February 8, 2012

VIRGINIA REPUBLICANS, always quick to condemn overreaching government intrusions into people’s lives, are themselves becoming the High Priests of the Nanny State. In driving a singularly obnoxious abortion measure through the state legislature — one that substitutes their own medical expertise for that of doctors — they are setting new standards for official arrogance and meddling.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, a Winchester Republican, is similar to ones that have become law in a half-dozen other states, including Alabama and Mississippi. It would require women seeking abortions in Virginia to first submit to an ultrasound, and pay for it, too.

Lawmakers who backed the bill, which passed the Senate and House last week, are undeterred by the fact that no medical necessity requires this nor by the likelihood that few of the 26,000 women who seek abortions in Virginia each year will want the procedure. Rather, they are jazzed at the idea that subjecting women to blatant coercion, coupled with the bill’s requirement that the test results be kept forever in women’s medical files, will generate sufficient duress to discourage abortions. Women who refuse to examine the ultrasound image will be made to sign a statement to that effect, which will also remain part of their medical records.

Ms. Vogel insists the bill’s requirement “is not invasive,” a statement of Olympian political disingenuousness. It is big government at its most loathsome, foisting the unnecessary upon the unwilling.

It also reeks of GOP hypocrisy. As a letter writer to this page noted, Republicans (including Ms. Vogel) went ballistic when the federal government enacted legislation requiring people to buy health insurance. Now they have ginned up their own mandate, which will force women to pay hundreds of dollars for an unneeded test.

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), who has broken campaign promises to devise a sustainable fix to Virginia’s transportation funding crisis and another to fight for meaningful nonpartisan redistricting, is not so reticent when it comes to abortion. Through a spokesman, he says he will sign Ms. Vogel’s bill on the grounds that it provides “additional information” to women considering abortions. What “additional information” is that? That fetuses have developing limbs?

Abortion in most instances is legal; it is a woman’s right. Lawmakers have no business infringing on that right while hiding behind the fiction of medical usefulness.

State Sen. Ralph S. Northam, a Norfolk Democrat and a pediatric neurologist who opposed the bill, was speaking for many of his fellow doctors when he said: “I really don’t want to be in the position, as a clinician, when I say, ‘You need to have this diagnostic test done,’ and the patient asks me, ‘Doctor, why? Why do I need that done?’ ”