Virginia groups mobilize against ultrasound, personhood bills

By | 02.23.12 | 11:46 am

Personhood USA co-founder Keith Mason (Pic via personhoodusa.com)

Two bills — a “fetal personhood” measure that would define life as beginning at the moment of conception and one that would force women seeking an abortion to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound — have many Virginia voters up in arms, worried that their health is being “attacked.”

Earlier this week, groups including ProgressVA, Planned Parenthood, NARAL and Virginia New Majority delivered 33,030 signatures to the Virginia governor’s office, asking him to reject the measures if they reach his desk.

“I’ve had enough of this war on women and I’m asking you to get back to work on Virginia’s priorities – investing in economic growth; ensuring our kids get an excellent education and repairing our crumbling transportation infrastructure,” reads the petition. “We sent you to Richmond to make life better for Virginia families. Not make it more difficult for women to access comprehensive reproductive health services.”

In 2011, the Florida Legislature passed a bill requiring a woman seeking an abortion to first review an ultrasound. That bill was first vetoed in 2010 by then-gov. Charlie Crist, who argued that the bill was too intrusive and could adversely affect low-income women.

The Virginia ultrasound bill, at its inception, was arguably more extreme, and would have required that women seeking abortions undergo invasive ultrasound imaging. In order to perform an ultrasound early in pregnancy, a probe must be inserted into a woman’s vagina — leading some opponents to call the bill “state-sanctioned rape.”

Yesterday, an amended version of that bill — which, like the Florida bill, only requires those women to receive an external ultrasound — passed the state House. Many believe that the bill is unlikely to pass, since even the state’s governor, a social conservative, has expressed his opposition to it following public outcry and national ridicule.

“Mandating an invasive procedure in order to give informed consent is not a proper role for the state,” said Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, in a statement made earlier this 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 state’s “fetal personhood” bill, which passed the House last week, would give fetuses at all stages of development — including embryos — the same rights available to “other persons” in the state. The bill is unlike many other personhood measures (such as one in Florida) in that it avoids involving a constitutional amendment, instead seeking changes through the state’s legal code.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Bob Marshall, is a well-known opponent of abortion and has postulated that a woman who has been raped “becomes a sin-bearer of the crime, because the right of a child predominates over the embarrassment of the woman.”

Marshall has also spoken out against contraception, saying that he and his fellow lawmakers “have no business passing this garbage out and making these co-eds chemical Love Canals for these frat house playboys in Virginia.” He maintains that his personhood bill, however, would not affect contraception.

One Florida group also attempted a “personhood” initiative last year, hoping to define life from the moment of conception. That bill failed due to a lack of signatures (and a lack of legislative support), but Personhood Florida organizers have already started a push for placement on the state’s 2014 ballot.

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