Amid a public uproar that prompted Virginia's governor to withdraw his support, Republican legislators Wednesday dropped a bitterly contested requirement that women seeking abortions undergo invasive ultrasound imaging, likely dooming the bill.
The Republican-controlled House of Delegates voted, 65-32, for an amended bill that requires only an external ultrasound, not the vaginal insertion of a wandlike device that emits ultrasonic waves that are used to create images of the fetus.
The House amended the bill shortly after Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell issued a statement opposing the more invasive procedure. McDonnell, who has been mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate, shifted ground after the proposal drew outrage from women, national ridicule from television comedians and appeals from GOP moderates.
"Mandating an invasive procedure in order to give informed consent is not a proper role for the state," said McDonnell, who had voiced support for the legislation last week. "No person should be directed to undergo an invasive procedure by the state, without their consent, as a precondition to another medical procedure."
The amended bill now returns to the Senate, where its sponsor, Sen. Jill Vogel, said she will strike the legislation. A House version, by Delegate Kathy Byron, is pending before a Senate committee.
The invasive ultrasound measure is among three anti-abortion measures coursing their way through a General Assembly, where socially conservative Republicans gained dominance after last fall's elections.
One bill would give embryos the full legal protection of personhood and criminalize their destruction, outlawing almost all abortions and, critics say, some forms of contraception. It would take effect only if the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortions is overturned.
Another would end state Medicaid funding for abortions sought by indigent women whose fetuses are severely and grossly deformed.
But the ultrasound bill provoked the most outrage and national attention.
Aside from national news coverage, the bills crossed over into popular culture with a "Saturday Night Live" skit lampooning the measures and a comedic critique Tuesday by Comedy Central's Jon Stewart.
Religious conservatives were unhappy with what seemed to be an overnight reversal of fate for one of their marquee bills.
"We are extremely disappointed in this outcome," Victoria Cobb of the conservative, Richmond-based Family Foundation said after the vote. But given McDonnell's action Wednesday, she reasoned, a mandated external ultrasound law beat nothing at all.