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Va. Gov. McDonnell Signs Controversial Ultrasound Bill

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) on Wednesday signed a bill (HB 462) that will require women seeking abortion to first receive an external ultrasound, the Washington Post's "Virginia Politics" reports. The law will take effect on July 1 (Kumar, "Virginia Politics," Washington Post, 3/7).

The House of Delegates approved an amended version of the bill last Thursday in a 61-35 vote (Geiger, Los Angeles Times, 3/7). The amended version passed after McDonnell directed lawmakers to specify that the ultrasound would be external, not vaginal.

The final version of the bill also includes a provision that would exempt rape and incest survivors from the ultrasound requirement if they have reported the crime to law enforcement (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/29).

McDonnell in a statement said, "Women have a right to know all the available medical and legal information surrounding the abortion decision before giving legally effective informed consent." He added that an ultrasound "along with other information given by the doctor pursuant to current law and prevailing medical practice, can help the mother make a fully informed decision."

McDonnell said he does not "believe any woman should be required by the state to undergo" the more invasive vaginal ultrasound, "without her consent, as a precondition to another medical procedure. The bill I signed today ensures that will not occur" ("Virginia Politics," Washington Post, 3/7).

The law makes Virginia the eighth state to require women to receive an ultrasound before abortion care, according to the Sunlight Foundation (Los Angeles Times, 3/7).

NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Executive Director Tarina Keene said McDonnell's "unwillingness to listen to the thousands of women across the commonwealth who are outraged by this political overreach into their lives shows nothing more than arrogance." Opponents of the ultrasound bill had delivered a petition with more than 33,000 signatures and held four rallies against the measure in the state capital (Ward, Reuters, 3/7).

Rebecca Geller, a spokesperson for Women's Strike Force, said the group will launch a political action committee to target lawmakers who supported the measure or similar legislation (AP/Washington Post, 3/7).

2012 Could Match 2011 for Number of Reproductive-Rights Restrictions

Nationwide, state lawmakers this year appear on track to at least match 2011 in the number of bills they propose to restrict reproductive rights, the Washington Post's "Wonkblog" reports.

"We're looking at about 430 abortion restrictions that have been introduced into state legislatures this year, which is pretty much in the same ballpark as 2011," Elizabeth Nash, a public policy associate at the Guttmacher Institute, said.

"Wonkblog" notes that 2011 was "a watershed year" for abortion restrictions, with states passing 83 such bills -- more than three times the number passed in 2010. The increase largely can be attributed to the influx of Republican lawmakers elected in 2010.

Nash said, "On the state level, just like on the federal level, we had a number of conservative candidates elected [in 2010]. They shifted very quickly to a social issues agenda, and they're continuing it as we head into another election year."

According to "Wonkblog," the intense backlash against the original Virginia ultrasound bill might "give legislators some pause," but "perhaps not too much," given that the underlying bill ultimately survived.

Another factor that could differentiate 2012 from last year is whether lawmakers begin to lose the political appetite for pushing abortion restrictions. Nash said, "My sense is that there are still places where we will see abortion restrictions become law." She continued, "I think every state is different, and it can depend on the specific restriction, and the outcry in response. We're going to have to see if pushback really changes what we get in other states, if that gets stronger" (Kliff, "Wonkblog," Washington Post, 3/7).