Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has signed into law a controversial bill requiring women to have an ultrasound before undergoing an abortion.
The bill sparked a national furor among abortion rights activists who argued that the intent was to make it more costly and more difficult for women to receive abortions.
The bill signed by McDonnell on Wednesday is a watered-down version of an earlier bill that would have required women to undergo a trans-vaginal ultrasound and would have applied to all abortions, even those that resulted from rape or incest.
Under pressure from critics, McDonnell last month asked the Virginia state Legislature to amend the bill to require only an abdominal ultrasound, not the more invasive ultrasound. State lawmakers also created an exemption for women whose pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, provided they reported the assault to police.
The bill passed the Republican-controlled House of Delegates last Thursday by a vote of 61 to 35. It passed the Senate largely on party lines by a vote of 21 to 19.
“As difficult as an abortion decision is, the information provided by ultrasounds, along with other information given by the doctor pursuant to current law and prevailing medical practice, can help the mother make a fully informed decision,” McDonnell said in a statement.
Virginia joins seven other states that have laws requiring pre-abortion ultrasound screening, according to an analysis by the Sunlight Foundation. The legislation closely resembles similar bills making their way through legislatures in 12 other states, according to the Sunlight analysis.
Supporters hailed McDonnell – a rising star in the Republican Party who is considered a potential vice presidential nominee – for signing the controversial legislation.
Tony Perkins, president of the conservative group Family Research Council, thanked McDonnell and the Virginia Legislature for delivering “a victory for women and their unborn children.”
“Ultrasounds are vitally important to doctors when determining the health of an unborn baby,” Perkins said. “Women considering whether to have an abortion should be just as informed as doctors about the child they are carrying. This law ensures that they are.”
Critics say the new law forces women to have – and doctors to perform - a medically unnecessary procedure. And some say the bill is fraught with potential legal problems.
Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, blasted the new law as “an appalling and offensive government overreach that is designed to shame women who are seeking legal healthcare.”
Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, said the law might place an undue burden on women, making it vulnerable to legal challenge. Enforcement could also be problematic, he said, because it could violate doctor-patient confidentiality.
“How is the state going to verify that there’s been compliance by a doctor unless they see records?” Tobias said in an interview last week. “I don’t know how you can prevent the state from seeing the names” of patients, he said.