Virginia Senate passes ultrasound abortion measure

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The Virginia Senate has passed legislation to force pregnant women to have ultrasound images made of their fetuses before having an abortion.

The Senate approved the Republican-backed measure on a mostly party-line 21-18 vote Wednesday.

Republican Sen. Jill Vogel of Fauquier County said the bill would give women the right to certain information that can be gleaned from an ultrasound, like the gestational age of the fetus.

Vogel's bill says the patient would be given the opportunity to see the image or hear the fetal heartbeat, but would not be required to do so.

Sen. Ralph Northam, a Norfolk Democrat and a pediatric neurologist, argued that government has no business telling doctors and patients what kind of diagnostic tests should be done.

Northam suggested the mandate in Vogel's bill is akin to the General Assembly requiring him to order magnetic resonance imaging for patients suffering convulsions.

"The test is not always necessary, it's very costly and the last thing we need is government telling physicians how to practice medicine," he said. He also said it's unethical to force patients to have a diagnostic test against their will, and mandating a test that costs hundreds of dollars "is flying in the face of what we're trying to do to get costs under control."

Vogel said an ultrasound is "a medically wise procedure" that many young pregnant women might not realize is available.

Under Vogel's bill, women who live less than 100 miles from where the abortion is performed would have to wait at least 24 hours after the ultrasound before getting the abortion except in the event of a medical emergency.

Women who travel 100 miles or more would wait only two hours. Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, asked for a one-day delay in voting on the bill because some of her colleagues were preparing an amendment.

But the Senate rejected the delay on a 20-19 party-line vote, prompting Democratic Sen. Dave Marsden of Fairfax to chastise the GOP majority for denying a courtesy that is usually extended to anyone who requests it.

Legislation similar to Vogel's has sailed through the House in recent years only to die in a Senate committee that routinely rejected anti-abortion bills.

However, that committee was revamped this year after Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling's tie-breaking vote allowed the GOP to seize organizational control of the evenly divided chamber. As a result, the ultrasound bill cleared the committee by a single vote.