By Frank Knaack, ACLU of Virginia Director of Public Policy and Communications
A few minutes ago, the Criminal Law Subcommittee of the House Courts of Justice doubled down on the legislature’s decision to place a politician between a woman and her doctor. It “tabled” (the legislative word for killed) SB 617, which would have repealed a 2012 law that requires every woman having an abortion to have an ultrasound 24 hours prior to her procedure. According to the law’s proponents, the ultrasound is necessary to determine the age of the fetus (ignoring the fact that the type of ultrasound required is unable to determine the age of the fetus in the overwhelming majority of cases). The true intent of this law is to restrict a woman’s constitutional right to abortion – to attempt to shame her into changing her mind about the procedure. It is a shame that a majority of the subcommittee felt the need to insert themselves into women’s private medical decisions.
Just last week there was hope – the Virginia Senate voted to repeal its mandatory ultrasound law. Senators understood that while we may not all feel the same way about abortion, we should all agree that these are personal and private medical decisions that are best made by a woman, her family, her faith, and her doctor. They also understood that requiring an ultrasound is not about informed consent, but instead about political interference. Medical professionals are already conducting ultrasounds on pregnant women when it is medically appropriate – repealing the mandatory ultrasound does nothing to undermine this practice. Finally, Senators understood that leading medical organizations oppose political interference into the doctor-patient relationship. As the Medical Society of Virginia stated, the mandatory ultrasound law is an “unwarranted intrusion by the legislature in the doctor-patient relationship.”
But, hope is not lost. While a majority today’s subcommittee felt they should be involved in women’s personal medical decisions, we built momentum this session. We (with our coalition partners) convinced the Senate to repeal this intrusive legislation. And, we will be traveling throughout Virginia during the interim to build the support necessary to prevail in 2015.