 2008.
One of the bill's sponsors, Republican Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel had this to say: "It is not invasive. It does not attempt to infringe in any way on the doctor-patient relationship, and it absolutely does not infringe on her right to have an abortion."
Democrats who voted against the effort, meanwhile, maintained that it requires an "unnecessary and costly procedure and is a thinly veiled attempt to intimidate women away from abortion," in the words of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
In an post on Slate's XX Factor blog published earlier this week, J. Bryan Lowder highlighted Democratic Sen. Janet Howell and her symbolic response to the ultrasound law in an amendment that required men seeking Viagra to receive a rectal exam.
"We need some gender equity here," Howell told the Huffington Post. "The Virginia senate is about to pass a bill that will require a woman to have totally unnecessary medical procedure at their cost and inconvenience. If we're going to do that to women, why not do that to men?"