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Why Virginia's New Mandatory Ultrasound Law Still Sucks

Virginia's controversial mandatory ultrasound bill is now headed to Gov. Bob McDonnell's desk. While the final version of the bill allows women to opt out of having an invasive transvaginal ultrasound—the provision that drew a national spotlight in the last couple weeks—don't be fooled: It's still a burdensome law.

The original bill would have required women seeking an abortion to undergo whatever kind of ultrasound gets the best image of the embryo or fetus. In the early stages of pregnancy—when the vast majority of abortions occur—that's typically a transvaginal ultrasound, which is far more invasive than the abdominal kind (think jelly-on-the-belly). That requirement was scrapped at the eleventh hour, after a deluge of national attention. Abortion rights activists said mandating such an invasive procedure amounted to "state-sanctioned rape," a comparison that clearly struck a nerve: Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show took cracks at the bill; more than a thousand women gathered in silent protest outside the state capitol. Eventually, McDonnell backtracked on his initial support, stating 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."

The public outcry against Virginia's bill appears to have caused other state legislatures in Pennsylvania, Alabama, and Idahoto back down as well—at least when it comes to the transvaginal requirement. It seems Virginia Del. Dave Albo isn't the only one to discover that "transvaginal" can be a rather radioactive term. But while it's tempting to view this new aversion to forced vaginal probing as a partial victory, abortion rights advocates are quick to point out that Virginia's final bill—and others like it—is still terrible. Here are five reasons why:

  • It's medically unnecessary. Although many doctors do perform an ultrasound before an abortion, it's not considered medically necessary in the first trimester—and requiring them leaves no room for the doctor's discretion or the patient's choice. Vicki Saporta of the National Abortion Federation told TPM, "Really the abdominal versus transvaginal ultrasound issue is a distraction, one that has gotten a lot of publicity." And since abdominal ultrasounds typically can't even get a good image in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, Sean Holihan of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia explains, the new law is essentially "telling women to go and pay for a completely useless procedure."

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