February 22, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – An ultrasound bill currently making its way through the Virginia legislature has become the object of a fierce campaign of opposition from the nation’s most powerful pro-abortion forces, who claim the bill would force women to undergo invasive transvaginal ultrasounds before an abortion – something that abortion lobbyists and legislators say amounts to “rape.”

Del. Charniele Herring (D) has slammed the bill as “akin to rape,” while fellow Democrat David Englin charged that “object sexual penetration is a serious sex crime in Virginia.”

The rhetoric against the bill became so heated that today pro-life Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell issued a statement, moments before the bill was set to undergo a final vote in the House of Delegates, saying that the bill should be amended to make it clear that it will not mandate transvaginal ultrasounds, but only an external ultrasounds.

Shortly after the governor released his statement, a version of the bill amended according the statement passed by a vote of 65-32. The bill now returns to the Senate.

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However, pro-life supporters of the bill say the campaign against the bill is based upon an objection that was pulled out of thin air, and point out that abortion clinics across the country already perform ultrasounds—including vaginal ultrasounds—as a matter of course.

In its original form, the bill did not require “any specific type of ultrasound,” Kristi Hamrick, media spokesperson for Americans United for Life, told LifeSiteNews.com. The notion that it required a transvaginal ultrasound “was completely made up by the pro-abortion advocates,” she said.

Instead the bill simply stipulated that an ultrasound must be performed before an abortion and that the mother be offered an opportunity to view the image and hear the heartbeat. It provided for the Virginia “standard of care,” leaving the choice for the kind of ultrasound to be administered in the hands of the patient and her doctor.

The amended version of the bill states, “If gestational age cannot be determined by a transabdominal ultrasound, then the patient undergoing the abortion shall be verbally offered other ultrasound imaging to determine gestational age, which she may refuse.”

Hamrick says that McDonnell’s statement today did nothing more than clarify and restate what the law already said.

“What the governor did today was say they were going to clarify this law to make sure this law is clear that they are not requiring” a transvaginal ultrasound. This “was not necessary,” Hamrick said, because the bill “didn’t before.”

In his statement, McDonnell said after discussing the bill with legislators and health care professionals, “It is clear that in the majority of cases, a routine external, transabdominal ultrasound is sufficient to meet the bills stated purpose—that is, to determine gestational age.”

“For this reason…I am requesting that the General Assembly amend this bill to explicitly state that no woman in Virginia will have to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound involuntarily,” he said.

But perhaps most damning to the pro-abortion campaign against the bill is the revelation that the vast majority of abortion facilities already perform the “invasive” transvaginal ultrasound as a matter of course, especially prior to early-term medical and surgical abortions.

In one 2003 study, published in the journal Contraception, 83 percent of Planned Parenthood abortion facilities performing early surgical abortions said they “always” performed a vaginal ultrasound prior to performing the abortions. Sixteen percent said they did a vaginal ultrasound “sometimes,” and only 1 percent said they “never” did them.

“Vaginal ultrasound was very common before the medical abortion, with 37 (92%) sites reporting that they always performed it,” the study continued. “Vaginal ultrasound was always performed after early medical abortion in 35 (87%) sites, performed under certain conditions in 4 (10%) sites, and never performed in 1 (3%) site.”

The reason for performing the more accurate vaginal ultrasounds prior to early abortions is obvious, Hamrick told LifeSiteNews: they ensure that abortionists can pinpoint precisely the gestational age of the unborn child, to avoid the extreme risks involved in using the wrong methods to abort what may turn out to be a later-term child. 

Americans United for Life President and CEO Dr. Charmaine Yoest said that pro-abortion arguments against the bill amount to opposing “a basic standard of care.” She said the campaign is “clear evidence that a powerful abortion lobby is willing to sacrifice women’s health and safety for a radical abortion agenda.”

“It is absolutely false than any invasive ultrasound test is required by this bill. But at stake here is protecting women’s lives from a rush to abortion that may harm them,” Yoest said. “Informed consent about the status of a woman’s pregnancy, and whether she might be harmed, should be a concern for all people.”

It is unclear how the amendments added to the bill today will change its practical application, although the sponsor of the bill in the Senate, Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, has reportedly said she will oppose it in its new form.

Prior to the passage of the bill in its amended form, the Family Foundation, a conservative organization in Virginia, had expressed concerns that proposed amendments might give abortionists a loophole to avoid doing vaginal ultrasounds in circumstances where they are clearly called for from a medical standpoint.

“If an abortionist is required to do a transabdominal ultrasound and, upon seeing no fetus, is then legally permitted to perform an abortion without any further proof of life, we have done a tremendous disservice to the health and safety of women of Virginia,” said the Foundation in a statement. 

“An abortion doctor can then begin an abortion, causing emotion distress and monetary cost to the woman, for no reason, as there may not even be a pregnancy.  It can also be unsafe, due to lack of knowledge of the gestational position and number of fetuses to be aborted.”

In the event the transabdominal ultrasound cannot determine fetal age, the amended version of the bill allows the mother the option of having a transvaginal ultrasound or declining it at will.