McDonnell’s announcement came a day after legislators and governor’s staff members, including Chief of Staff Martin Kent and Secretary of Health Bill Hazel, huddled in his office Tuesday night to hash out a compromise after learning that some ultrasounds could be more invasive than first thought.
“I think these amendments . . . will resolve much of the controversy in the bill,” said Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax), chairman of the House Courts of Justice Committee, who introduced the amendment on McDonnell’s behalf.
The bill has been derided on TV, including “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and “Saturday Night Live,” and was the subject of protests on Capitol Square on Monday.
Republican scolds his party
Del. Robert G. Marshall, a candidate for U.S. Senate, took to the House floor on Wednesday to chastise his colleagues for letting media attention change their mind on ultrasounds.
“Instead of confronting the misinformation that’s going on here, some Republicans want to back away from this,’’ said Marshall (R-Prince William). “Instead of confronting the public with the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, we — the descendants of those who fought the British empire — are sounding the call for retreat.”
The House and Senate have already approved versions of the bill, even after lawmakers spent weeks arguing that it would subject women to unnecessary tests, invade their privacy and cost them money.
It wasn’t until opponents of the bill recently began to graphically detail the invasive nature of ultrasounds in early pregnancies that McDonnell took a second look.
Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, said that after years of lobbying legislators on similar bills, she didn’t know the ultrasound would be a vaginal one until a colleague at the National Women’s Law Center informed her the first week of the session.
Keene said she encouraged Sen. Ralph S. Northam (D-Norfolk), a doctor who was asked to oppose the bill in the Senate on behalf of Democrats, to talk about how women would need a vaginal probe.
Until then, she said, “we had a hard time messaging why it was bad.”
Sen. George L. Barker (D-Fairfax), who has a background in health care, said he knew that in the earliest stages of pregnancy, only an internal ultrasound could pick up images of the fetus, and he also approached Northam.
On Jan. 31, when the measure came up for a vote in the Senate, both men raised the issue during the floor debate — but very delicately. “We tried to be a little sensitive with the language, particularly when you have the [Senate] pages sitting behind you,” Barker said.
The Senate passed the bill. But when it came to the House committee nearly two weeks ago, lobbyists and legislators began using words including “probe” and “vaginal.”
The news spread across Capitol Square and across the nation with news shows reporting on the Virginia General Assembly and 1,200 protesters converging on the state Capitol. The language grew more explicit as more commentators and comedians picked up on the controversy of the probe.
Until Saturday, McDonnell and his aides had said the governor would sign the measure if it made it to his desk. But the governor, who as a legislator authored the state’s informed-consent law, said he began to take a harder look.
He said he took a few days to discuss the specific language of the proposed legislation with other governors, doctors, lawyers, legislators, advocacy groups and others before announcing his decision Wednesday.
Staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.
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