Virginia's Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell on Wednesday abruptly shifted his stance on a hotly-contested bill requiring women seeking abortions to have an ultrasound, asking lawmakers to revise the legislation just before a scheduled vote.
Virginia's House of Delegates by a vote of 65-32 approved the revised bill, which calls for women to undergo an abdominal ultrasound but not necessarily a more invasive internal one as required under the original measure. Whether the Senate will now follow suit remains in doubt.
Satirized by television comedians and savaged by opponents, the original version of the bill supported by McDonnell drew a large crowd of protesters to the state capital in Richmond earlier this week.
A petition sent to McDonnell urging him to veto the bill contained more than 33,000 signatures, according to NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Executive Director Tarina Keene.
At the last minute, McDonnell, an abortion opponent and possible contender for vice president, withdrew his support and asked for changes to the bill.
"Mandating an invasive procedure in order to give informed consent is not a proper role for the state," McDonnell said.
"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."
The approved legislation would require a woman to undergo a non-invasive ultrasound, and she would have the option to choose or decline a more invasive probe if deemed necessary by a doctor. Under the original bill, a woman would have been compelled to have the more invasive probe.
The revised measure also would require that women be given the opportunity to view the fetal ultrasound image prior to an abortion.
After the governor's about-face, Democrats on the House floor sought to build on the momentum by calling for the bill to be killed entirely.
"You're mandating not only a completely unnecessary procedure, but a useless one," Democratic Delegate Jennifer McClellan said.
Other Democrats pressed for more time to study the new measure.
"We got this statement from the governor a half hour ago that he doesn't like the old bill, and he's instructing the General Assembly to come up with something new," Democratic Delegate David Toscano said.
"We need to be spending a bit of time on this bill," he said. "We shouldn't be playing doctor on the House floor."
While Virginia House Republicans prevailed and the amended bill passed, its future in the Senate is in question.
Republican Senator Jill Holtzman Vogel, the bill's sponsor, announced on Wednesday that she planned to strike the bill entirely when it comes up for review in her chamber, according to the lawmaker's assistant.
Six other states have passed laws requiring abortion providers to perform an ultrasound on each woman seeking an abortion and give the woman an opportunity to view the image, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which studies reproductive health issues.
While most of those states allow women to decline to view the image, Texas, Oklahoma and North Carolina require women to hear the provider's verbal description of the ultrasound.
The laws in Oklahoma and North Carolina are temporarily unenforceable, pending court challenges. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit cleared the way for enforcement of the Texas law in January.
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