Virginia Ultrasound Bill Passes in the House

The Virginia House of Delegates passed a revised version of a GOP sponsored informed consent bill that would require women to undergo an ultrasound at least 24 hours before having an abortion was passed on Wednesday.  The new bill, which requires women to receive an external, transabdominal ultrasound rather than a more invasive transvaginal ultrasound, passed by a vote of 65-32.

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell revoked his support for the original bill just minutes before the House began debate on it, saying the government did not have the power to require the transvaginal procedure.

“Mandating an invasive procedure in order to give informed consent is not a proper role for the state,” McDonnell said in a statement.  “No person should be directed to undergo an invasive procedure by the state, without their consent, as a precondition to another medical procedure.”

“For this reason, I am requesting that the General Assembly amend this bill to explicitly state that no woman in Virginia will have to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound involuntarily.  I am asking the General Assembly to state in this legislation that only a transabdominal, or external, ultrasound will be required to satisfy the requirements to determine gestational age.  Should a doctor determine that another form of ultrasound may be necessary to provide the necessary images and information that will be an issue for the doctor and the patient.  The government will have no role in that medical decision,” he said.

Virginia House Speaker William Howell said during floor debates on the measure that McDonnell had helped GOP House members amend the bill based on the recommendations in his statement.

Del. Kathy Byron, the sponsor of the original bill, said she supports the new version.  “I rise in support of this bill,” she said Wednesday, “We will still be one state of seven strengthening their informed consent law.”

Democrats have said they were not satisfied with the changes, or with the fact that they were introduced right before the vote on the bill took place.

“I think we need to spend time with this, we shouldn’t be playing doctor on the House floor with this kind of language,” said Del. David Toscano.  “The public has an interest in this bill and has not seen it until 20 minutes ago.”

Del. Jennifer McClellan said the amended bill causes more problems than the original, because performing a regular ultrasound on an early pregnancy does nothing to assess the age of the fetus.

“It tries to fix an issue I’ve raised on this floor,” she said, referring the transvaginal ultrasound mandate, “but in doing so, it not only doesn’t fix it but it makes it worse.  What you have done is mandated for any abortion done early in a pregnancy an ultrasound that will be utterly useless.”

Members of the state legislature ventured Wednesday morning that the Republicans were looking for a way to rewrite the bill to avoid having to fully back down from it, and McClellan tweeted from the House floor around 2:30 p.m. that “a substitute to the ultrasound bill is being circulated.”

“A lot of rumors are floating around this building that the Republicans are trying desperately to find some way out of this Pandora’s Box,” said a top legislative staffer who works with Virginia’s Democrats.  “I think the sponsors didn’t realize when this law passed in North Dakota that this was an intrusive ultrasound.  But it would look terrible with their base if they backed down now and didn’t pass it.”

February 22, 2012