In the end, even Jon Stewart couldn't kill the Virginia ultrasound bill. After more than a week of protests and national attention, the state Senate passed an amended version of the measure Tuesday afternoon which will require women seeking an abortion to get an ultrasound 24 hours ahead of the procedure. The Senate did unanimously pass an exemption for victims of rape and incest, but other amendments fell flat, including one to mandate insurance coverage of the sonograms. The House has already passed a version of the bill and it appears now to be headed for law.
Much of the protesting focused on "transvaginal" ultrasounds, highly invasive procedures that would be required to get a clear image of a fetus in the very early stages of pregnancy. Opponents called the bill a "state rape" mandate. The Daily Show even had a bit on it. Public support for the measure tanked and, under pressure, the state's socially conservative Governor Bob McDonnell announced he opposed requiring transvaginal sonograms for women. It looked like a victory, until Republicans came back with a revised version of the bill, mandating transabdominal ultrasounds for women seeking abortions. The governor has said he'd support an amendment bill.
The new requirement may be less invasive, but the bill lacks basic logic: if a woman gets an ultrasound early in her pregnancy, the transabdominal ultrasound won't show anything. "I might as well put the ultrasound probe on this bottle of Gatorade—I'd see just as much," said Democrat state Senator Ralph Northam.
As the only doctor in the chamber, Northam was particularly vehement in criticizing the measure. "It's telling me, it's telling my colleagues how to practice medicine," he said. "And it's coming from nonphysicians."
"Nobody in this room would choose or like to have a woman have an abortion," Northam continued. To actually decrease abortion rates, "we need to talk about things like education, promoting abstinence amongst our children before marriage, about access to healthcare, and contraception for our young women."
Democrat Louise Lucas gave the most impassioned speech against the measure. "This is a veiled effort to guilt women," she said. "Women who want to have abortions will go to back alleys. Women will die."
The bill's sponsor and those supporting the measure didn't say much to defend the bill. They just passed it.
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