Virginia ultrasound bill goes into effect Sunday

State Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fiarfax, front, stands as she presents a number of amendments to the ultrasound bill during debate on the floor of the Senate at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012. AP Photo/Steve Helber

The controversial Virginia bill that requires women to undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion and incited a passionate national debate about women's health goes into effect on Sunday.

Beginning July 1, medical providers in Virginia will be required to give women an abdominal or transvaginal ultrasound and the option to see the imaging and hear the fetal heartbeat 24 hours before having an abortion (with the exception of rape and incest victims). Critics call the bill unnecessarily invasive and too big brother, while supporters argued it helps women make informed decisions about their pregnancy.

The law going into effect is a revised version of the one Republicans had originally introduced, which required a transvaginal ultrasound -- but Democrats demanded something less severe and some likened the procedure to state-mandated rape. A highly partisan-bill, it sailed through the Republican-dominated House of Delegates before the State Senate passed it after much debate and was signed into law by Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell in March.

For pro-choice advocates and Democrats, however, the debate about women's health care policy all but ends when House Bill No. 462 goes into effect.

Tarina Keene, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, said outraged Virginians will continue to talk about the bill.

"Our big elections are in 2013. I can guarantee you we'll be educating voters how Virginia legislators spent their time while families in Virginia were struggling to find jobs, trying to find health care," Keene said. "We'll make sure people don't forget."

Although the bill was signed over three months ago, it continues to be the subject of partisan bickering. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, Chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, drew comparisons to President Barack Obama's health care legislation that was largely upheld by the Supreme Court on Thursday to accuse Republicans of being hypocrites.

"The only health care mandate [Republicans] can embrace are trans-vaginal probes for women," O'Malley said in a conference call Friday morning.

Republicans claim the bill is a victory for both health care and women rights. At the time of the signing, Gov. McDonnell said in a statement the new law "does not legally alter a woman's ability to make a choice regarding her pregnancy. It does, however, put Virginia in line with 23 other states that have some type of requirement that a woman be offered a view of an ultrasound before an abortion can be performed.

Jeanne Monahan, director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council, said the law would be a great thing for women's health, pointing out that an ultrasound ahead of an abortion could save a woman's life in the rare case she has an ectopic pregnancy -- in addition to the seriousness of the decision.

"So many women end up regretting their abortion -- why not give a woman more, rather than less, information to a woman who is making the most important decision of her lifetime?" Monahan said.

Monahan also criticized the "huge media splash based on untruths" ahead of the bill's signing.

"NARAL, feel free to educate people," she said sarcastically in response to Keen's comments. "Their last little media frenzy was not based on fact."

Virginia will be the eighth state to mandate women to undergo ultrasounds before going through with an abortion, according to a study by the Guttmacher Institute. In Texas, medical providers must also display and describe the image of the ultrasound.

A number of bills approved by the General Assembly this year go into effect this Sunday, but the ultrasound bill is one of the most controversial. Also going into effect is a new voter ID law that broadens the list of acceptable IDs for voters to present at the polls.

CBS News reporter Rebecca Kaplan contributed to this report

  • Sara Dover

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