Sonogram laws do not change women’s minds
Our deepest held convictions are often based in our values.
While few will set the same amount of weight on each, diversity in our values allows us to continually test the rationality of our convictions. In the United States, we are free to bring our values to the public sphere and to take action to further our cause. However, when our actions no longer further our original cause and seek only to harm and spite others, we may be certain that we have lost our way.
In Texas, Virginia and half-a-dozen other states, new bills are being introduced that require women seeking to terminate a pregnancy to undergo an ultrasound or other unnecessary medical procedures before having an abortion. Regardless of one’s feelings on abortion, it cannot be denied that these laws do nothing to discourage the procedure or further the anti-abortion cause.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology does not consider routine ultrasounds medically necessary, a point which the advocates of these bills affirm. They claim being required to have and to view an ultrasound gives a woman “more information” with which to make her decision. This necessarily implies that she does not understand that she is pregnant. If she did not understand, she would not be in the clinic in the first place. It is patronizing to assume that a woman has so little understanding of the nature of her own pregnancy that an image could change her mind. It will not.
Tracy Weitz, an assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at the University of California at San Francisco, performed a recent study on whether or not forced ultrasounds prior to abortion procedures changed women’s minds and caused them to cancel the procedure; it did not. The study concluded that “viewing an ultrasound is not an indication that a woman will cancel her scheduled procedure, regardless of what emotional response the sonogram elicits.” In the Virginia bill, if a woman refuses to view the ultrasound, she will be made to sign a waiver that will remain on her medical record permanently.
The manner in which that image is obtained is even more worrisome. Most women who choose to terminate a pregnancy do so early — typically prior to 12 weeks. This means that the abdominal ultrasound used in late term pregnancy will be insufficient to view the fetus, especially at the level of detail required by the Virginia bill. As a result, a trans-vaginal ultrasound is used instead. As many legal experts, including Slate Magazine’s Dahlia Lithwick, have noted, the state is basically requiring a woman to submit to forcible vaginal penetration — also known as rape as it is defined by both federal and state law — to obtain an otherwise legal and constitutionally-guaranteed medical procedure.
It is absolutely shocking, not to mention ironic, that legislation this invasive would come from the party of “small government.”
Some defenders of the bill, like Virginia Delegate Kathy Bryon, claim that the abortive procedure itself is invasive, and women should not mind the ultrasound. Despite that many women opt for the non-invasive medication method and they would not be exempt. Others who have been quoted from the halls of legislature claim that because the patient must have previously had intercourse, forcible penetration should not bother them. By this twisted logic, only virgins can be raped.
To illustrate how inappropriate the bill is, Virginia Senator Janet Howell presented a tongue-in-cheek amendment to the bill. Her amendment would require that prior to receiving a prescription for erectile dysfunction medication like Viagra or Cialis; men would be required to undergo a prostate exam and cardiac stress test. Her amendment was promptly vetoed, exposing the roots of this bill’s impropriety: A cardiac stress test and prostate exam are not medically necessary to obtain a Viagra prescription, and the only purpose of such legislation would be to humiliate men sexually — a close parallel to what is being asked of Virginia women.
Forcing an ultrasound on a woman will not change her mind. If the individuals that support these bills want to lessen the number of abortions that occur each year, they should support evidence-based sex education, preventative health clinics and access to effective birth control.
Forcing a woman to have an invasive and unnecessary medical procedure will not help them achieve their goals — unless their only goal is to punish and shame women.
Emily Brooks is an economics senior and may be reached at [email protected]