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some repro rights news I missed while obssessing about Mississippi

November 15, 2011

Seriously, what is up with the apparently unstoppable desire of anti-choice lawmakers to see inside women’s wombs?

Thankfully, parts of a North Carolina law requiring pregnant women seeking an abortion to view an ultrasound image, hear a description of the fetus from the doctor and listen to the fetal heartbeat were blocked by U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles on October 25. Though legislators argued that the law would promote childbirth and protect women from emotional distress and coercion, the judge found no evidence supporting that. (Sidebar: As a 38-year-old childless woman, I can certify that we don’t need laws to promote childbirth. Our culture is already very good at sending that message.)

Opponents of the law argue that subjecting women to the images, description and sound of a heartbeat is actually the thing most likely to cause pregnant women seeking an abortion emotional pain. Moreover, forcing doctors to read a script written by legislators is a clear violation of their First Amendment rights. Judges in North Carolina and Texas, where parts of a similarly controversial law remain on hold, agree.

As in North Carolina, the contested part of the Texas law would require doctors, before providing an abortion, to show the woman a sonogram image of the fetus, describe the image out loud and force her to listen to the fetal heartbeat. A judge’s preliminary injunction against this portion, on free-speech grounds, was upheld by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court declined the Texas attorney general’s request to allow the “emergency” measure to take effect with the appeal still pending, but the central requirement that women seeking an abortion must have a sonogram is in effect. What exactly the emergency was remains unclear.

State medical rules in North Carolina already require ultrasounds before abortions to determine the gestational age of the fetus. Similarly, in Texas, most clinics were already performing ultrasounds before the new law took effect. According to the Guttmacher Institute [PDF], 19 states regulate the provision of ultrasounds by providers. We may soon add to that list Pennsylvania, where the House has introduced a bill to make mandatory both having and viewing ultrasounds before abortions. However, sonograms are not medically necessary for first-trimester abortions and can add significant cost for the patient. In Texas, small clinics that were not performing the procedure will now be forced to buy expensive equipment to meet the new requirement or shut down.

Injunctions against such laws have focused on the violation of doctors’ First Amendment rights, but the purpose of the laws is undoubtedly to curb a woman’s right to choose. However, as with most anti-choice initiatives, no evidence exists that this tactic will work. A clinic owner in Alabama told the The New York Times,”I’ve never had one patient get off the table because she saw what her fetus looks like.” One of her patients went even further:

It just looked like a little egg, and I couldn’t see arms or legs or a face. It was really the picture of the ultrasound that made me feel it was OK.

Breaking News: Women Perfectly Capable of Making Own Medical Decisions Without Interference from Legislators.

 Photo from flickr user Nogwater under Creative Commons 2.0

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