McDonnell Talks Super Tuesday
The Virginia governor discusses the kerfuffle over the ultrasound bill and why he’s supporting Mitt Romney.

Mitt Romney and Bob McDonnell in October 2011


On Friday, NRO’s Jim Geraghty chatted with Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia.

GERAGHTY: The ultrasound bill that attracted national attention, the presidential primary, the governors’ meeting. Just another slow week, huh? You must feel as if you’ve been through the wringer just with the coverage of the Virginia legislature.

MCDONNELL: If you just read the papers, you have no idea what’s going on in the legislature because the reporting has been so poor this session. There has been inordinate focus on about three or four bills, to the exclusion of the other 1,000 bills — especially on big stuff such as higher ed, K–12, energy, veterans, pension reform, and a lot of other things that are very significant and are getting virtually no attention. It’s been pretty poor overall.


GERAGHTY: One of the facts that came up during the ultrasound debate was a report from Planned Parenthood that indicated administering ultrasounds was standard procedure before performing an abortion. Why did so much controversy get generated by a bill requiring something standard or commonplace? Did all of this come down to the position of the ultrasound monitor, because some clinics performed the ultrasound but did not want to show it to the woman?

MCDONNELL: I think the medical and legal facts were a casualty during much of the media coverage of the issue, unfortunately. My understanding of the clinical practices, according to the standard of care that was already in place, is that the law already required that the probable gestational age of the child be determined. In the overwhelming majority of cases, some sort of ultrasound was already being used to make that determination.

Under Virginia law, as in most states, there are certain types of requirements for a first-trimester abortion, but different legal requirements for a second-trimester abortion. So the practitioner, the doctor, has got to know, with certainty, whether you’re talking about the first or second trimester. And the only way to know with certainty is with an ultrasound. So, yes, in the great majority of cases, it was our understanding from clinics that they already were doing this.

The real impact of the bill is the second part, which virtually no one is talking about, and that is the requirement that once the ultrasound is done, that it be shown to the woman, so that she would know the probable gestational age. And she could actually view her child, so she could have all of the information necessary to make an informed decision.

Back when I was in the legislature, I carried the original bill, not the ultrasound, but the informed-consent statute. We’ve always called the bill “the woman’s right to know” bill. Despite the rhetoric of opponents, this was about empowering women with more medical and legal information that previously they were not required to get in order to give informed consent.

Informed consent is required for every invasive medical procedure, from getting your ears pierced to having an abortion. All this said was that the doctor is required to offer you, verbally, an opportunity to view the ultrasound, not just a still photograph. It could be real-time, it could be subsequent video, but you actually get to see the video of your child and then to ask questions and to make your final decision.

To me, it’s about empowering women with information. I think, unfortunately, a lot of that got lost in the discussion.

Here’s the other thing: About nine other states have laws like the original bill that mandate an ultrasound but don’t say what type. Another 15 states have laws that don’t mandate the ultrasound, but say you have to offer it, and if they accept the offer, they have to be able to see the ultrasound. Virginia will now join nearly half the states in America that have some kind of ultrasound law. You wouldn’t know that from the coverage; you would have thought Virginia was doing something that had never been done.