Forced Ultrasounds In Effect In Virginia

Guest Post by Legal Intern Chris Lewis:

The controversial, unnecessary, and intrusive mandatory ultrasound law is now in effect in the Commonwealth.    Starting this week, any Virginian seeking to exercise her constitutional right to get an abortion must first get an ultrasound, regardless of the medical advice of her doctor.  The law, which was passed over the objections of thousands of Virginians, was signed by anti-choice Governor Bob McDonnell, and enthusiastically endorsed by his sidekick and likely 2013 GOP gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli.

The law requires that:

  • A woman must undergo a compulsory ultrasound before having an abortion, whether or not her doctor says its necessary or she asks for it.
  • Her doctor must offer her the opportunity to view the image and listen for fetal heart tones – but telling the doctor “no thanks” isn’t a good enough a response. She must sign a refusal form that will then be saved in her medical record for seven years.
  • The ultrasound must be performed at least 24 hours prior to the abortion unless the woman lives 100 miles or more away from her provider. If she lives 99 miles or less away, that means at least two and more likely three appointments on separate days, requiring additional expenses such as taking time off work and paying for additional gas and child care.
  • Can’t afford an ultrasound or your insurance won’t cover it? Anti-choice policymakers will provide you with a list of crisis pregnancy centers – aka fake anti-choice clinics – that will provide you with a free one… while they use misinformation try to pressure you to not have an abortion.

These “crisis pregnancy centers” are especially troublesome.  The Virginia Department of Health provides a list of “no-cost ultrasound services”, but each of the organizations listed is an anti-choice clinic with the primary purpose of discouraging abortion—not providing care for women.  To make matters worse, these clinics needed to only answer six questions to be listed in the government directory, and only two of those questions have anything to do with ensuring that the person performing the ultrasound is in any way competent enough to do so in a safe matter.  In addition, no part of the law requires that the anti-choice clinics give the woman a copy of the ultrasound should she decide to get an abortion from a legitimate clinic.  She may have to start the entire process again!

Governor McDonnell and Attorney General Cuccinelli have exhibited a shocking amount of hypocrisy on this issue.  They claim the onerous TRAP regulations are intended only to ensure the safety of women and the quality of medical care, but have said nothing about making sure the crisis pregnancy centers meet these standards.

After last week’s Supreme Court ruling that affirmed the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (a law that will bring health care access to thousands of low-income Virginians), McDonnell called the decision a “blow to freedom”.  Yet he and the other anti-choice politicians in the Commonwealth take no issue with putting unnecessary government mandates in between a woman and her doctor.

The ultrasound mandate will impact every woman in Virginia, but the burden will fall especially hard on the at-risk and marginalized communities in the state, including young women, low-income women who are uninsured or under-insured, rural women whose closest provider is far away, and working women with children.  There is no doubt that these women will have to bear significant new costs in order to get an abortion, a right that has been repeatedly asserted by the United State Supreme Court.

Anti-choice politicians need to know that their opinion is not shared by a majority of Virginians.  Please sign our petition and demand that the General Assembly repeal this intrusive law.  And be sure to sign up with our Choice Action Network (CAN) to stay informed about further assaults on reproductive freedom in Virginia.

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