Have Anti-Abortion Ultrasound Bills Become A Republican Liability?

March 1, 2012 12:56 a.m.

Soon after Republicans seized control of state legislatures across the country in the 2010 midterms, they began pushing a torrent of bills to restrict abortion. But many states are finding that such measures don’t go over as easily in an election year — particularly ones that mandate invasive “transvaginal” ultrasounds — and can sometimes be a political liability.

In Virginia, conservative pro-life Gov. Bob McDonnell asked lawmakers to soften a mandatory ultrasound bill before he would sign it. Lawmakers in Alabama backed off a similar provision.

The latest of these measures is being pushed in Pennsylvania. Patrick Murphy, a former congressman who’s running for state attorney general, issued a statement Wednesday condemning the bill, which some have argued goes further in its anti-abortion requirements than any other state.Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly, a Republican who is not running for reelection, did not respond immediately for a request for comment on the legislation.

The Pennsylvania law, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Kathy Rapp, would not just require transvaginal ultrasounds for most women seeking abortions. The convoluted, 22-page bill contains enough additional snares that women’s rights activists deem it more pernicious. Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, says there is definitely “potential for litigation” if the current bill becomes law. The ACLU is particularly incensed over a provision that would require doctors to give a state-mandated statement to patients seeking abortions using phrases like “unborn child” that could be seen as “forced speech” in violation of the First Amendment.

But Hoover says the heightened political scrutiny that comes with an election year could doom the bill. There could be some abortion fatigue in the legislature — which has already pushed two other anti-abortion measures — if the issue gets drawn into election-year politics, he said.

Murphy seems to be doing his best to ensure the issue becomes an embarrassment to Republicans, and forces them to back off — just as it did in Virginia and Alabama, and as candidates for Senate use Republican attacks on the Obama administration’s new contraception law in their own campaigns.

Earlier this month, a bill in Virginia caught enough national attention to force McDonnell, widely considered a short-list contender for the vice presidential nod, to pull his support and urge a compromise. The bill essentially mandated a “transvaginal” ultrasound, which Democratic lawmakers began calling “state-sponsored rape.” Murphy didn’t go quite so far when condemning his state’s Women’s Right to Know Act, but he did call it unconstitutional:

“There is no legal justification for shoving an ultrasound screen in a woman’s face and forcing her to deliver printout image to her physician — all so she can get permission from the government to have a legal medical procedure. The legislature has no Constitutional authority to require women to have this unnecessary and invasive medical procedure and, therefore, must abandon this insulting attack on women’s rights. Even Bob McDonnell, the conservative Governor of Virginia, was forced to abandon a similar bill, admitting that it ‘might run afoul’ of the Constitution and open up the state to serious legal problems.”

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