Virginia to require ultrasound tests before abortions

RICHMOND, Va. — Abdominal ultrasounds for women seeking abortions in Virginia will become mandatory starting July 1 under a law signed Wednesday by the state’s Republican governor, who had faced a national uproar when earlier versions of that measure sought to make the exams medically invasive.

The bill signed into law by conservative Gov. Bob McDonnell requires all abortion providers in the state to comply or pay a $2,500 fine for each violation. It also requires patients living within 100 miles of the clinic where the abortion is performed to wait 24 hours after the ultrasound examination before having an abortion.

Under the law, victims of rape or incest who reported the attacks to police are exempt from examination. Women also must be offered the chance to view the ultrasound images, but not forced to see them, the law states.

The measure initially had sought to mandate a vaginally invasive form of an ultrasound. That earlier version of the proposal triggered an outcry that resounded across political talk shows and TV comedy programs. The original measure became the target of national political columnists and was lampooned on “Saturday Night Live” and “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”

The initial proposal brought up by anti-abortion lawmakers required women seeking an abortion to undergo a so-called transvaginal sonogram, in which a wand is inserted in the vagina to yield an image of the fetus. The procedure differs from an abdominal sonogram, in which a wand is rubbed over a woman’s belly.

Supporters said the intent of the measure was to ensure women would be fully informed about the gestational age of their fetuses as they make up their minds whether to abort them. Seven states have laws mandating some form of pre-abortion ultrasound exam.

Critics said the measure is intended to foster guilt in women so they would not terminate a pregnancy.

Soon after the uproar, McDonnell had his party remove the requirement for an invasive exam through an amendment. But regular protests continued at the Virginia Capitol complex, including a demonstration that provoked 30 arrests last weekend.

Reaction to Wednesday’s signing was swift and sharp on both sides of the emotionally charged measure.

“I am horribly disappointed,” said Molly Vick, a Richmond independent financial services consultant and mother of one son who joined the protests at the Capitol. “We are not going to just go off quietly into the night. They just made an activist out of me.”

The conservative, anti-abortion Family Foundation hailed the signature.

“The abortion industry fears that a woman might see the unborn for what they are and make a different choice, which means less money in the industries coffers, and that is what opposition to this bill has always been about,” said Victoria Cobb, the organization’s president.

The law follows a wave of conservative legislation that had perennially failed in the Virginia General Assembly until Republicans gained control of both the state House and Senate in the 2011 elections.

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