News Law and Policy

Virginia House Committee Quietly Kills Bill That Would Have Repealed Mandatory Ultrasound Law

Emily Crockett

In a Friday afternoon vote that allowed for neither audience testimony nor a recorded roll-call vote from its members, a Republican-dominated subcommittee in the Virginia House of Delegates voted against repealing the state's 2012 mandatory ultrasound law.

In a Friday afternoon vote that allowed for neither audience testimony nor a recorded roll-call vote from its members, a Republican-dominated subcommittee in the Virginia House of Delegates voted against repealing the state’s 2012 mandatory ultrasound law.

That law requires all women seeking abortions to undergo an ultrasound, and is opposed by leading medical organizations because it mandates medically unnecessary procedures that only serve to increase costs for patients.

SB 617, which would have repealed this requirement, barely passed the state senate last week after a confusing series of events featuring accidental votes and a redo ended with the lieutenant governor breaking a tie.

Del. Robert B. Bell (R-Albemarle), chairman of the house’s criminal law subcommittee, said that no audience testimony would be heard on SB 617 because the bill and its house counterpart had been discussed at previous meetings. This was despite the presence of dozens of advocates both for and against the bill, and despite the ultrasound bill not having been presented before all members of the subcommittee, as the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

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The bill’s sponsor, Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), said in a statement that in her ten years as delegate she had never seen a piece of legislation docketed as quickly as SB 617 was.

“It is merely a tactic by the House to have this bill quickly go away and once again say to the women of Virginia that they must undergo an unnecessary medical procedure whether they want to or not,” Locke said.

News Abortion

Virginia Senate Passes Bill Repealing Mandatory Ultrasound Law

Emily Crockett

The bill passed the state senate on a tie-breaking vote from the lieutenant governor, while a bill repealing a ban on insurance coverage for abortion failed.

The Virginia senate narrowly passed a pro-choice bill Tuesday that would repeal the state’s medically unnecessary mandatory ultrasound law.

Women—and men—from across Virginia have been clear: they’re done with politically motivated bills that attack women’s health,” said Cianti Stewart-Reid, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, in a statement. “Those Senators who stood with women today and voted to repeal the medically unnecessary ultrasound requirement have shown they understand the will of Virginia voters.”

The bill, SB 617, initially failed to pass on an 18-22 vote, but was reconsidered and received a 20-20 tie vote. Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam broke the tie in favor of the bill.

Leading medical organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, oppose mandatory diagnostic tests that are unnecessary and add to the expense of abortion care.

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Another pro-choice bill, SB 618, failed in the senate Tuesday on an 18-22 vote. That bill would have repealed a law that forbids insurance providers on the federal exchanges from covering abortions. The two bills are part of the Virginia Pro-Choice Coalition’s “Healthy Women, Healthy Families” agenda, which seeks to proactively protect women’s health and gain back lost ground on that issue.

The ultrasound repeal now moves to the Republican-dominated state house.

News Law and Policy

Bills Repealing Virginia Anti-Choice Laws Pass Senate Committee

Emily Crockett

The reorganization of the Virginia senate's education and health committee under Democratic control has given a boost to pro-choice legislation. Bills repealing mandatory ultrasound and insurance coverage restrictions will now move to the full senate.

The Virginia senate’s education and health committee voted Thursday to pass bills that would repeal two recent anti-choice laws, one from 2012 that requires an ultrasound before an abortion, and one from last year that prohibits insurance coverage of abortion through the federal exchanges.

“It is nobody’s damn business who gets an abortion except for the woman seeking it and the doctor she asks to care for her,” said state Sen. Dick Saslaw (D-Springfield) in the hearing.

SB 617, sponsored by Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), would roll back the mandatory ultrasound law, while SB 618 and SB 646, sponsored by Sens. Locke and Donald McEachin (D-Richmond), would repeal the insurance prohibition.

The repeal bills are part of a broad “Healthy Women, Healthy Families” agenda that the Virginia Pro-Choice Coalition is advancing this year. That agenda also includes expanding Medicaid and restoring lost funding to programs that provide health care and family planning services to low-income and pregnant women.

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Republicans have threatened to block Medicaid expansion, but since Democrats retook the state senate a week ago, the chances of passing both Medicaid expansion and other pro-choice measures have significantly improved. One of the Democrats’ first actions was to reorganize the health and education committee, which hears most choice-related bills, so that it now has a pro-choice majority. NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia hailed the move as a huge victory for women’s health.

Before the insurance ban passed last year, more than 80 percent of private insurance companies covered abortion. The mandatory ultrasound law was watered down after national outrage erupted over the provision forcing women in early stages of pregnancy to receive transvaginal ultrasounds, which some called “state-sanctioned rape.” Mandatory ultrasounds are still costly, burdensome, and medically unnecessary. The backlash against this and other anti-choice measures has been credited in part for Ken Cuccinelli’s loss to Terry McAuliffe in the governor’s race in November.

“We are absolutely thrilled to see these critical women’s health bills advance to the full Senate,” said Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, in a statement. “It is fundamentally wrong for politicians to block health care access for women and families who need it in an effort to make personal decisions for them—be it through a mandatory ultrasound law designed to shame women and put up barriers to access, or through banning insurance coverage for safe, legal abortion.”