RICHMOND, Va. – Abdominal ultrasounds for women seeking abortions in Virginia will become mandatory under a bill signed into law Wednesday by the state's Republican governor, who had faced a national uproar when earlier versions of the measure had sought to make the exams medically invasive.
The law conservative Gov. Bob McDonnell signed requires all Virginia abortion providers to comply starting July 1 or pay a $2,500 fine for each violation. Patients living within 100 miles of the clinic where the abortion is performed must wait 24 hours after the ultrasound examination before having an abortion. Victims of rape or incest who reported the attacks to police are exempt. Women must be offered the chance to view the ultrasound images, but can't be forced to see them.
The measure initially had sought to mandate a vaginally invasive form of an ultrasound, triggering a national uproar that resounded across political talk shows and TV comedy shows. A target of national political columnists, the original measure also was lampooned on "Saturday Night Live" and "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."
At issue in the measure promoted by anti-abortion lawmakers was an initial proposal requiring women seeking an abortion to undergo a transvaginal sonogram, in which a wand is inserted in the vagina to yield an image of the fetus. The procedure differs from an abdominal sonogram, in which a wand is rubbed over a woman's belly.
Soon after the uproar, McDonnell had his party remove the requirement for an invasive exam through an amendment. But regular protests continued at the Virginia Capitol complex, including a demonstration that prompted 30 arrests Saturday.
Supporters say the law ensures women are fully informed about the gestational age of their fetuses as they decide whether to abort them. Seven states have laws mandating some form of pre-abortion ultrasound exam.
"Women have a right to know all the available medical and legal information surrounding the abortion decision before giving legally effective informed consent," McDonnell said in a statement announcing his signature. "As difficult as an abortion decision is, the information provided by ultrasounds, 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."
Critics said the measure is intended to dissuade women from having abortions by using a medically unnecessary procedure to foster guilt and shame.
Reaction to Wednesday's signing was swift and sharp all around.
"I am horribly disappointed," said Molly Vick, an independent financial services consultant and mother who joined protests at the Capitol. "We are not going to just go off quietly into the night. They just made an activist out of me."
Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, called the law "an appalling and offensive government overreach."
Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia. said the law constitutes an unprecedented invasion of women's privacy and heavy-handed intrusion into the medical profession.
"Governor McDonnell's unwillingness to listen to the thousands of women ... who are outraged by this political overreach into their lives shows nothing more than arrogance," Keene added.
The Women's Strike Force, a coalition of women's rights activists, said the bill "serves to demean women and subject them to a costly and unnecessary medical procedure."
Coalition spokeswoman Rebecca Geller said the group would create a political action committee to target elected officials who supported the ultrasound bill and similar measures.
The conservative, anti-abortion Family Foundation hailed McDonnell's signature.
"The abortion industry fears that a woman might see the unborn for what they are and make a different choice, which means less money in the industries coffers, and that is what opposition to this bill has always been about," said Victoria Cobb, the organization's president.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, called it a victory for women and unborn children.
"Ultrasounds are vitally important to doctors when determining the health of an unborn baby," Perkins said. "Women considering whether to have an abortion should be just as informed as doctors about the child they are carrying."
The law follows a wave of conservative legislation that had perennially failed in the General Assembly until Republicans gained control of both the state House and Senate in the 2011 elections.