The Virginia Senate, for years a firewall against efforts to restrict abortion, today is poised to pass a bill to require that pregnant women undergo an ultrasound and get a chance to see the image before having an abortion.
It's one of several anti-abortion bills now moving through the General Assembly. Others would give legal rights to unborn children, prohibit abortions after 20 weeks unless a woman's life or physical well-being is at risk, and further limit public funding for some abortions.
Unlike past sessions when some of those measures failed in the Senate, social conservatives now sense a chance for long-desired gains. That turnaround is attributable to Republican gains in the fall elections, which gave the party effective control of the Senate, now split 20-20 between the two parties.
"We stand amazed at the work God has done to achieve what last year seemed to be the impossible," Family Foundation President Victoria Cobb said Monday in an email urging recipients to lobby senators to approve the ultrasound bill. She called it "the first significant pro-life bill to receive a favorable report" from the Senate Education and Health Committee in nine years.
That legislation from Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Fauquier County, would amend Virginia's informed consent law to make women undergo ultrasound imaging to determine the gestational age of the fetus.
The bill, SB484, says pregnant women must be given an opportunity to view the ultrasound image prior to an abortion and requires abortion providers to keep a copy in the patient’s file.
"I view this as a serious women's health issue," Vogel said on her website. "At a minimum, ultrasound is necessary to determine gestational age and that there is no anomaly that could affect the health of the mother or outcome of the procedure."
Pro-abortion rights advocates consider the ultrasound provision a tactic to add cost and inconvenience to the process with the goal of getting women to change their minds.
Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax County, was dismayed enough by the bill's progress that she tried to amend it so men seeking prescriptions for erectile dysfunction medication such as Viagra would be required to undergo a rectal exam and cardiac stress test.
She said that's "only fair, that if we're going to subject women to unnecessary procedures, and we're going to subject doctors to having to do things that they don't think is medically advisory."
Her proposed amendment failed Monday, leaving Vogel's bill on the verge of Senate approval.
Similar bills have been filed in the Republican-run House of Delegates, and Gov. Bob McDonnell has indicated he'll sign ultrasound legislation if it reaches his desk.
After taking power, Republican lawmakers reshaped the Senate Education and Health Committee, which recently cleared Vogel's bill on an 8-7 party line vote. That panel will likely be the venue for several other abortion-control bills this winter.
One now in the House would end state subsidies for needy women to terminate a gravely troubled pregnancy.
The bill, from Del. Mark Cole, would eliminate that financial support even when a doctor believes an unborn child "would be born with a gross and totally incapacitating physical deformity or mental deficiency."
Less than $2,800 in public funds was spent last year on 10 abortions that qualified for subsidies.
Cole, R-Spotsylvania County, said the bill would make Virginia law consistent with federal code.
The bill would force low-income women to choose between carrying a doomed pregnancy "or pay out of pocket for abortion care she and her doctor may determine she needs at a difficult time," argued Jessica Honke, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood.
The abortion bills now in the queue "are not what Virginians had in mind" when they elected Republicans to serve in Richmond, added Virginia Democratic Party Chairman Brian Moran, who said they should focus on economic concerns rather than meddling in health care decisions best left to women and their doctors.
The current blitz of bills follows key anti-abortion victories from last year.
In 2011, the legislature passed a law to regulate abortion clinics like hospitals, a change critics say could drive them out of business.
Lawmakers also made a policy statement that abortions shouldn't be covered in a state-run health benefits exchange, a subject of similar legislation this year.
Roanoke Times reporter Michael Sluss contributed to this article.
Julian Walker, 804-697-1564, email@example.com