Well, I have to admit that I called this one. Back on February 2, I wrote a post titled “Top Veep Prospect Gets Ready For His Ultrasound,” noting that Virginia was on the verge of passing legislation that would require women seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound allowing them to see and hear the fetus. I predicted that this legislation—the result of Republicans gaining effective control of the state Senate last November—might cause troubles for Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, who is staunchly anti-abortion but is also trying to maintain a moderate image in hopes of being named the running mate of Mitt Romney, for whom he has been campaigning.
And here we are a few weeks later, and such is the ruckus that the legislation has kicked up—especially after it became clear that the ultrasounds in many cases would have to be administered not by the friendly tummy sensor but by vaginal probe—that McDonnell, about as reliable an ally as anti-abortion forces have in a governor's office, is now caving. The latest dispatch from the Washington Post’s Anita Kumar:
House Republican leaders are expected to try to amend a bill on Wednesday that would require women to undergo an ultrasound before an abortion. Legislators and governor’s staff met Tuesday night to hash out a compromise that would make the ultrasounds voluntary, but not mandatory, before an abortion, several people with knowledge of the meeting said Wednesday.
Del. Kathy Byron (R-Campbell), who introduced the bill in the House, said on Wednesday that she had not seen the amendment’s language yet and does not know if she will support it.
The meeting took place in the governor’s office in the Patrick Henry Building on Capitol Square, and included the governor’s chief of staff Martin Kent, Secretary of Health Bill Hazel and Dels. David Albo, Todd Gilbert, Rob Bell and Byron, several people with knowledge of the meeting said. They were not allowed to speak publicly about the gathering...
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) is backing off his unconditional support the bill. Until this weekend, McDonnell and his aides had said the governor would sign the measure if it made it to his desk. McDonnell changed his stance a few days ago. McDonnell, who held a news conference on a unrelated matter on Wednesday, declined to answer reporters’ questions about the ultrasound legislation or Tuesday night’s meeting.
“You know what I’m concerned about? I’m concerned about the budget,’’ McDonnell said as he walked away with security and aides.
A couple thoughts on this. First: a “voluntary” ultrasound?? How is that any different from the status quo? As it is, a woman seeking an abortion could presumably ask for an ultrasound, assuming her insurance would cover it or she was willing to pay for it. But unless I’m missing something, who in the world would ask for that, just for the heck of it? How is McDonnell going to be able to pass this off as an amendment and not a total evisceration of the legislation?
Second: it’s worth noting that, despite McDonnell’s declaration that he would rather speak about the budget, his veep prospects have also left him in a bind on that front as well. Virginia has for years suffered from a glaring shortfall in funding for transportation improvements, which has left northern Virginia a traffic-addled mess. McDonnell had been gesturing at taking a step to make at least some progress in this area—allowing for a very gradual increase in the gasoline tax, which has not budged for years. But this looks as doomed as the ultrasound:
McDonnell has made transportation funding one of his top priorities this year, along with pension reform and higher-education funding. Failing to pass a transportation bill could prove as politically difficult for him as it has been for his predecessors. McDonnell continues his behind-the-scenes campaign for his proposals — at times meeting with individual legislators. The governor declined to say whether he supports indexing the gas tax and gave a muted response when asked about the Senate’s overhaul of his plans.
“I’m going to wait to see what happens,” he told reporters. “We’re early in the process. These transportation proposals have a long way to go.”
By the time McDonnell gets done in Richmond, he may be fully compatible with Romney in the political readjustment department.
*Update at 4:40 p.m.: The Washington Post is now reporting more details on McDonnell's concession. Apparently, an ultrasound will still be required, but a belly one will suffice:
“Mandating an invasive procedure in order to give informed consent is not a proper role for the state,’’ he said. “No person should be directed to undergo an invasive procedure by the state, without their consent, as a precondition to another medical procedure.”
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that McDonnell (R) had backed off his unconditional support the bill. Up until last weekend, McDonnell and his aides had said the governor would sign the measure if it made it to his desk.
The House of Delegates voted Wednesday afternoon to amend the bill to say that no woman will have to undergo a internal ultrasound involuntarily, and that only an external ultrasounds will be required to satisfy the requirements to determine gestational age.
This should quell the charges of "state-mandated rape" coming from the more outspoken of the opponents. But I doubt it ends the matter entirely, as the external ultrasound will still be required. It surely has left a black mark next to McDonnell's name on Mitt's list. And it has riled up women's groups to such an extent that national Democrats -- and the Obama reelection team in Chicago -- almost have to be secretly glad that the Republicans took the Virginia Senate last fall. Now, if you're a Democrat in Virginia, you may see it differently...