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Va. bill could require 'transvaginal ultrasound' before abortions

Friday - 2/17/2012, 3:55pm  ET

WASHINGTON - A Virginia bill on track to become law would require women considering an abortion to have access to images of their unborn fetus, even if that means the doctor would have to perform the ultrasound from within the womb.

Virginia House Bill 462, and a similar bill in the state Senate, would require doctors to perform a fetal ultrasound, which the bill says should be made a standard practice, include the dimensions of the fetus and accurately portray its external features and internal organs, if possible.

Pro-choice groups criticize the legislation for requiring a "transvaginal ultrasound" in most cases, while supporters of the bill believe the information it garners is essential for women deciding whether to have an abortion.

"Any time somebody consents to a surgery, they're consenting to the tests that make sure that surgery is safe," says Chris Freund, vice president of pro-life organization the Family Foundation of Virginia. "No woman has to have this ultrasound done if they don't consent to the surgery."

Tarina Keene of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia says 90 percent of abortions take place early in the pregnancy, at a time when the fetus is as small as a grain of rice or a kidney bean.

She says that means the only way an ultrasound technician or doctor could comply with the bill's requirements would include going inside the woman with ultrasound equipment, rather than using the external ultrasound technology many people know.

Currently, women considering an abortion are given a pamphlet on the development of an unborn child. The Family Foundation believes the information provided to the woman should be more personal.

"When a woman looks at a pamphlet and sees that, it may not have the same impact as looking on a screen and seeing her unborn child living inside of her," says Freund. He believes this legislation would also add additional medical safeguards that could have prevented life-threatening situations in the past.

"We've had incidents in Virginia where abortion doctors have not done an ultrasound, guessed at the age and size of the fetus, start an abortion only to find they were completely wrong and put the woman's life at risk," he says. "We'd like to make sure that doesn't happen."

"If you go in to have any kind of surgery, you want the doctor to make sure they know exactly what they're doing and what is happening," says Freund.

The House bill passed on a 63-36 vote.

WTOP's Max Smith and Paul D. Shinkman contributed to this report.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)