RICHMOND, Va. – Amid a public uproar that prompted Virginia's governor to withdraw his support, Republican legislators on Wednesday dropped a bitterly contested proposal to require that women seeking abortions undergo invasive ultrasound imaging, likely dooming the bill.
The Republican-controlled House of Delegates voted 65-32 for an amended bill that requires only an external ultrasound, not the vaginal insertion of a wand-like device that emits ultrasonic waves that are used to create images of the fetus.
The House amended the bill shortly after Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell issued a statement opposing the more invasive procedure. McDonnell, who has been mentioned as a possible vice-presidential candidate, shifted ground after the proposal drew outrage from women, national ridicule from television comedians and appeals from GOP moderates concerned about the political impact in the presidential battleground state.
"Mandating an invasive procedure in order to give informed consent is not a proper role for the state," said McDonnell, a socially conservative Catholic who had voiced support for the legislation last week. "No person should be directed to undergo an invasive procedure by the state, without their consent, as a precondition to another medical procedure."
His written statement came as the House's majority Republicans quarreled over how to handle the legislation minutes before it was to be debated. House Republicans twice recessed Wednesday's session to regroup. The final vote was mostly along party lines.
The amended bill now returns to the Senate where its sponsor, Sen. Jill Vogel, said she will strike the legislation. A House version, by Del. Kathy Byron, is pending before a Senate committee.
The invasive ultrasound measure is among three anti-abortion measures coursing their way through a General Assembly where socially conservative Republicans gained control after last fall's elections. One bill would give embryos the same legal protections as persons and criminalize their destruction, outlawing almost all abortions and, critics say, some forms of contraception. Another would end state Medicaid funding for abortions sought by indigent women whose fetuses are severely and grossly deformed.
But the ultrasound bill provoked the most outrage and national attention.
On Presidents Day, about 1,400 people, most of them women, linked arms to form a silent human cordon along the Capitol Square walkways that legislators use between the state Capitol and their legislative offices. Some demonstrators wore shirts and stickers that derided the bill as state-mandated rape.
Aside from national news coverage, the bills crossed over into comedy and popular culture with a "Saturday Night Live" skit lampooning the measures and a withering comedic critique Tuesday by Comedy Central's Jon Stewart.
The bill that was amended Wednesday had already won Senate passage on a 22-18 vote. Told of the changes to her bill, she said many questions had arisen over it, "and I don't have all the answers."
The House-approved measure would require women seeking abortions to wait at least 24 hours after undergoing the external ultrasound fetal imaging before they can have the abortion if they live within 100 miles of the abortion clinic. If they live farther, they must wait only two hours.
Like the earlier bill, the House measure does not compel women to view ultrasound images or hear the fetal heartbeat, if there is one.
Democrats were not satisfied with the amendments, arguing instead that they were worse because they did not include exemptions for certain types of miscarriages.
Republicans strengthened their grip on Virginia government when they recently took control of the state Senate, in addition to the state House and Governor's Mansion. Virginia is expected to be a battleground in the coming presidential election, four years after Democrat Barack Obama captured a state that traditionally backs Republicans in presidential contests.