The Virginia State Senate narrowly passed a bill on Tuesday that would repeal a state law requiring pregnant women to have ultrasounds before getting abortions.
The Senate, which recently flipped to Democratic control, split exactly down the middle on the ultrasound repeal, with 20 votes for and against it. Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who is a physician, cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the repeal.
"This is a simple measure: if a woman needs an ultrasound, the doctor will decide," State Sen. Mamie Locke (D) told her colleagues during the debate over the bill.
While 12 states currently have mandatory ultrasound laws on the books, Virginia's sparked national outrage when it was signed by then-Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) in 2012. The original version of the bill would have mandated transvaginal ultrasound procedures in cases when the pregnancy was not advanced enough for a transabdominal ultrasound to be effective.
The bill's opponents said requiring women to receive transvaginal ultrasounds would be akin to state-sponsored rape. Republican lawmakers later rewrote the bill so that it only required the standard, jelly-on-the-belly procedure.
"We all recall how Virginia became the laughingstock of the nation," State Sen. John Edwards (D) said Tuesday. "Let's not have the hubris, the arrogance of telling physicians what they should do."
But Republicans argued that the mandatory ultrasound law benefits women because it provides them with more information about their pregnancies. "I don't think the law inconveniences anyone," said State Sen. Dick Black (R).
Tuesday's vote was largely symbolic, because the repeal bill is not likely to pass in Virginia's Republican-controlled House of Delegates. That body's Constitutional Law Subcommittee killed a similar ultrasound repeal bill last week on a 6-2 party-line vote.
Still, supporters of the repeal bill praised the vote as an important first step.
"Those Senators who stood with women today and voted to repeal the medically unnecessary ultrasound requirement have shown they understand the will of Virginia voters," said Cianti Stewart-Reid, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia. "This law is an appalling and offensive government overreach. It’s not about women’s health care; it’s about shaming and preventing women from seeking safe, legal health care."