Virginia Senate passes ultrasound abortion bill

(AP, ABC7) - Virginia's Senate has passed legislation that requires women seeking abortions to undergo ultrasound exams.

The 21-19 vote came after Senate Republicans and one Democrat voted to reject amendments that would have made the procedure optional, required insurance or the state to pay for it, or exempted women whose insurance doesn't pay for it.

"I think aborting a child is desperate and its sad and sometimes I can understand,” says Alexandria resident Michelle Bouquet. “But I think you should see your child before."

The vote sends the bill back to the heavily Republican House for its concurrence of amendments last week that eliminated a mandated procedure requiring a vaginal ultrasound probe. Then it heads to the desk of Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell who could sign it by the end of the week.

An amendment{ } adopted Tuesday exempts victims of rape and incest who reported the attacks to police.

Along mostly party lines, the GOP-led Senate rejected amendments that would have made the procedure optional, force insurers or the state to cover it, and to exempt women who can't afford it.

“I think that's something difficult to legislate and I don't think this particular procedure is really going to change anyone's mind once they've made up their mind,” says Linda Emberey, an Alexandria resident.

By the end of the hourlong floor debate, tempers flared and Democrats appeared only to harden their resolve deny Republicans the 21 votes they would need Wednesday to sustain a House version of the state budget, the only remaining version of Virginia's indispensable framework for funding government the next two years.

Female Democrats in particular spared no wrath for the Republicans and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican who broke several tie votes in favor of his party in rejecting amendments that would have blunted the measure.

"The arrogance of this body in telling women what to do with their bodies," Sen. L. Louise Lucas of Portsmouth said, angrily thrusting her finger toward the Republican side of the Senate chamber. "Think about what this will do to women. They will go to a back alley abortionist."

Springfield resident Eileen Kugler, echoed those sentiments.

"I think it's very invasive, whether it's internal or external. I think it takes away the respect for a women to make a judgement," Kugler said.

Even some pro-lifers agreed.

Laci Graciano, who is due any day with her second child, says the bill oversteps some boundaries.

"I'm definitely not pro-abortion but I would also not think that the government would have a right to say whether they need to be checked first," Graciano said.

Sen. Janet D. Howell, who sat glumly as one after another of her amendments was defeated, scowled as she faced Republicans, most of whom looked away or at down at their desks as she lectured them.

"I've been here 21 sessions, and I've seen lots of bills, but very seldom do I get angry. But I am angry now. This bill is demeaning toward women," said Howell, D-Fairfax.

Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, accused Republicans of using the bill to "guilt women out of terminating a pregnancy."

But the most pointed rhetoric came when the Senate's only doctor, Sen. Ralph Northam, told his 39 non-physician colleagues they were unethically intruding into an area they don't comprehend for political and ideological ends.

"That's telling me and my colleagues how to practice medicine," said Northam, D-Norfolk, a pediatric neurologist who noted his years of undergraduate college education, four years of medical school and six years of training in his specialty.

At one point, Northam was debating his point with the bill's chief Senate advocate, Sen. Steve Martin, R-Chesterfield, who holds no college degree.

He said the external abdominal ultrasound, particularly in the early stages of pregnancy is meaningless, but doctors will be compelled by law to perform them.

"I might as well put the ultrasound against this bottle of Gatorade for all the good it would do," he said. "This was a tremendous assault on women's health and a tremendous insult on the medical profession."

Republicans said the intent of the bill was to ensure than women are fully informed about the gestational age of their fetuses as they make up their minds whether to abort them.

Pressed by Democrats to name another medical procedure for which the state mandates informed consent for patients, Senate GOP Leader Thomas K. Norment and Martin could not.

But Martin added, "we make law requiring informed consent in all kinds of matters."