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Nancy  Madsen
By Nancy Madsen February 24, 2012

McDonnell's support of mandatory ultrasounds before abortions hasn't changed

Across the country and around the world, pundits are saying Gov. Bob McDonnell performed a career-defining flip-flop Wednesday by urging fellow Republicans in the General Assembly to ease legislation mandating ultrasounds before an abortion.

The Guardian in London called it a "U-Turn;" Al Sharpton on "PoliticsNation" called it a "huge turn-around;" Slate called it a "backtrack."  Politico wrote: "The conservative blogosphere collectively bemoaned Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s decision to withdraw his support for legislation requiring invasive ultrasounds to be performed before abortions."

The narrative, in many of the stories, is that McDonnell’s action will harm his chances to become the vice-presidential candidate on the Republican national ticket this year.

So we wheeled out our Flip-O-Meter to see if McDonnell really did change his position in the ultrasound controversy.

On the morning of Jan. 31, during an interview on WTOP radio, McDonnell announced his support of legislation requiring physicians, before an performing an abortion, to conduct an ultrasound and present the image of the fetus to the mother. Here’s an excerpt from his talk with broadcaster Mark Segraves:

Segraves: "But what do you support – the idea of having a woman have to take a sonogram before getting an abortion? Is that something you would support?"

McDonnell: "An ultrasound – yes, I actually was the original sponsor of that bill about 10 years ago, to give a woman the right to know all the information before she makes the choice."

Segraves: "Well, giving her the right to know and mandating a procedure are two completely different things."

McDonnell: "Yeah, but I think it gives full information – an ultrasound is used – it’s modern technology, the costs have been driven down, to be able to have that  information before making, what most people say is a very important, serious, life-changing decision, I think, is appropriate."

McDonnell didn’t get into the types of ultrasounds or the details of the bill. And the legislation did not specify any type of sonogram that must be performed.

Several hours later, debate on the Senate floor cast the bill in a new light. Several Democrats,  for the first time, argued that the common "jelly on the belly" abdominal sonogram -- in which a wand is rubbed over a woman’s stomach -- may not be sensitive enough to render the image of a fetus in the first months of pregnancy.

In such cases, they said, the abortion law would require physicians to conduct invasive transvaginal ultrasounds -- even against a mother’s will -- to get an image.

The first news account disclosing that the bill would require transvaginal ultrasounds ran on Feb. 3. After that, the story went viral. The bill, which critics called "state-sanctioned rape," earned the ridicule from Jon Stewart and Saturday Night Live. More than 1,000 people protested at the state Capitol on Feb. 21.

Then, on Feb. 22, McDonnell urged the Republican-controlled General Assembly to amend the bill so that no woman would be required to have a transvaginal ultrasound.  In a written statement, the governor said he had been initially unaware that the legislation would require the invasive procedure.

"I have come to understand that the medical practice and standard of care currently guide physicians to use other procedures to find the gestational age of the child, when abdominal ultrasounds cannot do so," McDonnell wrote.

The House amended the bill as the governor requested. The measure is pending in the Senate.

So, is there any evidence McDonnell reversed himself on mandatory transvaginal ultrasounds before an abortion? The answer is no.

The governor, on Jan. 31, endorsed the general concept of mandating ultrasounds before abortions. Hours later, several senate Democrats revealed the legislation would require some use of transvaginal ultrasounds, even against a woman’s will. There is no record that McDonnell ever endorsed or defended mandatory use of the invasive procedure.

Did McDonnell alter his long-held support for requiring women to undergo a non-invasive, external ultrasound before an abortion? The answer, again, is no. He still backs that.

Despite all the uproar, we cannot find any change in McDonnell’s stance. We rate this No Flip.

Our Sources

WTOP, "McDonnell: No gas tax during recession," Jan. 31, 2012.

Gov. Bob McDonnell, "Statement of Governor Bob McDonnell on SB 484," Feb. 22, 2012.

Richmond Times-Dispatch, "In spotlight, ultrasound bill heads to governor," Feb. 21, 2012.

Saturday Night Live, "Really? with Seth and Amy: Birth Control," Feb. 18, 2012.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, "Punanny State -- Virginia’s Transvaginal Ultrasound Bill," Feb. 21, 2012.

PoliticsNation with Al Sharpton, "Virginia governor reverses decision on intrusive ultrasound procedure," Feb. 22, 2012.

The Guardian, "Virginia governor Bob McDonnell in U-turn over controversial abortion bill," Feb. 22, 2012., "Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell Backs off the Invasive Ultrasound Law," Feb. 22, 2012.

Politico, "Blogs hit Bob McDonnell on ultrasound bill," Feb. 23, 2012.

The Rachel Maddow Show, "Back to the drawing board for Virginia governor on anti-abortion bill," Feb. 22, 2012.

The Washington Post, "Virginia governor no longer fully supports ultrasounds before abortions," Feb. 22, 2012., "Northam Debates Vogel on Ultrasound Bill," posted Feb. 7, 2012.

NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, "McDonnelll looks to protect VP ambitions in sponsoring ill-thought out amendment," Feb. 22, 2012.

Interview with Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, Feb. 23, 2012.

Interview with Chris Fruend, vice president for policy and communciations at the Family Foundation, Feb. 23, 2012.

Interviews with Tucker Martin, director of communications for Gov. Bob McDonnell, Feb. 23, 2011.

The Virginian-Pilot, "Outrage in the Virginia senate," Feb. 3, 2011.

The Washington Post, "Nitty-gritty knocked Va. abortion bill off the fast track," Feb. 23, 2011.

Interview with Sen. Ralph Northam, D-Norfolk, Feb. 23, 2011.

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

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McDonnell's support of mandatory ultrasounds before abortions hasn't changed

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