VA Passes Ultrasound Bill -- and 11 Other States Are Considering Similar Ones

Eleven other states are working on ultrasound bills -- and some of them are much harsher than Virginia's.
Eleven other states are working on ultrasound bills -- and some of them are much harsher than Virginia's.

On Wednesday, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell signed the watered-down (but still controversial) bill mandating that women seeking abortions must have an ultrasound done before ending a pregnancy.

The bill, which was passed by the state's Senate in February when it still required women to submit to trans-vaginal ultrasounds -- a procedure that some opponents called "state rape" -- also requires women who live within 100 miles of the clinic to wait 24 hours after the ultrasound before having an abortion. The new law goes into effect on July 1; abortion providers who do not comply with the new law will be hit with a $2,500 fine for each violation. (No official word on whether insurance companies, doctors, or the patients themselves will pick up the tab for the ultrasounds.)

"Governor McDonnell says that the Transportation Safety Administration is too intrusive with pat-downs at airports, but is willing to sign an intrusive, unnecessary ultrasound bill?" Leslie Byrne, the first woman elected to Congress from Virginia and a member of the Women's Strike Force PAC, asked in a statement.

"This bill serves to demean women and subject them to a costly and unnecessary medical procedure," Rebecca Geller, the spokesperson and co-founder of Women's Strike Force, said. "The government should not make medical decisions for a woman! You have brought shame to the great state of Virginia."

But Virginia isn't the first state to put such a law on the books. According to the Guttmacher Institute, seven other states -- Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, and Texas, require ultrasounds before an abortion, and two others (North Carolina and Oklahoma) have similar laws in place that are currently unenforceable.

In addition, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, Utah, and West Virginia require that a woman be given an opportunity to see the image of the fetus if an ultrasound is performed, and in Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Utah abortion providers are required to offer to perform an ultrasound even if the pregnancy is not advanced enough to require one before termination.

Eleven other states have similar legislation pending, The Washington Post reported.

Many abortion providers do an ultrasound before the procedure anyway, some doctors said, because it's the most accurate way to verify the developmental stage of the fetus -- a necessary step to make sure that the procedure is being performed within the legal timeframe.

"It's pretty much common practice," Dr. Willie Parker, who performs abortion near Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, told the Washington Post.

Abdominal ultrasounds, in which the transducer is rubbed over the outside of the abdomen, are performed most frequently. Trans-vaginal ultrasounds, in which the transducer is part of a long probe that is inserted deeply into the vagina, are usually used during the early and middle part of the first trimester. Sixty percent of abortions take place before nine weeks gestation.

The law in Texas is much more restrictive that Virginia's. In Texas, the person conducting the ultrasound must also perform the abortion, and even if the patient refuses to look at the screen during the ultrasound the doctor must read a detailed description of the fetus out loud to her. Pennsylvania has a similar bill in the works -- one which the Pennsylvania Medical Society and other medical groups oppose, but which a state House committee has already approved, even though women would in some cases have to get two ultrasounds in order to comply.

The fact that doctors are against the law and women are protesting because of it isn't a concern for lawmakers, some of whom are willing to reframe the issue in order to make it more palatable.

"We'd rather view it as giving women the right to know and to make an informed choice," Pennsylvania Republican state Representative Matthew Baker told The Morning Call in February.

Republican state Representative Kathy L. Rapp, the main sponsor of the Pennsylvania bill, told The New York Times that she'd consider toning the bill down if Governor Tom Corbett objected to it. "Just as the Virginia legislature heard from their governor, that would be a consideration," she said. "But at this point the governor has not communicated any concerns regarding the bill."

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