Va. Senate mandates abdominal ultrasounds before abortion
WTOP's Hank Silverberg
AP Political Writer
RICHMOND, Va. - Virginia's Senate passed legislation Tuesday that requires women seeking abortions to undergo noninvasive ultrasounds, days after amending the measure to eliminate a requirement that the exams be conducted through a vaginal procedure that had drawn the scorn of commentators and TV comedians.
The 21-19 vote in the Senate split evenly between 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans and represented the last opportunity for Democrats to derail the contentious measure that garnered national scrutiny. The senators on Tuesday rejected amendments to make the procedure optional or provide women help in paying for them.
The bill returns to Virginia's House for quick concurrence on amendments made last week, including one that eliminated the mandatory invasive vaginal ultrasounds and another that would exempt victims of rape and incest who reported the crimes to police.
After that, the measure heads to the desk of Gov. Bob McDonnell, who largely dictated revisions to the legislation a seek ago.
Seven states mandate some form of pre-abortion ultrasound exam.
Along mostly party lines, the GOP-ruled Senate on Tuesday rejected several amendments that would have made the procedure optional, forced insurers to cover it or the state to pay for it, and would have exempted women who had no insurance coverage.
By the end of the hourlong floor debate, tempers flared and Democrats appeared only to harden their resolve deny Republicans the 21 votes they would need Wednesday to sustain a House version of the state budget, the only remaining version of Virginia's indispensable framework for funding government the next two years.
Female Democrats in particular spared no wrath for the Republicans and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican who broke several tie votes in favor of his party in rejecting amendments that would have blunted the measure.
"The arrogance of this body in telling women what to do with their bodies," Sen. L. Louise Lucas of Portsmouth said, angrily thrusting her finger toward the Republican side of the Senate chamber. "Think about what this will do to women. They will go to a back alley abortionist."
Sen. Janet D. Howell, who sat glumly as one after another of her amendments was defeated, scowled as she faced Republicans, most of whom looked away or at down at their desks as she lectured them.
"I've been here 21 sessions, and I've seen lots of bills, but very seldom do I get angry. But I am angry now. This bill is demeaning toward women," said Howell, D-Fairfax.
Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, accused Republicans of using the bill to "guilt women out of terminating a pregnancy."
But the most pointed rhetoric came when the Senate's only doctor, Sen. Ralph Northam, told his 39 non-physician colleagues they were unethically intruding into an area they don't comprehend for political and ideological ends.
"That's telling me and my colleagues how to practice medicine," said Northam, D-Norfolk, a pediatric neurologist who noted his years of undergraduate college education, four years of medical school and six years of training in his specialty. At one point, Northam was debating his point with the bill's chief Senate advocate, Sen. Steve Martin, R-Chesterfield, who holds no college degree.
He said the external abdominal ultrasound, particularly in the early stages of pregnancy is meaningless, but doctors will be compelled by law to perform them. "I might as well put the ultrasound against this bottle of Gatorade for all the good it would do," he said. "This was a tremendous assault on women's health and a tremendous insult on the medical profession."
Republicans said the intent of the bill was to ensure than women are fully informed about the gestational age of their fetuses as they make up their minds whether to abort them.
Pressed by Democrats to name another medical procedure for which the state mandates informed consent for patients, Senate GOP Leader Thomas K. Norment and Martin could not. But Martin added, "we make law requiring informed consent in all kinds of matters."
The ultrasound bill, particularly before the required invasive procedure was removed last week, was the most controversial of a wave of anti-abortion legislation rolling through a General Assembly newly under the rule of Republican conservatives.
A bill that would have afforded the full legal protections of personhood to embryos from the moment of conception was carried by the Senate until 2013 and would ban almost all abortions if the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortions is overturned. It is similar to a law enacted in Missouri, but voters rejected comparable measures in recent years in Colorado and Mississippi.
Another bill that would have denied state abortion funding through Medicaid to indigent women with fetuses with gross and incapacitating deformities was killed Tuesday morning by the Senate Finance Committee.
HB462 (Byron): http://bit.ly/yAnDoM
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