Barraged by National Derision & Anger, McDonnell Buckles on Ultrasound Law

Richmond Dems Still Hot Despite Back Off Penetration Mandate

From beneath an avalanche of national outrage and derision, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell reversed himself yesterday on the controversial issue of state-mandated transvaginal ultrasound legislation being pushed in Richmond’s Republican-controlled General Assembly, just minutes before the matter was slated to come to the House of Delegates for a decisive vote.

Scrambling to hold onto any chance of winning a vice presidential slot on the GOP ticket this year, Gov. McDonnell issued a statement about 2:30 p.m. EST yesterday, just as Senate Bill 484 was coming to the House floor.

He wrote, “Over the past days, I have discussed the specific language of the proposed legislation with other governors, physicians, attorneys, legislators, advocacy groups and citizens. It is apparent that several amendments to the proposed legislation are needed to address various medical and legal issues.”

He said, “I have recommended to the General Assembly a series of amendments to this bill. I am requesting that the General Assembly amend this bill to explicitly state that no woman in Virginia will have to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound involuntarily..that only a transabdominal, or external, ultrasound will be required” as part of an abortion procedure.

Republicans in the House quickly withdrew the original bill and substituted one including the governor’s new language. After a recess, the House reconvened and passed the revised bill just before 4 p.m. EST by a 65-32 vote, along party lines.

Democrats remained highly critical of the revised bill. Del. Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria) said the amendments “were rushed through on the floor with very little debate or consideration,” adding, “The so-called ‘fixes’ make it no less egregious or instrusive.”

As the matter moved toward yesterday’s slated final vote, with expressions of support by McDonnell, a thundering roar of national disapproval swelled on the Internet and through major national media outlets.

Tuesday night, on the Emmy Award-winning Daily Show, host John Stewart featured the matter, showing a portrait of McDonnell and then graphic images of the large “wand” that is wielded in performing an intrusive “transvaginal ultrasound” that he described as a “giant phallic object” that would be “forcibly inserted” if the Virginia law were enacted.

He contrasted President Ronald Reagan’s statement that the scariest nine words as “I am from the government and I am here to help you” with “I am from the government and this wand is a little cold.”

The proposed legislation was also ridiculed on NBC’s Saturday Night Live and HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher.

But it also drew sharp criticism from within the legislature, with Del. Lionel Spruill (D-Chesapeake) saying the bill, sponsored by Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Faquier County), would “force what I consider a legal rape with an ultrasound probe.”

After yesterday’s revision and final vote, Democrats in the legislature remained critical. State Sen. Dick Saslaw, whose 35th District represents Falls Church, said, “Ultrasounds are already tools doctors can use during medical procedures, including abortion. If Republicans really want to ensure that ultrasounds are optional, all they have to do is stop playing doctor.”

Saslaw quipped, “When your legislative agenda hits the late night comedy circuit, you know you’re in deep trouble. In the end, it’s not surprising that Gov. McDonnell has caved in the fact of mounting pressure. This bill still goes too far.”

In his column in this edition of the News-Press, Saslaw states, “Some of these bills are so extreme, they are making us a laughing stock of the nation.”

Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico) said that McDonnell’s revisions “represent an absurd cop-out. He still wants to force women to undergo a medical procedure. He still wants to put government in between a woman and her doctor. He still wants to replace a physician’s wisdom with the judgment of politicians.”

A demonstration drawing about 1,200 was held Monday in Richmond against the bill, many wearing t-shirts proclaiming, “Virginia is for lovers, not probes.”

Demonstrators were also protesting a companion bill known as the “personhood bill” that purports to define life at the moment sperm are released in search of an egg.
Over 30,000 petition signatures were gathered opposing both piece of legislation were gathered an presented to McDonnell’s office.

The ultrasound, personhood and many other bills like them are cascading through the Richmond state legislature this session after Republicans narrowly won control of the State Senate in the November 2011 election, giving them control of the House of Delegates, the Senate and the Governor’s office.

So-called “conscious clause” legislation – affirming the right of faith-based agencies to refuse child care services when providing them conflicts with their beliefs (pertaining to gay parents) – has drawn fire from Democrats and the bi-partisan Equality Virginia, whose executive director James Parrish wrote that “No prospective parent or child in the child welfare system should be refused services on the basis of any one factor.” It passed the House yesterday.

Sen. Mark Herring (D-Loudoun) said state funds should not be used to finance faith-based organizations that deny services based on their religious beliefs. He noted that Virginia ranks 49th in the nation in the ability to adopt the foster children in its care that number more than 5,300.

Other measures in Richmond are aimed at tightening voter identification requirements (a move that would cost the state more than $1.2 million, according to a statement Monday by the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis), easing access to guns and assailing salaries of public employees and roles for labor organizations.

The Virginia Press Association is continuing its fight to protect “the public’s right to know” in the requirements for official legal notices, saying this year’s session has been “the most difficult ever” to protect those rights.

There remain two bills, HB 234 and 1193, out of eight bills, originally, that would make publishing procurement and foreclosure-related legal notices optional for print newspapers and mandatory only for obscure websites.