TOPICS > Politics

Virginia Proposal Mandating Ultrasound Before Abortion Debated

February 23, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Amid rising criticism, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell changed his stance on a bill that would require women to have a transvaginal ultrasound before an abortion, noting that an abdominal ultrasound would be more appropriate. Judy Woodruff and guests discuss Virginia's proposed law and nationwide efforts to curb access to abortions.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to the heated battle over reproductive and abortion rights.

It’s a debate that has been playing out heavily in many states over the past year. Virginia is the latest, as national attention has focused on a proposed law.

A furor gripped Virginia’s state legislature in recent days, as Republicans pushed to mandate ultrasound testing, which would be internal, for many women seeking abortions. On Monday, more than 1,000 people, mostly women, held a silent protest against the bill outside the state capitol in Richmond.

JON STEWART, “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart”: Oh, man, transvaginal ultrasound?

JUDY WOODRUFF: And the proposal quickly drew the attention of national television, including “The Daily Show.”

With criticism rising, Virginia’s Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, mentioned as a potential vice presidential nominee, yesterday announced he’d changed his mind.

He issued a statement that read — quote — “Mandating an invasive procedure in order to give informed consent is not a proper role for the state.”

Instead, McDonnell said, the bill should — quote — “explicitly state that no woman in Virginia will have to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound involuntarily.”

Within hours, Virginia’s House of Delegates did just that, passing a version that requires the more traditional external abdominal ultrasound, but makes the transvaginal test optional.

KATHY BYRON (R): The amendment, I believe, enhances the bill. It’s still consistently pro-life.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Democratic opponents said even the amended legislation calls for a pointless procedure.

JENNIFER MCCLELLAN (D): What you have done is mandated, for any abortion done early in a pregnancy, an ultrasound that will be utterly useless.

JUDY WOODRUFF: According to the Guttmacher Institute, which studies reproductive health issues, Texas is the only state that effectively enforces a transvaginal ultrasound before abortions. Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida require an ultrasound, but leave it to the physician to determine the type.

MAN: You’re killing a baby.

WOMAN: Are you proud of your position?

MAN: Yes, I am.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But the battle in Virginia highlights nationwide efforts to roll back access to abortions and related services. Last year, 24 states imposed new curbs on abortion services. They included bans, waiting periods and clinic regulations. Many states also cut funding to family planning services and providers.

The next state to enter the fray may be Pennsylvania, where lawmakers may require ultrasounds at least 24 hours before an abortion. A vote is expected some time in April.

For more on the battle over these questions in Virginia and nationally, we turn to Charmaine Yoest. She’s president of Americans United for Life, which backs the proposed Virginia law. And Nancy Keenan, she’s president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, which opposes it.

And we thank you both for being here.

NANCY KEENAN, National Abortion Rights Action League: Thank you.

CHARMAINE YOEST, Americans United For Life: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What has made this Virginia legislation such a flash point, Nancy Keenan?

NANCY KEENAN: I think, look, they’ve overreached in Virginia.

And we saw that the other day when over 1,000 and more people showed up to express their disappointment. And I think this is a place where a state law is requiring a woman to undergo a procedure she didn’t ask for, nor that her doctor recommended, and that these are politicians that are practicing medicine without a license.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Was it an overreach, Charmaine Yoest?

CHARMAINE YOEST: Absolutely not. And it is very political, and it’s because it’s an election season and it’s because Virginia is a swing state in this election.

And so the pro-abortion forces are trying very hard to pursue a disinformation campaign about this law. This is a protective law that is working to protect women’s health to ensure that they get the gold standard of medical care prior to an abortion.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So you’re saying it’s about medical care.

You’re saying it’s what, it’s about what?

NANCY KEENAN: It’s about a forced procedure.

I think — you know, they talk about it being informed consent. It is neither. This is not about information, nor is it about consent. Women are going to be forced, against their will, to undergo a procedure, again, that she didn’t ask for, it’s not medically necessary, nor did the doctor recommend.

And I think this is where politicians don’t belong, in that place between a woman and her doctor in this decision.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Charmaine Yoest, are you saying that the procedure wouldn’t have been required? Is that what your argument here is?

CHARMAINE YOEST: I just don’t even know how Nancy can say this in good conscience in terms of protecting women’s health.

Look, the chairman of the Americans United For Life’s board is an OB-GYN. Our attorneys have been working on this bill, and so I can tell you exactly what it’s all about. Ultrasounds are the gold standard for protecting women’s health. You need to have an ultrasound prior to an abortion in order to determine the gestational age of the baby. You need to know where the baby is located.

There’s a host of just standard medical practice for ensuring that the woman is safe. One thing, Judy, that many people may not know is that the FDA has noted that at least two women have died after being given chemical abortions after having an ectopic pregnancy. So this protects a woman’s life. This is a very, serious situation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So what I’m hearing is that it’s important for the well-being of the woman to have this ultrasound?

NANCY KEENAN: Well, let me tell you, this is about women and a decision that is with her doctor.

These are politicians who think they know the situation of every woman in this country, whether it’s in Virginia or across this country, that they know the situation, they know what’s going on in her life, they know what’s going on with her medical situation.

And, again, these are politicians that are wanting to mandate, mandate a procedure that she didn’t ask for. . .


NANCY KEENAN: . . . nor did the doctor say was necessary.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In fact, Gov. McDonnell of Virginia said in his statement it would mandate an invasive procedure in order to give informed consent.

CHARMAINE YOEST: Well, Nancy’s misrepresenting what the bill would do.

And, again, our attorneys worked on this bill, so I can tell you it didn’t mandate and doesn’t at this point mandate what kind of sonogram. It simply mandates that the standard of care is followed. So it does leave it up to the doctor to decide what kind of sonogram is needed in that situation to — for him to get the information that he needs to ensure that the woman’s health is protected.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So are you saying the governor is incorrect in his statement?

CHARMAINE YOEST: I’m saying that what the bill does is mandate a sonogram, and the doctor decides. It’s based on a standard of care. If you call Planned Parenthood in Virginia, they always do a sonogram before an abortion, because that’s the gold standard.

NANCY KEENAN: So then why do you need the state law? Then why are you — why are these folks that are advancing this kind of legislation requiring a woman, requiring — there’s no informed consent here. There’s no decision. She is mandated by the law to have a procedure.

CHARMAINE YOEST: I would love to answer that question.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Very quickly, because I want to broaden this out and ask about the moves that are taking place nationally.

Did you want to comment just briefly?

CHARMAINE YOEST: Well, when you think about nationally, we see women who die from — and think about Kermit Gosnell and the house of horrors in Philadelphia, with abortion clinics that are horribly. . .

JUDY WOODRUFF: I’m not familiar with. . .

CHARMAINE YOEST: He’s on trial now for women who died in his abortion clinic.

Some of these abortion clinics are very, very dangerous places for women. And we need to protect their health by ensuring that a standard of care is followed. And sonograms are the gold standard.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I want to ask you, Nancy Keenan, about moves, as we reported, in, what, 24 states to discourage abortion through one requirement or another. What concerns you and your organization and others who agree with you about this?

NANCY KEENAN: We have seen twice as many anti-choice pieces of legislation passed in 2011 than we did in 2010.

I think that these are folks that ran for office, whether it was a state legislature or here in Congress, ran on jobs and the economy, and now are absolutely attacking women’s health and particularly reproductive health.

The hypocrisy here. At the same time that they want to mandate women to undergo an ultrasound, they are also trying to defund family planning, access to birth control. There’s a hypocrisy here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So are you saying there’s a coordinated effort nationwide to do this?

NANCY KEENAN: Absolutely. Absolutely. There’s a strategy to defund women having access to birth control and family planning, at the same time making all of these barriers so women can’t access a legal, a legal procedure in this country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is that what’s taking place?

CHARMAINE YOEST: The problem is, is that the abortion lobby is afraid that a woman having access to a sonogram might be dissuaded by having the full information about her baby’s development and about the abortion procedure.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But across the board nationally, with these other requirements that have been proposed or enacted, longer waiting time, we mentioned some of the other ways. . .

CHARMAINE YOEST: We saw 28 pieces of AUL-based legislation passed this last year, and there has been a dramatic increase. . .

JUDY WOODRUFF: And how much of that is coordinated across the country?

CHARMAINE YOEST: Well, there was a huge influx of pro-life legislators who were elected by the people. So they’re responding to their constituents who want to see greater protections across the board.

We’re talking about parental consent, informed consent, things that people, the vast majority of the American people do support.

NANCY KEENAN: This is so out of touch with America’s priorities and values.

Americans are saying, look, we elected you to fix the economy and jobs. And these folks have shown up, again, attacking health care for women, and that the priorities and values — people say, stay out of the business between a doctor, a woman, her family. Stay out of this relationship and the decisions we make with regard to our health care that is based on the freedom and privacy in this country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What is the goal of these state-by-state efforts, Charmaine Yoest? Is it to get as close as possible to practically overturn Roe vs. Wade? What would you say is the goal?

CHARMAINE YOEST: I think it’s responding to the fact that the majority of the American people say that they’re pro-life. And there’s a huge consensus in this country on commonsense regulations on abortion like sonograms.

Sonogram laws are — in 22 states have passed because the American people think this is commonsense things that we can all agree on no matter what your opinion on abortion is. Informed consent, parental consent, these are things that the American people do agree on.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Nancy Keenan, if this is the result of individuals elected to the state legislature and they’re doing what they believe, it’s the political process, right?

NANCY KEENAN: It is. And elections matter.

And I think you’re going to see that as we head into 2012, whether it’s the presidential and the difference in having somebody like President Obama, who believes in the freedom and privacy and — of a woman’s right to choose and/or these legislators at the state level who also have an agenda here, to put barriers in front of women, to deny them, to deny them the privacy of their doctor relationship in choosing a legal abortion in this country. And it’s wrong.

CHARMAINE YOEST: I can’t understand why, when you see situations where women have died at the hands of abortionists in this country, that you wouldn’t be behind ensuring that they get the highest standard of medical care, when you know that that’s been a problem across the country.

NANCY KEENAN: Judy, this is not about medical care. This is about harassment, coercion and intimidating women, intimidating, when you force a procedure and then force them to sign a waiver that says they will listen to the heartbeat, to force them to have to look at a sonogram.

This is not about protecting women. This is about a forced medical procedure. And it’s wrong.

CHARMAINE YOEST: I don’t think you should be afraid for women to have informed consent and to know everything they need to know before a medical procedure.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We are going to leave it there.

We thank you both very much for being here, Nancy Keenan, Charmaine Yoest.

NANCY KEENAN: Thank you.