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Pre-abortion ultrasounds still required in Virginia

| Monday, Jan. 28, 2013, 8:30 p.m.

RICHMOND — A Republican-run Senate committee swiftly killed legislation on Monday that would have made Virginia's mandatory pre-abortion ultrasound exams optional when the committee chairman blocked discussion of the bill.

The hastily convened Privileges and Elections Committee special meeting lasted just minutes with Democratic Sen. Ralph Northam's bill dying on a party-line vote. Six Republicans opposed, and three Democrats supported it. Once proxy votes from absent Republicans were added, the final tally swelled to 8-3. Four committee Democrats did not vote.

“What a kangaroo court this is, Mr. Chairman. This is an embarrassment,” Northam huffed after committee chairman Steve Martin ordered a roll call vote while stifling efforts by Northam, who is a doctor, and at least one other physician to testify for the bill.

Martin, a Republican, contended the committee had discussed the bill. Its history in the Legislative Information System, however, showed that Senate Bill 1332 had never been before a committee or a subcommittee.

Martin then reasoned that because the bill had the same net effect as those to repeal the ultrasound mandate that the committee had already killed that any distinctions were irrelevant.

Northam stormed from the room, the latest partisan skirmish in a legislative session of deep resentments between Senate Democrats and Republicans that threatens to stalemate many of the year's most consequential initiatives.

Martin and Northam are both candidates in November's lieutenant governor election.

“This was, again, just an example of how they're doing business these days,” Northam said outside the meeting room. He was trying to explain to Dr. Kenneth Olshansky, a retired Richmond plastic surgeon who hoped to testify in favor of the bill, why he was not allowed to speak.

Last year, the legislation that requires doctors to “perform fetal transabdominal ultrasound imaging” at least 24 hours before abortions triggered angry protests, predominantly by women's rights advocates. The protests culminated in dozens of arrests on the state Capitol's steps last March. The law also resulted in scathing editorials and of Virginia Republicans, including Gov. Bob McDonnell, being lampooned by television comedians.

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