Facing an issue that could redefine his political legacy, Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) retreated from a measure that would require women to have invasive ultrasounds, performed by inserting a probe into the vagina, before receiving abortions.

“No person should be directed to undergo an invasive procedure by the state, without their consent, as a precondition,” McDonnell said Wednesday.

In the hours since McDonnell’s statement, a Senate committee has moved to require external ultrasounds that require a woman to undress so that an imaging device can be used on her abdomen.

But the committee also has approved a “personhood” bill requiring that unborn children receive the same rights as all other citizens. (Update: Action on the bill will be delayed until 2013, according to the Associated Press.)

View Photo Gallery: A bill that would require women to undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion has stirred up a fight in Virginia, sparking a massive protest on Capitol Square in Richmond and changing the governor’s stand.

Fueled by protests, social media and even late-night television, the debate over Virginia’s approach to abortion has pushed the state’s measures into a broader national conversation.

Why? Here are some possible reasons:

• Virginia isn’t the first state to mandate ultrasounds before abortion, but it is the closest state to Washington, D.C., to do so.

Virginia would join the company of six other states that currently mandate the measure and offer the opportunity for women to view the image: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana and Missouri. (A seventh state, Texas, requires that women receive both receive the ultrasound and view the image, then wait 24 hours.)

Proximity to Washington could be what makes this case different, in part because it’s the nation’s capital and also because the District itself has long been perceived by city officials as a political pawn in the wider abortion debate. Last week, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) attempted to rally support against the latest bill seeking to restrict abortions in the city. Residents of both of Washington, D.C.’s “two cities” have long being paying close attention to the issue.

This is at least the third heavily politicized outcry over women’s health issues in 2012 ... and it’s only February : The recent national spotlight on Virginia comes as the third hotly debated women’s health issue in under a month.

When the Susan G. Komen foundation moved to pull funding for breast cancer screenings from Planned Parenthood earlier this month, the backlash was swift and severe. Karen Handel, vice president for public policy and a supporter of the decision to pull funding, eventually resigned.

In a hearing last week about the Obama administration’s far-reaching mandate that employers provide birth control coverage, outcry over an an all-male panel of religious leaders was sparked by photos shared by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Planned Parenthood. The Post’s Melinda Henneberger wrote Wednesday that Democrats, not Republicans, are pushing contraception as an election issue.

An assist from comedians and late-night television took the discussion from political to pop culture.

Comedian Jon Stewart displayed a photo of a transvaginal ultrasound probe on “The Daily Show” and compared it to a TSA patdown.

Comedians Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers touched on the House's passage of a bill stating that life begins at contraception on last weekend’s edition of “Saturday Night Live”:

“They also passed a bill saying that life begins at conception,” Meyers said. “What’s next? Life begins at last call? Life begins when you click ‘send’ on your match.com profile?”

As The New York Times pointed out last October, personhood measures are springing up in states wishing to further anti-abortion strategy. In its most publicized iteration, a personhood bill in Mississippi was rejected by voters in November because of a perceived possible effect on fertility treatments.

Want to learn more? Follow along at our Virginia Politics Blog, and learn more about the GOP presidential candidates’ views here.