Bob McDonnell
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell speaks at the CPAC conference in Washington. Reuters/Joshua Roberts

Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell issued a statement Wednesday calling on the state Legislature to soften a contentious bill that would require all women seeking abortions to undergo mandatory and potentially invasive ultrasounds first.

The statement was released after McDonnell's aides told The Washington Post the governor was reconsidering his support of the bill, which he had previously adamantly supported.

The legislation has set off a national furor, with supporters arguing the ultrasound is a medically necessary procedure, while opponents argue that the potential requirement for intrusive transvaginal ultrasounds is tantamount to state-sponsored rape.

In a statement, McDonnell said that after consulting with a variety of lawmakers, physicians, attorneys, advocacy groups and Virginia residents, he has determined there is no need for a direct statute calling for the transvaginal ultrasound unless a doctor recommends it for medical reasons.

Mandating an invasive procedure in order to give informed consent is not a proper role for the state. No person should be directed to undergo an invasive procedure by the state, without their consent, as a precondition to another medical procedure, read the statement.

McDonnell wrote that he has recommended a series of amendments to the bill to the state's General Assembly. In particular, he is requesting that lawmakers introduce amendments that explicitly state that no woman will be forced to undergo transvaginal ultrasounds against their will, as well another measure stating that only external ultrasounds will be required to determine a fetus' gestational age.

The full text of the statement is as follows:

I am pro-life. I believe deeply in the sanctity of innocent human life and believe governments have a duty to protect human life. The more our society embraces a culture of life for all people, the better country we will have. Over the course of my 20-year career in elected office, I have been glad to play a leading role in putting in place common-sense policies that protect and defend innocent human life in the Commonwealth. One of those bills was Virginia's informed consent statute, of which I was the chief patron in the House of Delegates, finally seeing its passage in 2001. This session, the General Assembly is now considering amending this informed consent statute to include a requirement that any woman seeking an abortion receive an ultrasound in order to establish the gestational age for appropriate medical purposes, and to offer a woman the opportunity to voluntarily review that ultrasound prior to giving her legal informed consent to abortion.

Over the past days I have discussed the specific language of the proposed legislation with other governors, physicians, attorneys, legislators, advocacy groups, and citizens. It is apparent that several amendments to the proposed legislation are needed to address various medical and legal issues which have arisen. It is clear that in the majority of cases, a routine external, transabdominal ultrasound is sufficient to meet the bills stated purpose, that is, to determine gestational age. 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. Determining gestational age is essential for legal reasons, to know the trimester of the pregnancy in order to comply with the law, and for medical reasons as well.

Thus, having looked at the current proposal, I believe there is no need to direct by statute that further invasive ultrasound procedures be done. Mandating an invasive procedure in order to give informed consent is not a proper role for the state. No person should be directed to undergo an invasive procedure by the state, without their consent, as a precondition to another medical procedure.

For this reason, I have recommended to the General Assembly a series of amendments to this bill. I am requesting that the General Assembly amend this bill to explicitly state that no woman in Virginia will have to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound involuntarily. I am asking the General Assembly to state in this legislation that only a transabdominal, or external, ultrasound will be required to satisfy the requirements to determine gestational age. Should a doctor determine that another form of ultrasound may be necessary to provide the necessary images and information that will be an issue for the doctor and the patient. The government will have no role in that medical decision.

I have requested other amendments that help clarify the purposes of the bill and reflect a better understanding of prevailing medical practices. It is my hope that the members of the General Assembly will act favorably upon these recommendations from our office. We will await their action prior to making any further comments on this matter.