Legislation that would have made Virginia’s mandatory pre-abortion ultrasound exams optional was handily defeated in the Republican-controlled Privileges and Elections Committee Monday. It was reported that the committee chairman, Stephen Martin, blocked discussion of the bill before it was voted on. The bill would have softened the controversial measure that started as the “transvaginal ultrasound bill” from last year. As it stands now, the legislation requires doctors to “perform fetal transabdominal ultrasound imaging” before abortions. A vaginal ultrasound however, is optional. There were six bills this year, three in the House and Senate, that attempted to reverse the mandatory ultrasound. The bill killed Monday was the last of them.
Last year, when the original ultrasound bill was introduced, it made national headlines. The bill was similar to several other bills in various states across the country. In Texas, a law passed in 2011 requires abortion providers to perform an ultrasound on pregnant women, show and describe the image to them, and play sounds of the fetal heartbeat. Women can decline to view images or hear the heartbeat, they are however, required to listen to a description of the exam. In Mississippi, one law mandates the physician “to perform an ultrasound, provide verbal explanation of the ultrasound, and display the images to the pregnant woman before performing an abortion. These laws, as well as the one in Virginia, ostensibly are made to help and protect women. That impression belies their true effects.
The purpose of these laws is to discourage abortions, but that much is already known, at least by de facto means. A more hidden consequence of these laws is the needless shame and guilt it brings to women who have already been dealing with an unquestionably serious and agonizing decision. A woman who is carrying a child, one that doctors know will die shortly after birth, does not need to be tortured with the sound of its heartbeat. The reasons for choosing to have an abortion are different for every woman. Virginia laws need to reflect that, or they will be hurting far more women than they will help.