The backlash against the new Virginia legislation requiring ultrasounds before an abortion procedure – which some have bizarrely compared to “forcible rape” – may be even more overblown than initially thought. Apparently, ultrasounds are already part of the abortion procedures at Virginia Planned Parenthoods.

The Virginia League for Planned Parenthood didn’t immediately return calls yesterday. But here’s what it said on the recording for its abortion services information hotline:

“Patients who have a surgical abortion generally come in for two appointments. At the first visit we do a health assessment, perform all the necessary lab work, and do an ultrasound. This visit generally takes about an hour. At the second visit, the procedure takes place. This visit takes about an hour as well. For out of town patients for whom it would be difficult to make two trips to our office, we’re able to schedule both the initial appointment and the procedure on the same day.

Medical abortions generally require three visits. At the first visit, we do a health assessment, perform all the necessary lab work, and do an ultrasound. This visit takes about an hour. At the second visit, the physician gives the first pill and directions for taking two more pills at home. The third visit is required during which you will have an exam and another ultrasound.”

From a health perspective, these ultrasounds are critical. They detect the exact age of the fetus, which often dictates which type of abortion procedure the woman can receive. They can also spot potential complications that could impact the procedure, like ectopic pregnancies. In clinics that don’t have access to ultrasound technology, sometimes pelvic exams can be used as a substitute. But those are arguably just as invasive as the transvaginal ultrasounds pro-choice activists are decrying.

In other words, the real reason pro-choicers oppose the law isn’t because of the “invasiveness” or “creepiness” of ultrasounds. It can’t be it. Virginia Planned Parenthood clinics already include them in its abortion procedures.

And let’s be honest. The main reason pro-lifers support the Virginia ultrasound bill isn’t out of medical necessity — not if these scans are already standard operating procedure at clinics.

This fight, like virtually all abortion law fights, is about how much of a role religion and morality should play in regulating these procedures. Pro-choice activists seem to have no problem with ultrasounds, as long as they’re done for medical reasons. But the fact that ultrasounds tend to already be part of abortions isn’t enough for pro-life activists. They want the main purpose for the scans to be promoting the “culture of life.”  The Virginia law would mandate doctors to display and describe the ultrasound to the patient. And the image could end up dissuading many women from going ahead with the abortion.

While the pro-lifers have been pretty open about their motives, the pro-choicers – whose motto used to be “safe, legal and rare” – haven’t been. If they want to oppose the bill in order to keep morality out of abortion laws, that’s fine. But the rape comparisons are fundamentally dishonest and insult the intelligence of the public they’re trying to win over.

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