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Over the past few days, Virginia lawmakers have been considering a bill that would require women to submit to a transvaginal or pelvic ultrasound before they can get an abortion, as part of "informed consent."
The bill has been decried by pro-choice groups and Democrats as needlessly invasive and "akin to rape," possibly even with criminal implications. Though the state Senate approved it by a vote of 21-18, the House twice delayed a vote on it in the midst of intense media scrutiny, protests outside the capitol and a petition signed by 25,000 people.
On Wednesday, McDonnell, who had previously said he would approve the bill, put out a statement reiterating his support for pro-life policies and informed consent laws, but essentially telling the legislature to back off.
"Over the past days I have discussed the specific language of the proposed legislation with other governors, physicians, attorneys, legislators, advocacy groups, and citizens," McDonnell said. "It is apparent that several amendments to the proposed legislation are needed to address various medical and legal issues which have arisen. It is clear that in the majority of cases, a routine external, transabdominal ultrasound is sufficient to meet the bills stated purpose, that is, to determine gestational age."
"Thus," he continued, "having looked at the current proposal, 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."
McDonnell said that as a result, he has recommended that the state Assembly include a series of amendments to the bill. "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," he said. "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."
He added that only a doctor will be able to determine if another type of ultrasound is necessary, but "the government will have no role in that medical decision."
Tarina Keene, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, told TPM that this is "not at all" a victory, despite the fact that McDonnell is touting it as a compromise. "As it still stands," she said, "this bill is still a mandatory ultrasound. The government should have no role in this decision whether its internal or external."
If he were really interested in a compromise, Keene said, "he would have made this go away, and at the very least he should have made it optional."
The bill still "doesn't give [a woman] any choice. It doesn't give the doctor any choice. It puts up a barrier, saying that you have to concede to this procedure before you can access your constitutional right to an abortion," said Keene.
Though the exact nature of the amendments is unclear, should the Assembly adopt McDonnell's recommendations it would likely put Virgina in line with the seven other states that mandate an abortion provider perform an abdominal ultrasound before a woman can get an abortion, according to the Guttmacher Instittue. Those states also require that the provider "offer the women the opportunity to view the image."
Read the full statement from McDonnell here.