By Dana Carlson
Capital News Service
The Republican-sponsored law that presently mandates ultrasound tests for women seeking abortion services may face repeal after Senate Bill 617, sponsored by Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), this week narrowly passed through the Senate’s Health and Education Committee.
The bill passed with a tie-breaking vote from Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam as senators demonstrated the pro-choice and pro-life rift that divides the General Assembly along party lines.
The measure will make its way to the House, where a number of similar measures to eliminate the ultrasound requirement died in various committees.
Among the bills to be tabled this week is House Bill 546, supported by Delegate K. Rob Krupicka, D-Alexandria. The bill would have made the ultrasound procedure optional but died in the Courts of Justice subcommittee of Constitutional Law by a party-line voice vote.
Cianti Stewart-Reid, the Planned Parenthood PAC liaison, credited the defeat of the House bills to the dramatically different composition of the chambers.
“There is no reason why politicians in the General Assembly should be deciding very personal, very difficult decisions that women need to make with their family, their faith and their medical provider,” Krupicka said.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, ultrasounds only are considered necessary if there is a medical concern. The procedure is not a requirement of prenatal care for women who plan to continue their pregnancies to term.
“If a doctor doesn’t think it’s safe, or a doctor doesn’t think it’s necessary, the years and years of medical school go out the window because a politician has a different point of view,” Krupicka said.
Pro-life protester Karin Jewell spends some of her Saturday mornings outside of the Richmond Medical Center for Women offering prayers to patients entering the clinic.
“I think (ultrasounds) are a very good thing because then women can recognize what is going on in their belly and maybe would decide against abortion,” Jewell said. “You can recognize the heart beat and recognize that the baby is already alive and not just a blob of tissue.”
In Virginia, the average cost of an ultrasound at a private physician’s office is $345 and $602 at a hospital-outpatient provider, according to the Virginia Health Information website.
“This mandate seems to contradict claims that we need to manage health care costs better,” Krupicka said.
In 2012 the Virginia Department of Health recorded 22,916 terminated pregnancies throughout the state, but a 2012 law also prohibits insurance companies from covering the cost of abortions.
“I think we are in a time where we are talking about expanding access to health care,” Stewart-Reid said. “But when you talk about things like the cost of an ultrasound, that narrows the number of people who can access care,”
Senate Bill 618 also passed the Senate’s health and education committee this week and would add abortion procedures to health-care coverage.
The original legislation to ban abortion from insurance plans was proposed by former Gov. Bob McDonnell in 2011.
Meanwhile House Bill 1417, sponsored by Delegate Bob Marshall, R-Manassas, would prevent insurance companies from providing any form of contraception drug or device.
While SB 618 may make reproductive health services more affordable, the impact of last year’s Virginia Board of Health abortion hearings has forced a number of the state’s abortion providers to close.
The regulations championed by former attorney general and gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli force abortion providers to meet the building-code standards of hospitals… at a cost most clinics cannot afford.
“The clinics that are being forced to close provide services beyond abortion,” Krupicka said. “When they are forced to close they deny women access to a number of health services . . . and that’s the tragedy in this.”
Among the clinics scheduled to close was NOVA Women’s Healthcare in Fairfax City — the busiest abortion provider in the state.
“Babies and their mothers are safer in Northern Virginia because this deadly facility has been closed,” said Olivia Gans Turner, director of Americans Victims of Abortions in a Virginia Society for Human Life press release. “Abortion is often a dangerous procedure for women and always a deadly one for their innocent unborn children.”
As the deadline to meet the new regulations looms, more clinics may be pressured to close in the coming months.
Planned Parenthood, the nation’s leading reproductive health care advocate, also has been targeted with legislation meant to restrict the organization’s services.
Although House Bill 531, which would have eliminated state funding for Planned Parenthood, was defeated in the Health and Human Resources committee an identical measure in the budget bill remains in consideration.
“In 2012 we served 24,000 men and women at Planned Parenthood,” Planned Parenthood’s Stewart-Reid said.
People who depend on high-quality care at an affordable cost would be left without resources like STD screening, family planning, reproductive education, birth control and more, she said.
“The public has been clear that they think women should be able to make their health care decisions with their family and their doctors,” Krupicka said. “For some reason we keep revisiting these issues, and it really distracts from all the work we can do collaboratively and [in a] bipartisan [manner].”