RICHMOND, Va. — A bill requiring a woman to get an ultrasound before having an abortion is poised to pass Virginia’s Legislature this week, placing it on track to be signed into law by Gov. Bob McDonnell.
The bill, which could pass the Republican-led House of Delegates as early as Tuesday, is one of the stronger ultrasound laws passed by states in recent years. If it is adopted, Virginia will become the eighth state to require ultrasounds before abortions, a rule that anti-abortion forces hope will cause some women to change their minds but that women’s advocates call an effort to shame women and interfere with their privacy. The Senate, which is split evenly along party lines, narrowly adopted the bill this month.
McDonnell, a Republican who sponsored similar legislation when he was a lawmaker, initially voiced strong support. But the bill has drawn intense public attention, and a spokesman struck a more muted tone over the weekend, a shift that opponents said could mean that the governor might amend it before signing it. A throng of the bill’s opponents held a vigil outside the Statehouse on Monday in protest.
The nature and tone of legislation is particularly important for McDonnell, political analysts say, because he is seen as a possible contender for vice president on the Republican ticket and could be calculating how the bill will be perceived by a national audience.
Requiring ultrasounds before abortions has become one of the principal tactics of the anti-abortion movement, with similar rules now in effect in seven states and being held up by legal challenges in two more — Oklahoma and North Carolina.
While the Virginia bill does require an ultrasound, it does not require the woman to view it, making it less strict than laws in Texas and Oklahoma, where the doctor must place the screen in front of the woman.
In its current form, Virginia’s bill requires that the ultrasound find and monitor the fetal heartbeat and provide an image of the shape of the fetus. As in other states with ultrasound laws, this will often require a probe to be inserted into the vagina. The nonintrusive abdominal ultrasound, on the other hand, often cannot capture the fetus at its small size in the first trimester, when most abortions are performed.
As in other states, Virginia’s rule would impose a 24-hour wait between the ultrasound and the abortion, which critics say adds unnecessary expense and inconvenience; in the current bill, the cost of the ultrasound will be borne by the woman.