McDonnell says he had legal concerns about Virginia ultrasound bill

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell speaks during an address to the 39th Conservative Political Action Committee February 10, 2012 in Washington, DC.
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell on Friday explained his decision to call for amendments on a controversial bill requiring women to have ultrasounds before getting an abortion, noting that legal advisers had warned him it could be legally problematic.

"I got legal advice from various people, including my attorney general, that these kinds of mandatory invasive requirements might run afoul of Fourth Amendment law," McDonnell said in a Politico panel with Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley on Friday. "Those were the reasons."

The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable search and seizures.

The original version of the bill would have required women to undergo an ultrasound procedure prior to having an abortion, and to be offered the opportunity to see the ultrasound image or hear the fetal heartbeat. In the first trimester of pregnancy, however, a transvaginal ultrasound is often the only such procedure that can detect a fetus' heartbeat.

McDonnell suggested he had been unaware of the fact that the bill would have mandated the invasive transvaginal procedure.

"During the course of the discussion, after talking to lawyers and doctors on my own, after we started to hear some concerns raised in the legislature, I personally looked at - I mean, normally a governor would review these hundreds and hundreds of bills when they get to your desk. You're so busy advocating your agenda you don't read every legislator's bill," McDonnell said.

He added that he was "certainly supportive of that concept," and that "once we realized exactly the medical and legal issues involved I thought it was prudent to recommend to the General Assembly that they made a change."

"I support the bill. I still support the bill. That never forfeits a governor's rights to make amendments," McDonnell said.

The Virginia House of Delegates passed a version of the legislation on Wednesday that mandates transabdominal ultrasounds but not transvaginal ultrasounds. McDonnell said he expected the bill to land on his desk for a signature eventually.

"I believe that bill will pass. Virginia will have a strong women's right-to-know bill... I think it's the right decision," he added.

Democrats remain unhappy with the language, which they say still mandates unnecessary medical procedures. Many women's health activists also argue that mandating women to receive ultrasounds before having an abortion is a tactic aimed at convincing them out of going through with the procedure.

"Changing this bill from an unconscionable and unnecessary bill to a bad and unnecessary bill does not justify its passage or its signage. Let's be clear: the course of action that Governor McDonnell has advocated forces an unnecessary medical procedure on Virginia women whether their doctors think they need it or not," said Virginia Democratic chair Brian Moran on Wednesday.

According to a study by the Guttmacher institute, seven states currently require that abortion providers administer ultrasounds on women before performing an abortion. In Texas, the provider must also display and describe the image of the ultrasound.