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Abortion wars: Virginia retreats on invasive probe in ultrasound bill (+video)

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell backtracked on the bill, which could have required women seeking an abortion first to undergo an invasive procedure. Republicans scrambled to pass an amended version.

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Hundreds of women locked arms and stood mute outside the Virginia State Capitol to protest a wave of anti-abortion legislation coursing through the 2012 General Assembly.
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Republicans in Virginia's state Senate moved forward Thursday morning on an amended bill that would, if signed by Gov. Bob McDonnell, require pregnant women to have an ultrasound of the fetuses before obtaining an abortion. According to the revised bill, which cleared Virginia's House Wednesday, the women would have an opportunity to view the image of the fetus but would not be required to do so.

Seven states currently require ultrasounds prior to abortion procedures, but an 11th-hour scramble in Virginia to amend the bill to take out language that would have required, in some cases, an invasive vaginal ultrasound gave fodder to critics who say the politics of fetal “personhood,” not ethical or medical concerns for women, is driving the wave of ultrasound laws. 

For many expectant parents, ultrasounds are a source of joy, the first peek at the new life within – brimming with possibilities. But forcing a woman seeking an abortion to pay for an ultrasound in order to give her an opportunity to view the image has a distinctly different aim, critics say, namely to “personify the fetus and dissuade a woman from obtaining an abortion,” according to the Guttmacher Institute, a sexual-health policy institute in Washington.

Proponents of such ultrasound laws argue that doctors have a duty to convey to a patient all available medical information on her condition, including relevant tests such as an ultrasound.

Governor McDonnell originally backed a bill that could have required doctors to use a vaginal ultrasound probe to determine the gestational age of the fetus, but he began backtracking Wednesday after consulting with lawyers, doctors, lawmakers, and interest groups.

Analysts suggest that McDonnell, who has been floated as a potential GOP vice presidential candidate, is seeking a more centrist position as he tries to build national recognition, especially as Virginia looms as an important presidential battleground state.

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