RICHMOND – In the face of widespread criticism, Republican state lawmakers delayed a vote again today on a bill that would require women to undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion.
SB484, sponsored by Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Fauquier, was one of the targets of two protest rallies on the State Capital grounds that drew nearly 1,000 women on Monday. Republican efforts to restrict contraception and abortion rights have been lampooned by commentators, including a skit on Saturday Night Live.
Some legislators suggested on Tuesday that they may attempt to soften Vogel’s bill. Two legislators — one a conservative Republican — speaking on the condition of anonymity, said one idea officials have discussed is making the ultrasound optional rather than mandatory.
Other options are to pass by the bills or park them in committee. Either of those moves would effectively shelve the legislation for the year.
But Del. Todd C. Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, the Republican House Whip, said the GOP continues to strongly support the bill.
A vote was delayed for the second day in a row, he said, so that several contentious bills could be heard at the same time. The House also delayed votes on bills to relax the state’s gun laws, allow adoption agencies to discriminate against gays and others and permit homeowners to use deadly force against intruders.
Del. Sal R. Iaquinto, R-Virginia Beach, said he is unaware of any effort to amend or table the ultrasound bill. SB484 passed the Senate 21-19 last week. Passage seems certain in the House, where a nearly identical bill passed 63-36.
Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, chastised Republicans for supporting a bill that would require a majority of women having abortions to submit to having a probe inserted into their vagina. Ultrasound exams cannot be done externally early in a pregnancy.
“The national conversation about Virginia is about whether a vaginal probe is a mandatory requirement before a woman exercises her constitutional right,” she said.
Lynchburg-area Republican Delegate Kathy J. Byron, who sponsored the House ultrasound bill, strongly defended it.
Without an ultrasound, the procedure for a first trimester abortion could be performed on a women who is more than 12 weeks pregnant, she said. That could put the mother’s life at risk, she said, because the procedures for late-term abortions are medically different.
“This requires that the gestational age is verified and confirmed through an ultrasound,” she said. “Without an ultrasound, you’re just guessing.”
Asked about the national media attention, Byron said it was to be expected in a presidential election year. “This is an issue that garners attention from folks, especially when there is so much misinformation,” she said.
Del. Lionel Spruill, D-Chesapeake, gave an impassioned speech on the House floor, in which he said Vogel’s bill would “force what I consider a legal rape with an ultrasound probe.”
“I don’t know all of you well, but I know some of you well, and I am deeply disappointed in you,” he said. “I cannot believe that you would disrespect women and mothers in such a way.
“This legislation is simply mean spirited and it is bullying – bullying women simply because you can.”
Gov. Bob McDonnell previously has expressed support for the concept embodied in the ultrasound legislation. Because the final product now appears to be in flux, however, a spokesman for the governor Tuesday wouldn’t commit to a position on the bill.
“If the General Assembly passes this bill the governor will review it, in its final form, at that time,” Tucker Martin said.
-Harry Minium and Bill Sizemore, The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot