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Ultrasound mandate heads to Virginia governor's desk

By Matthew A. Ward

PORTSMOUTH, Va (Reuters) - Virginia's Republican governor is poised to sign a law forcing women to have an ultrasound before an abortion after state lawmakers approved amendments on Thursday, sending the measure to his desk.

The controversial legislation requires a woman be offered the chance to view the ultrasound image, and holds that a copy of the image must be held in the woman's medical record at the abortion facility for seven years.

Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled House of Delegates approved the amendments on Thursday in a 61-35 vote. The amendments include making an invasive vaginal ultrasound optional in cases where fetal age cannot be determined with an abdominal ultrasound, which is usually the case in the first trimester of pregnancy, experts say.

Another amendment exempts women from the requirement in cases where pregnancy resulted from rape or incest and was reported to police.

Governor Bob McDonnell, who is high on the list of possible 2012 Republican vice presidential candidates, last week withdrew his support for the vaginal probe clause minutes before lawmakers amended and passed the probe-optional measure.

While women's rights groups and state Democrat lawmakers were livid about the vaginal ultrasound clause, some Republican lawmakers suggested that a woman should not be concerned about a probe when she is having an abortion, itself an invasive procedure.

Proponents say the overall ultrasound concept is intended to give women as much information as possible before making a final decision. Others say its only intent is to dissuade women from seeking abortions, which are legal in the United States.

After the amended legislation passed the state Senate by a 21-19 vote on Wednesday, a spokesman for McDonnell said the governor "looks forward to approving a common-sense ultrasound measure in the Commonwealth."

Six other states have passed laws requiring abortion providers to perform ultrasounds, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which studies reproductive health issues.

While most of those states allow women to decline to view the image, Texas, Oklahoma and North Carolina require women to hear the provider's verbal description of the ultrasound.

The laws in Oklahoma and North Carolina have been challenged in court but an appeals court cleared the way for Texas to begin enforcing its law in January.

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