Virginia House passes personhood and ultrasound bills

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
personhood, abortion, ultrasound, legislation, reproductive rights

On February 14, the Republican-dominated Virginia House of Delegates facilitated the approval of two bills, which House Democrats claim to be the most restrictive anti-abortion bills in years.

One bill, known as the “personhood” bill declares that the rights of persons apply from the moment of conception—when the egg and sperm unite. It reads: “unborn children at every stage of development enjoy all the rights, privileges, and immunities available to other persons, citizens, and residents of the commonwealth, subject only to the laws and constitutions of Virginia and the United States, precedents of the United States Supreme Court, and provisions to the contrary in the statutes of the commonwealth.”, despite strenuous opposition by Democrats who argued that the broad measure could prohibit birth control. The bill, which passed on a 66-32 vote, was introduced by Delegate Bob Marshall (R-Prince William). He has the reputation of being one of the most outspoken legislators on abortion issues and is a candidate for U.S. Senate this year.

The other bill that passed requires a woman to have a transvaginal ultrasound before undergoing an abortion. Proponents of the bill claim that if a woman sees the developing fetus, she may change her mind and be less likely to regret the decision later. Opponents of the ultrasound legislation claim that it would constitute an unprecedented government mandate to insert an instrument into a woman’s vagina as part of a state-ordered effort to dissuade them from terminating pregnancies. Opponents to both bills assert that they are unprecedented intrusions into the prerogatives and decisions not just of pregnant women but of women trying to avoid conceiving. Republicans counter that the opponents of both bills are alarmists who have exaggerated the consequences.


Del. Marshall's bill had passed the conservative House several times in the past; however, on each occasion it was shot down in the Senate. This time, both bills are predicted to pass because the Senate is under new conservative control after last fall's election removed control from the Democrats.

Del. Marshall noted that his bill was modeled after legislation in Missouri; he claimed that it would not impact contraception, miscarriages, or abortions; rather, it would affect the way that courts define a person. For example, parents could receive damages for the death of a fetus in a wrongful death lawsuit. He explained, “To claim using birth control will get you in trouble with this statue is simply false. It does not have the effect of criminalizing birth control. This does not directly affect abortion.’’

Del. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) countered, “This bill requires every single code section in Virginia that uses the word ‘person’ to apply to a fetus. That opens families and doctors to a wide variety of criminal and civil lawsuits for healthcare decisions not only in cases of unwanted pregnancies, but every pregnancy and even miscarriage.” Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41st District) claimed that the bill would make reproductive rights in Virginia more restrictive than states of the Deep South.

Reference: Virginia House of Delegates