Virginia lawmakers set to approve watered-down abortion law

Virginia is on course to pass a watered-down version of a controversial abortion law that would require women to have an ultrasound exam before terminating their pregnancy.

The state attracted national ire and ridicule when opponents discovered that the original bill would have mandated a specific type of sonogram that requires a woman to have a probe inserted into her vagina.

The original version was stricken from the Senate record, a move that allows a law's sponsor to nullify it, even if it has been passed. The Virginia House passed a version calling explicitly for externally administered ultrasounds, and that bill will be taken up in the Senate next week.

Between Southern manners and a concern for the sensitivities of teenage Senate pages, legislators were slow to grasp the implications of a "trans-vaginal" ultrasound. But when it emerged that fulfilling the strictures of the law would likely require women being penetrated with a medical probe, the proposed legislation attracted national attention.

In the face of withering criticism, Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell backed away from the measure, which he had previously supported. At an event in Washington on Friday, however, he said he backed the reworded bill.

"Once I realized exactly the medical and legal issues involved, I thought it was prudent to recommend to the General Assembly they made a change," he said. "The Senate, I believe, as of yesterday has adopted that change, I believe the bill will pass."

"Virginia will have a strong women's right-to-know bill, to provide the information necessary to make a fully informed decision."

Virginia has had a law on its books since 2001 requiring doctors to provide women with detailed information before they have an abortion. The first attempts to introduce ultrasounds into the process was made in 2007.

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