Virginia Likely to Require Ultrasound for Abortion

Feb 18, 2012 8:00am

Virginia is set to add itself to a list of seven states that require woman to get an ultrasound before receiving an abortion.

Kristi Hamrick, a spokeswoman for American’s United for Life, said that the issue surrounding the Virginia bill is not “some kind of political phenomenon,” but instead “about a life-saving test.”

“Ultrasounds are the gold standard in medical care for pregnant woman,” Hamrick said. “Woman have died from abortion-inducing drugs, when there is an ectopic pregnancy, for example. It is vital to protect woman’s health, and ultrasounds are absolutely vital for protecting woman’s health, for determining how far along is the pregnancy.”

Amy Bryant, an OB/GYN at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill who offers abortions as part of her practice, said, however, that, “there is no absolute medical necessity for this,” and the determination to do an abortion, “should be at the physician’s discretion.”

“Physicians that do abortions are fully medically trained and know when it’s indicated to do an ultrasound or not, and do it accordingly,” Bryant said. “And sometimes, women present for abortion having had an ultrasound elsewhere. Requiring them to have this specific kind of ultrasound prior to an abortion can be stressing, can be unnecessary… and, in my opinion, should not be mandated in such a way that it might not be medically necessary for a particular patient.”

Hamrick, however, said, “determining what is sound medical care, is absolutely of interest to states,” adding that state oversight, “happens in a number of other settings, not just this one.”

The law would require a woman, without her consent, to receive an ultrasound and give her ”an opportunity to view the ultrasound image of her fetus prior to the abortion,” an option she can decline.

Many women receive abortion very early in their pregnancies, which would mean that, in some cases, a trans-vaginal ultrasound would be required.

Bryant described it as an invasive procedure, where a probe goes inside the vagina to see the pregnancy, adding that, “every woman who has had an abortion thinks long and hard about the decision she’s making and does not need [a] state-mandated, coercive procedure to try and help dissuade her from having an abortion.”

But proponents of the bill such as Hamrick argue, “This is important to protect women’s health.”

“Tell me the type of situation when a woman would say, ‘I want to risk my life’,” she said.

The cost for the procedure could be left to the woman, because insurance would be unlikely to cover it. It can range in price, averaging a few hundred dollars.

The bill, which passed the Virginia Senate two weeks ago, will be voted on by the state house on Monday and is expected to fully pass because an equivalent bill was introduced and passed in the house just this week.

In a prepared statement, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, told ABC News he supports “the concept that a woman should have all of the information possible before she makes a decision about terminating a pregnancy” and will, therefore, sign the bill into law.

Opponents of the measure argue that would be a mistake.

“They are taking us back generations,” Virginia state Sen. Janet Howell said. “Virginia has been known as a moderate state, a pro-business state, and now we are turning dramatically backwards. Nobody can say these are moderate views and I think it’s going to be discouraging to woman and families who want to move to Virginia for business purposes.”

Howell introduced an amendment to the bill that failed which would have required men to receive a digital rectal exam and cardiac stress test before they would be able to be prescribed erectile dysfunction medications such as Viagra and Cialis.

“I was fed up with the way woman’s rights were being trampled in Virginia,” Howell said. “We didn’t have the votes to stop the bill, so I thought I’d use satire and bring a little gender equity to the situation.”

State senators Jill Vogel and Ralph K. Smith, sponsors of the bill, could not be reached for comment by ABC News.

Another bill that passed the Virginia house but not yet made its way to Senate would provide rights to “unborn children at every stage of development,” thereby effectively making certain kinds of contraception illegal, as well as abortion.

“The General Assembly is dangerously close to making Virginia the first state in the country to grant personhood rights to fertilized eggs,” said Tarina Keene of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia.

Gov. McDonnell, a socially conservative Roman Catholic, has taken no position on the  personhood bill, said his spokesman, J. Tucker Martin.

Del. Joseph Morrissey, the state house Democrats’ sharp-tongued point man, was twice rebuked by house Speaker Bill Howell for calling the GOP majority hypocritical in advancing the abortion bills while contending the state has no business urging young girls to be vaccinated against a virus that can later cause cervical cancer.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, there are currently seven states that require an ultrasound prior to an abortion – Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

In Texas, a U.S. federal judge recently upheld a part of the law that would also require providers to describe and/or show a woman images of her fetus and require her to listen to the fetal heartbeat.  The same law currently exists in North Carolina and Oklahoma, but is not being enforced.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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