30 arrests: Ultrasound protest brings riot police to Capitol
A grassroots protest of a controversial women's health care bill recently approved by the state Senate brought hundreds to the state Capitol grounds in Richmond March 3 and ended with the arrest of 30 people on the Capitol steps.
"This is like Star Wars," said one attendee of the black-clad, shield-carrying Virginia State Police officers, who lined up to keep people away from the building that houses Virginia's General Assembly.
The demonstration was in response to a bill that originally required a transvaginal ultrasound for women seeking abortions– and which quickly became a national controversy and target of derision among satirists including Saturday Night Live.
After Governor Bob McDonnell signaled his discomfort, House Bill 462 was modified to require a less-invasive abdominal ultrasound and passed the Senate this week and awaits McDonnell's signature.
Supporters say the measure helps women make a more informed decision; opponents say the ultrasounds are medically ineffective, a thinly-veiled attempt to thwart a woman from obtaining an abortion.
Organizers from a group called Speak Loudly with Silence, which led an estimated 1,200 women in silent protest on the Capitol grounds nearly two weeks earlier, estimated the crowd of Saturday's attendees at 900.
"This is a diverse group- they're not from any one political group," said organizer Molly Vick. "I think [the General Assembly] went so extreme, they brought people in the middle here,"
Sign-carrying protesters marched from the Capitol around downtown Richmond, and returned to the Capitol grounds. Capitol Police told the protesters their permit for the rally did not include the steps of the Capitol building, and when 30 or so people refused to move, approximately 24 riot-geared State Police joined the officers already there and started hauling the demonstrators away.
In the aftermath of the arrests, the ACLU issued a statement March 5 expressing concern that police may have "overreacted" to "peaceful demonstrators gathered at a public place to exercise their First Amendment right to protest the government."
Charlottesville delegate and House Minority Leader David Toscano sent a letter to the Steve Pike, chief of the Capitol Police, asking to review the the protocol on the decision to deploy weapons-carrying SWAT teams at protests.
"[T]he images of armed State Police in full riot gear removing Virginia citizens from the Capitol steps is troubling to many of our constituents and potentially places Virginia unfavorably in the national spotlight," wrote Toscano.
Some Republicans, however, supported the enforcement of the rule of the law and said they've received death threats, the Times-Dispatch reports. Albemarle Delegate Rob Bell, who voted in favor of the bill, had not returned phone calls at press time.
–slightly edited 7:23am, Sunday, March 4: original headline: '31 arrests: Women's rights rally brings riot police to Capitol'
–Updated March 6 with reaction to the arrests.
–Correction March 6: Capitol Police say they counted one arrested person twice and the correct number of those charged is 30.