Updated: Virginia, Other States Mull Ultrasound Laws
The notable surge in pro-life legislation from 2011 continues this year with a number of bills pending at the state level.
Virginia's General Assembly has made national headlines in recent weeks for several of its abortion-related bills. The most notable bill is one that would require women to have an ultrasound before an abortion. The House and Senate approved their versions of the legislation, and Republican Gov. Robert McDonnell previously expressed full support for the bill. But support appears to be waning in recent days after a large protest outside the Virginia State Capitol.
Proponents argued the ultrasound requirement would allow women to be better informed prior to having abortions. But opponents argued that the requirement imposes unnecessary costs and would be invasive, calling it state-sanctioned rape. Women considering abortion during the first trimester (when 80 percent of abortions occur) would need to have a vaginal probe for a doctor to view the fetus. The House put off a vote approving the final version of the bill, and McDonnell has backed off his unconditional support for the bill. He gave Republican legislators an amendment stipulating that the test be an abdominal ultrasound, according to The New York Times.
Legislators in at least three other states are considering ultrasound legislation. Both Pennsylvania and Illinois Houses have bills up for debate that require ultrasounds prior to an abortion, while a bill before Oklahoma's state Senate would require women to listen to a fetus' heartbeat before the procedure.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma's Senate began its 2012 legislative session by easily passing a bill that states life begins at the moment of conception. The bill's author, Sen. Brian Crain (R-Tulsa) says the bill asserts that Oklahoma is "pro-life." The bill drew international attention after Sen. Constance Johnson (D-Holdenville) proposed an amendment that would have made men wasting sperm an act against unborn children. Oklahoma legislators are considering a House Joint Resolution that would send the Personhood issue to a state vote.
At least 11 other states have similar "Personhood" amendment bills, according to The Times. Efforts in Utah have been dropped. Mississippi Republicans are trying to add a Personhood amendment to the November ballot, even though voters defeated a similar amendment last fall. In a surprising twist, the full Virginia Senate killed its version of a Personhood bill on Friday by voting to send it back to the Senate Education and Health Committee.*
Georgia's state House is considering a bill that would limit the time a woman could have an unimpeded abortion to 20 weeks (down from 26 weeks) and remove exceptions for abortions after 26 weeks for reasons involving mental health. Proponents argue the bill would prevent late-term abortions to fetuses who can feel pain. But opponents say 20 weeks is not late enough because some pregnancy complications do not surface until later.
And in South Dakota, lawmakers have proposed new legislation that aims to clarify the state restrictions on abortion passed last year. The law requires women to undergo counseling at a pregnancy help center and wait 72 hours after an initial consultation before having an abortion. Physicians who perform abortions are also required to provide counseling on all the risk factors related to abortion. Opponents argue the newest bill tries to strengthen the restrictions so it can stand up in court. Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit against last year's law, and a federal judge suspended most of the law from taking effect until the challenge is decided.
*This story has been updated.