Pre-Abortion Sonograms Make Their Way Into Law

The Virginia Legislature has been busy passing legislation to limit abortion and promote pro-life agendas. I wrote Tuesday how the state House passed a bill changing the legal definition of "person" to include fetuses starting at conception. But the body also passed a measure requiring women seeking an abortion to first have a sonogram 24 hours ahead of time. The state Senate already passed an identical measure and the state governor has said that he supports the initiative—which means it will almost definitely become law. 

The measure requires a medical professional to administer the sonogram and then offer the woman the chance to hear the fetal heartbeat and listen to a description of the fetus. Because abortions occur early in pregnancies, these ultrasounds aren't the ones most people imagine with a bit of jelly smeared on a woman's stomach. No, these require a more invasive procedure: a transvaginal sonogram. A probe—with a lubricated condom covering it—is inserted into a woman's vagina. The probe is attached to a monitor to show images in real time. While the bill allows woman to say they don't want to see the images, in many cases, the monitor will generally be showing the images right next to her.

Not surprisingly, the debate got fairly brutal. One Republican delegate said most women seeking abortions do so for "lifestyle convenience." In a statement later, he said he regretted the choice of words. Ultimately the bill passed the House by a vote 62 to 36, with six Republicans voting no.

As I wrote earlier, the personhood measure raises many questions regarding implementation, since Virginia would be the first state to successfully pass such a law. But such is not the case with the sonogram bill. Oklahoma and North Carolina have passed similar laws that are currently winding their way through the court system. And Texas' measure is already in place, both in law and in clinics across the state.

Texas began enforcing its version of the sonogram requirement last week, after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a temporary ban and issued an opinion that the law is constitutional. While a lawsuit against the law makes its way through the courts, clinics are already reporting logistical difficulties. The measure requires a 24 hour waiting period between the sonogram and the abortion procedure, a requirement which was also included in the Virginia bill, which forces women to arrange for two days of medical appointments. (Both states allow women who must travel a significant distance to have the sonogram only two hours ahead.) However, in Texas, the doctor performing the abortion must also be the one to perform the sonogram. That requirement has produced many problems for clinics, as sonograms are often performed by other medical professionals. Virginia's measure has no such requirement. Similarly, Texas law requires that women hear a description of the sonogram procedure, whether or not they want to, a caveat that isn't in Virginia's law.

Don't think that makes Virginia's law less stringent though: unlike Texas, the bill offers no exemption for victims of rape or incest, who would also have to have the transvaginal sonogram and then be asked if they want to hear descriptions of the fetus and listen to the fetal heartbeat. It will also mean victims of rape will be forced to have a probe inserted into their vagina. Only in cases of medical emergencies can the requirement be waived.