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Amended ultrasound abortion bill heads to McDonnell

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Del. Jennifer L. McClellan, D-Richmond, spoke Thursday against the bill to require a woman seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound first.

After a final day of passionate debate, the House of Delegates on Thursday agreed to Senate amendments to an ultrasound abortion bill that has raised eyebrows across the country, sending it on to Gov. Bob McDonnell for his signature.

The chamber voted 61-35 to approve the amendments, which would exempt victims of rape or incest who reported the attack to authorities.

The diluted bill still would require women to submit to an ultrasound before an abortion. In its original form, the legislation would have in some instances required women to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound, the most effective way of determining gestational age early in a pregnancy.

At the urging of McDonnell, the bill was amended to allow women to decline the invasive procedure, but it still would require an abdominal ultrasound. McDonnell supports the amended bill and is expected to sign it into law.

Opponents say the requirement will amount to a costly mandate that serves no purpose, as abdominal ultrasounds are typically ineffective early in a pregnancy.

But after weeks of caustic attacks, Republicans fiercely defended the measure Thursday, acknowledging that part of the bill's intent was to make women think twice before undergoing an abortion.

House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox, R-Colonial Heights, offered a floor speech repeatedly referencing the number 54,600,549.

"That number represents how many abortions we have had in this country since the 1973 decision of Roe versus Wade," he said. "I hope you're at least a little uncomfortable with that number. … I have trouble going to sleep at night because of that number."

Del. Kathy J. Byron, R-Campbell, who sponsored the legislation, House Bill 462, lashed out at critics who she said had crossed the line.

Byron said she and many other Republicans had been "subjected to vile, crude, disrespectful and frequently obscene messages from those who disagree with our position."

She added: "They have readily and quite casually suggested methods by which we should die and openly expressed their desire that our deaths be hastened."

Byron said much of the anger had been fueled by a "steady diet of misinformation" propagated by the national media.

"Those of us in public service must never let the voices of extremism dominate the public square," she said. "We must resist the temptation to lower ourselves to their level."

Del. Jennifer L. McClellan, D-Richmond, made a passionate appeal to Republicans. At times near tears, she spoke of the difficult choice that women who receive abortions face.

"We cannot legislate medicine, we cannot legislate morality, we cannot legislate religion," she said, "and when we try, we make mistakes."

She added: "We need to be respectful of every Virginian whether we think they are sinners or not."

Byron said the bill merely provides that the most accurate information possible be available to a woman ahead of a "life-changing" procedure and helps the doctor perform a safe abortion.

"The true nature of this piece of legislation is not informed consent," countered Del. David L. Englin, D-Alexandria. "In my view, the true nature of this bill is … to use emotional blackmail, practical logistical barriers and just plain old government bullying to try to prevent women from having abortions."

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