During a rapid-fire exchange on Meet the Press earlier this month, Gov. Bob McDonnell rejected host David Gregory’s contention that the legislation puts Virginia in a socially conservative corner.
"This bill allows Virginia to join about 23 other states that have an ultrasound procedure," said McDonnell, a Republican.
"It’s actually only about seven that have these kind of procedures," Gregory interrupted.
"No, but there’s 23 that require a woman to have an opportunity to see an ultrasound," McDonnell replied.
We wondered if the governor’s number is correct.
Debate over Virginia’s law this winter became a national story when it became clear that the measure would require use of an invasive, transvaginal ultrasound -- even against a woman’s will.
At McDonnell’s urging, the Republican-led General Assembly eventually passed a toned-down measure mandating that women, at least 24 hours before an abortion, undergo a common abdominal ultrasound in which an imaging wand is rubbed across the stomach. The patient must be offered an opportunity to view the image and hear the fetal heartbeat. Victims of rape and incest are exempt from the law if the molestation or assault was reported to legal authorities.
Taylor Thornley, a spokeswoman for McDonnell, said the governor got his statistics about other states from separate studies by two groups that seldom agree: The Guttmacher Institute, a research and advocacy organization that supports women’s access to birth control and abortions; and the National Right to Life Committee, which opposes abortion. Neither group’s research includes Virginia’s law, which will become effective July 1.
The National Right to Life Committee lists 23 states that have an "ultrasound option" and gives a brief description of each law.
Guttmacher lists 21 states with ultrasound laws, including seven that mandate the test be performed before an abortion. Unlike the National Right to Life Committee, Guttmacher does not count North Carolina and Oklahoma, where the mandatory ultrasound laws have been stayed pending court challenges.
Guttmacher shows the wide range of laws:
- Five states require that ultrasounds are offered to the woman by the provider: Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah.
- Nine states require that if an ultrasound is conducted to prepare for the abortion, the provider must offer to show the woman the image: Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia.
- Six states require an ultrasound for each abortion and the provider must offer to show the woman the image: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.
- One state, Texas, requires an ultrasound for each abortion and that the provider display and describe the image.
North Carolina and Oklahoma would fit into that final category if not for the court challenges. In the meantime, those states and Wisconsin require that women be given information on how to access ultrasounds. (Utah requires both that the woman be offered an ultrasound and that if the procedure is performed to prepare for the abortion, the woman is offered an opportunity to view the image.)
So the state requirements range from giving women information on accessing ultrasounds to requiring abortion providers to give ultrasounds and display and describe the image.
Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager at the institute, said once Virginia’s law goes into effect in July, it will be listed as requiring an ultrasound before an abortion and that the provider must offer to show the woman the image.
McDonnell, in a carefully worded statement, said the bill he recently signed "allows Virginia to join about 23 other states that have an ultrasound procedure" before allowing abortions. It is technically correct that 23 states have passed legislation that at least requires women be offered information on how to get ultrasounds before abortions.
But the governor, in implying Virginia has adopted a mainstream law on ultrasounds, omitted a contradicting fact: Virginia will join only nine states that have passed mandatory ultrasound bills. And the enforcement of the laws in two of those states has been delayed by legal challenges.
While McDonnell is accurate in saying 23 states have laws that deal with ultrasounds, his claim creates a misleading impression by not acknowledging only nine states require the procedure.
We rate his claim Mostly True.