“Personhood” and Mandatory Ultrasound: What would they mean for Virginia women’s rights and freedom?

On the last days before bills crossover between the House and the Senate for this Virginia General Assembly session, one would think the legislators of each chamber might be be debating bills about the most pressing issues our Commonwealth faces — how to help Virginians and create jobs during the economic recession, how to cut crime in the Commonwealth, how to advance the education of our state’s young people.  But instead, the newly emboldened anti-choice majority in the House of Delegates  spent time pushing two extreme anti-choice measures and advancing them to the state Senate: the highly unpopular measure of granting “personhood” status and rights to fertilized eggs (H.B. 1), and a bill forcing a woman to undergo an ultrasound — even an invasive vaginal probe ultrasound — before an abortion, regardless of whether its medically-necessary or whether a woman wants it  (H.B. 462).

What are these two bills and what would they mean for Virginia women if the state Senate and Governor McDonnell were to approve them? Learn more:


H.B. 1 would declare that life and legal personhood begin “at conception” and therefore require Virginia to grant fertilized eggs all of the “rights, privileges, and immunities” that persons currently hold under Virginia law, subject only to U.S. Supreme Court precedent.  This radical and extreme measure by Del. Bob Marshall (R-Manassas) is similar to the “personhood” ballot initiative voters in Mississippi struck down just three months ago. It is part of a nationwide anti-choice strategy to lay the legal foundation for banning abortion and attacking common forms of birth control that can potentially affect a fertilized egg, in the event that women’s reproductive rights under Roe v. Wade are overturned or weakened. (And as we know, challenging Roe is a key component of the anti-choice agenda.)

The bill’s patron Del. Marshall admitted in an interview that the bill would give Virginia the “constitutional backbone” to attack reproductive rights.  At a rally in support of H.B. 1 yesterday, one of this bill’s architects, Rita Dunaway of the conservative Rutherford Institute, talked about the bill laying “a strong foundation for legally-sustainable pro-life efforts” and having “long-term objectives.” And while Delegate Marshall repeatedly tried to dismiss concern about the bill’s potential implications for birth control access in debate over H.B. 1, he also rejected attempts by pro-choice lawmakers to put in an amendment to clarify that the law would not affect FDA-approved forms of contraception. Even though there is already an exception in the bill’s text clarifying it will have no impact on in vitro fertilization, the anti-choice majority in the House refused to entertain such an amendment to protect birth control. (What does that tell you?)

Anti-choice lawmakers have made it clear what this bill’s ultimate intent is, and now Virginians are beginning to understand the radical anti-choice agenda behind it. In a poll out just last month, 58% of Virginia voters said they opposed this “personhood” bill.

Unfortunately, not only would this bill lay the foundation to ban abortion and contraception, it could also wreak havoc on other areas of the law. The word “person” appears over 25,000 times in the laws of Virginia.  No one knows the exact consequences of changing such an ordinary word, but the proponents of H.B. 1 refused to discuss or address these concerns in committee or on the floor of the House.  Granting fertilized eggs all of the rights, privileges, and immunities the people of the Commonwealth currently hold could impact inheritance laws, election laws, tax laws, and even criminal laws.  The bill has the potential to allow individuals to claim embryos in petri dishes as dependents, to challenge population numbers and election districts  based on where IVF clinics are located.  We fear this bill could even allow a non-family member to bring charges against a woman who has had a miscarriage.

Mandatory Ultrasound

We do know, however, the exact consequences of the other bill directly affecting a woman’s right to privacy.  H.B. 462, patroned by Del. Kathy Byron (R-Lynchburg), would require every woman having an abortion to undergo an ultrasound, to have the chance to view the picture, and to hear a heartbeat.  While the bill’s proponents talk about “informed consent” and protecting women’s health, it is clear that this bill is definitely not as innocuous as they claim. Instead,  H.B. 462 is simply about increasing the financial and logistical hurdles necessary to have an abortion and would require an invasive procedure that is not medically-necessary — ultimately punishing women for exercising their legal reproductive rights.

Most people think an ultrasound is where the doctor puts jelly on the woman’s belly, uses an external device, and it ends there.  But, if  H.B. 462 or a similar mandatory ultrasound bill passes, the majority of women having abortions would likely be required to have what is known as a “transvaginal” ultrasound.  More than 80% of abortions occur in the first trimester. Early in a pregnancy, the embryo or fetus in is too small to either see or hear a heartbeat on a typical external ultrasound.  Therefore, in order to comply with the law the woman will have to be probed with invasive transvaginal ultrasound equipment. The law would not exempt rape survivors from this requirement, nor would it exempt women who are having a medication abortion in the first nine weeks of pregnancy (who have specifically chosen this non-invasive option rather than surgery).

Requiring these ultrasounds would not comply with standard medical procedure.  This would be lawmakers stepping into the exam room and interfering in a doctor’s medical judgement and relationship with her patient. In discussing a similar mandatory ultrasound bill on the Senate floor recently, state Senator Ralph Northam, a physician, explained how legislators requiring a medically-unnecessary, expensive and invasive procedure is a breach of medical ethics and practice:

H.B. 462 does not stop there.  It also requires the doctor to mark on the woman’s medical record whether or not she chose to look at the picture.  In no other place in Virginia’s laws is a doctor required to mark in the patient’s medical history whether they chose to view their diagnostic tests.  Delegate David Englin and decent-minded lawmakers proposed an amendment to give a woman an option to consent when it would be an invasive transvaginal ultrasound.  Republicans rejected this amendment.  H.B. 462 is clearly and undeniably designed to forcibly humiliate the women of Virginia and place yet more government interference between them and the exercise of their reproductive freedom. And yet, Governor McDonnell has repeatedly said that he will sign mandatory ultrasound legislation that comes to his desk.

H.B. 1 and H.B. 462 will have far reaching consequences on Virginian women’s health and privacy if they become law.  One would hope that legislators are not taking these consequences lightly.  Unfortunately, Del. Todd Gilbert (R-Woodstock) thinks women who will have to undergo transvaginal ultrasound have made a choice simply for “lifestyle convenience” and therefore legislators can require them to do whatever they want.

Why are our legislators ignoring the true, damaging impacts both H.B. 1 and H.B. 462 will impose on Virginia’s women?  Where is the decency and respect women deserve?  It seems irrefutable that our current legislators are more concerned about pushing through radical social issues that denigrate women than they are about the real issues Virginians face – like improving the economy and our schools.

Take action: Contact your Senator today and urge them to vote against these or similar bills when they come to the Senate floor. You can also contact Governor McDonnell and urge him to veto this legislation should it come to his desk.


19 Comments Add yours

  1. elizabeth says:

    This disgusts me.

    1. karen says:

      I was so shocked (heard about this on Morning Joe MSNBC) that I wrote my rep a letter yesterday and received this reply:

      “Thank you for your comments. I appreciate them and respect your position. There has been a lot of hype on HB1–lawyers said it would allow prosecution of someone who shot a pregnant mother–for the life of the child. Have since talked to some fertility docs who have problems with the language regarding IVF, so bill has flaws.

      Expect it will die in the Senate. We are now working on the budget, so social issues won’t be in the fore.

      Will be working to get increased funding for VCU including the library.

      Sorry you are disappointed. Hope you won’t judge the career on a single vote.”


      John O’Bannon

      Legislative Office of Delegate John M. O’Bannon, III, MD
      Phone: (804)282-8640

      My understanding from the press is that it will pass or tie in the senate and the governor will sign it into law. Any insight from NARAL on the reality?

      1. Karen: thank you for contacting Delegate O’Bannon and passing along this information!

        We are working to defeat this legislation in the Senate and urging Governor McDonnell to veto it if it reaches his desk, but we definitely need the action of citizens like you continuing to make your voices heard. Thanks!

  2. Jay Ryan says:

    This is an outrage. What is NARAL doing about it other than reporting it and giving a link our legislators. Are you organizing a rally against these un-American bills? I see that the anti-choice people rally for the bills. We need a presence in Richmond to make the views of rational Virginians known.

    1. Thank you for your comment! We have a full-time lobbying presence on the ground in Richmond during the legislative session and work with our pro-choice allies against bill like this. If you’re interested, please also check out the Pro-Choice Day of Action events we’ll be holding with the Virginia Pro-Choice Coalition next Thursday, February 23rd: http://www.naralva.org/events/lobby-day.shtml

  3. Alicia Gregory says:

    What does this mean for women who NEED to be on the pill to regulate their cycle???? I’m one of those women and i would love to know if they have even thought about this side of it! Thanks

  4. Catie says:

    I worked at Planned Parenthood in Norfolk, VA for about 6 months in 2007/2008. I don’t see what the big deal about the ultrasounds is, even if they are transvaginal. They doctor/nurse practitioner must ensure fetal age to be less than 14 weeks, and the only way to reliably do so is to perform the ultrasound. The ultrasound is not traumatizing and the medical professionals are just that – professional. Maybe there are clinics where the ultrasound is not performed, but they run the risk of performing an abortion on a fetus that is greater than the legal age. Who would want to open that can of worms?
    I don’t agree with many aspects of this, but the ultrasounds are not new, neither are they invasive. If you’re going to have a speculum inserted, your cervix dilated and get an AB, the ultrasound is NOTHING.

  5. callinsky says:

    Sign the petitions on Change dot org for both the HB1 and HB462 Bill.

  6. blh007 says:

    I cannot even begin to express how disgusting I think this is. This is a deliberate action on the part of the legislators to impede on a women’s reproductive rights. There is no reason for these laws to come into play other than to forcibly humiliate and take the rights the women of Virginia.In what kind of world do we live in when our supposedly free and democratic country allows legislators to take such steps into our lives!

  7. Lizzy says:

    Who is supposed to pay for the ultrasounds? Is it the woman who already has to shell out for the abortion? Or the underfunded clinic? Or do taxpayers get the honor?

    1. Frances C. says:

      Taxpayers ALREADY have the “honor” of paying millions every year to these abortion mills. Ultrasound is already performed to verify fetal age, but the mothers are not always fully informed of the results nor been allowed to hear the heartbeat of their child. See the comment of Katie on Feb 16.
      Have you ever been presented with one of these so called “consent” forms prior to just a routine surgery ? ! LOL. Good luck on anybody truly understanding what they are getting into. If anything, this bill doesn’t go far enough.

      1. Abbs says:

        People like you are the reason that post-partum abortions should also be legal…

  8. Amy says:

    I’m glad to see bills like this being introduced. I don’t think this one will get passed, but at least it gets the conversation started.

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