MARK HOLMBERG: Ultrasound abortion bill a poison pill for its supporters?

Posted at 7:13 AM, Feb 29, 2012
and last updated 2012-02-29 07:15:03-05

RICHMOND, Va (WTVR) -  The Virginia bill requiring a woman to have an ultrasound before having an abortion, which squeaked through the Senate Tuesday, has become one of the most controversial bills in recent state history.

It’s been mocked by late-night comedians. It has been covered and debated in the national news media. It has created a firestorm on social media sites. There has been fear and loathing and fury and protests.

A folk song has been made out of it.

House Bill 462 has taken on a life of its own.

“I can’t think of a thing that comes close to this,” said Tyler Whitley, who covered the General Assembly for the Richmond Times-Dispatch for 40 years. The closest in terms of heat was in the early ‘70s, he said, when an equal-rights-for-women amendment was being discussed. “I remember two very overweight ladies were hauled out of the capitol one day by the Capitol Police. And one of them spit on A.L. Philpott, who was the Speaker of the House of Delegates. That was a no-no.”

Yet another protest was held at the capitol Monday night in a very unusual place: on Governor’s Street right behind the governor’s mansion, which is a short egg-toss from the wrought iron fence and sidewalk. Typically, protests are held near the bell tower, on the opposite side of the capitol grounds.

Liberal blogger Jerel Whilmore, who blogs as “The Richmonder,” captured and posted numerous images of a state police SWAT team lurking in the bushes. He said it was bizarre given the subdued, somber tone of the protest.

“They brought out an entire SWAT team,” he told CBS-6. “It was excessive . . . it looked to me like intimidation.” His posts got a lot of attention from those convinced the bill tramples individual rights.

But the state police issued a statement saying the extra security is deployed every time there’s any kind of sizable protest, for the safety of everybody, including the protestors.

One insider said the blogging photographer was just better at scoping them out than most.

McDonnell said late Tuesday that the state and capitol police do an excellent job and he’s grateful for their protection for his family.

“There have been a lot of people up here this expression to express their First Amendment rights,” McDonnell said. “I support that. I celebrate it.”

An Alexandria-based  folk singer said the ultrasound bill moved her to write an old-school protest song.

Libby Wiebel’s “Virginia Doesn’t Own My Vagina” is starting to get some fairly serious attention on Youtube and social media sites.

“I thik we’re embarrassing ourselves,” Wiebel said of the legislature during a telephone interview with CBS-6. “I feel like we’re kinda sticking out like a sore thumb. It’s unnecessary.”

There has been a lot of hyperbole surrounding the bill, including the cry that it would lead to back-alley abortions.

The vast majority of abortions in the U.S. occur in the first trimester (about 90 percent of the time). In many of those cases, the abdominal ultrasound doesn't give the doctor enough data to do the abortion safely. The fetus hasn't developed enough. So the transvaginal ultrasound is already medically mandated in many cases. The question is whether the state should mandate it and make sure the mother is offered a chance to see it.

The watered down version of the bill – which allows the mother to opt for an abdominal ultrasound, means those who do so could very well see nothing, thereby subverting the intent of the law.

But the idea that legislators would insert themselves into the procedure could haunt all those involved, given the anger from those who support women’s reproductive rights, some of them otherwise  staunch Republicans.  Even a popular governor with vice-presidential aspirations could feel the sting.

Lt. Governor Bill Bolling, who is running for governor, greeted the bill’s passage in the Senate less than enthusiastically.

But Gov. McDonnell appears to be holding firm, at least for now.

“I was pleased the bill passed today,” he said late Tuesday.  “I think, having authored the original informed-consent bill 11 years ago, I think women have a right to know all of the medical information before they make a very important choice. I think the bipartisan vote in the Senate today was important.”  (Two democratic senators voted for it.)

The bill was amended in the Senate to allow exclusion in the care of rape and incest. So  it now has to go back to the House before it goes to McDonnell’s desk.

Will the controversy die down? Or will this bill continue to haunt all those who touch it.