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Va. Gov. McDonnell calls for amendments to ultrasound bill

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

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, who staunchly opposes abortion rights, is objecting to a bill mandating that women receive ultrasounds before having an abortion, and has requested the bill be amended to "explicitly state that no woman in Virginia will have to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound involuntarily," he said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

The Virginia House of Delegates passed the bill this afternoon with an amendment aimed at smoothing over the controversy the bill has sparked. Over the last week, women's health advocates nationwide have criticized the bill, particularly in light of a provision that would have required some women to have the ultrasounds via a physically invasive transvaginal probe.

"I believe there is no need to direct by statute that further invasive ultrasound procedures be done," McDonnell said in the statement. "I am requesting that the General Assembly amend this bill to explicitly state that no woman in Virginia will have to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound involuntarily. I am asking the General Assembly to state in this legislation that only a transabdominal, or external, ultrasound will be required to satisfy the requirements to determine gestational age."

The amendment that passed today still requires transabdominal ultrasounds, but women will be able to accept or reject "follow-up ultrasounds - including internal ones" that doctors might recommend.

Virginia Delegate David Albo, a Republican from Fairfax who offered the amendment, said it had been drafted in collaboration with the governor and that the governor had approved its language.

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.

Women's health advocates and Democrats called the measure unnecessarily invasive and an attack on women's rights.

"Mandating an invasive procedure in order to give informed consent is not a proper role for the state," McDonnell said in his statement. "No person should be directed to undergo an invasive procedure by the state, without their consent, as a precondition to another medical procedure."

The governor wrote that "It is apparent that several amendments to the proposed legislation are needed to address various medical and legal issues which have arisen."

Republicans rejected a motion by Democrats to bypass the bill for the purpose of looking into it more closely.

Now that the House has passed the bill, it will head back to the Senate, where its fate is less clear. The Virginia state Senate is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats; Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican, would be the tie-breaking vote.