WASHINGTON — Lawmakers in Virginia, faced with a national uproar approved a watered-down version of a hotly contested bill requiring women to undergo an ultrasound prior to an abortion.
By a 65-32 vote, the Republican-dominated House of Delegates gave its green light to 11th hour revisions proposed by Governor Bob McDonnell to tame the furor over the so-called "informed consent" legislation.
In its original form, every Virginia woman seeking an abortion would have had to submit to a transvaginal ultrasound, in which a probe is inserted deep into the vagina.
The resulting fetal image would remain in a woman's medical file for seven years, and any doctor who failed to perform an pre-abortion ultrasound would be liable to prosecution and fines.
But under pressure from pro-choice activists, and stinging ridicule from late-night television comics, McDonnell tweaked the bill to make only non-intrusive abdominal ultrasounds mandatory.
A doctor could still recommend a transvaginal ultrasound, and a woman could lawfully refuse to have one.
"It is clear that in the majority of cases, a routine external, transabdominal ultrasound is sufficient to meet the bill's stated purpose, that is, to determine gestational age," he said in a statement.
"Mandating an invasive procedure in order to give informed consent is not a proper role for the state," added McDonnell, a Roman Catholic father of five and a rising star in the Republican party.
"No person should be directed to undergo an invasive procedure by the state, without their consent, as a precondition to another medical procedure."
Seven other states have pre-abortion ultrasound laws, but Virginia's initiative unleashed particular furor as abortion fast becomes a major issue in the November presidential election race.
The US Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide in its landmark Roe versus Wade decision in 1973, ruling that abortion was a strictly private matter between a woman and her doctor.
Democratic legislators tried Wednesday to get a final vote on the Virginia bill postponed for a third day running, saying they needed time to review the governor's amendments. But their Republican peers blocked their motion.
"This is a prime example why legislatures should not walk into a doctor's office and dictate things," said Democratic delegate Charniele Herring, a strident critic of the bill.
Even in its revised form, she said, women who find themselves pregnant as a result of rape would still be forced to undergo an ultrasound.
Fellow Democrat Jennifer McClellan explained that an abdominal ultrasound would be "utterly useless" in the early stages of pregnancy because "all you will see is muscle."
On Monday, two days after the original bill was mocked on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," more than 1,000 of its opponents descended in protest on the state capitol in Richmond, demanding that it be scrapped.
Earlier this month, 55 percent of 1,018 Virginian adults responding to a Richmond Times-Dispatch public opinion survey said they opposed mandatory pre-abortion ultrasounds. Thirty-six percent were in favor.
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