I went back and forth on the title of this post, from what it is to, “For Sensible Ultrasound Legislation.” Perhaps that gives some insight into how very prickly this subject can be.
In the past few years, several states have entertained legislation dealing with varying requirements involving ultrasound technology and abortion. These range from offering an ultrasound to mandating both an ultrasound and a discussion of the development of the fetus. Some include funding, some make the woman pay. Some apply to all abortions, some only after the first trimester. These provisions are as different and nuanced as can be, so it would be ill-considered to condemn or celebrate all of them.
Nebraska is the latest state to adopt ultrasound legislation. Ultrasounds are not usually considered medically necessary for first-trimester abortions. Many clinics provide the option already, however.
One concept at the core of this debate is “informed consent.” This basically means that all medical procedures ought to be performed with the patient’s consent (when available) and that patients ought to be given information about procedures to, well, inform said consent. This principle seems vital to the provision of ethical health care. The ability to have access to ultrasound information seems reasonable and something that states ought to provide free-of-charge to all pregnant women, if (and only if!) they want it.
But, some legislators have created ultrasound bills that do not have the woman’s interests at heart and throw the notion of responsible health care out the window in the name of pure politics.
Emily Bazelon, for Slate:
Four states—Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Oklahoma—have taken the galling step of requiring her to have one regardless of need. They recently passed laws that go beyond offering ultrasounds to mandating them. Oklahoma’s new statute dictates that either the doctor performing the abortion or a “certified technician working in conjunction” with that doctor do the ultrasound, “provide a simultaneous explanation of what the ultrasound is depicting,” and also “display the ultrasound images so that the pregnant woman may view them.” The law goes so far as to specify the doctor’s script: The physician must describe the heartbeat and the presence of internal organs, fingers, and toes. The patient then has to certify in writing that the doctor or technician duly did all of this before the abortion. She can avert her eyes from the screen, the statute allows.
So, it’s an unnecessary medical procedure that will take a woman’s money and valuable time in a thinly-veiled attempt to make her change her mind? Yes. These bills have been called by many pro-choicers, “emotional blackmail.” Forcing a woman to hear descriptions (which could be scripted by legislators, not doctors!) of the fetus is intimidation and pure appeal to emotion. Women in such a position have already made their heart-wrenching choices in what has likely been a thorough and difficult process. Oh, but at least they can avert their eyes! Thank goodness for those kind and understanding lawmakers.
It’s as though these people think women don’t understand that if they wait a few months or so, the thing that pops out will, in fact, be a baby. “Oh, what’s this? I was expecting a toaster…” Women are not stupid! We get it. Seeing pictures of what may (depending on the timing) look a lot like a baby is an attempt to pull at the heartstrings of women and shamelessly guilt them into not aborting.
Imagine you have a pet with a terminal illness that will live in pain and misery until it succumbs to death. So, you take it to the vet to have it put down after agonizing over the decision for days or weeks. The last thing that should ever be forced on you is your vet showing you pictures of puppies or kittens, reminding you that the animal will die, perhaps that it will feel pain, and describing the process to you.
This is paternalism. There is no way around it. Let women make their own choices. As the bumper sticker says, “Keep your laws off my body.”