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Wave of Ultrasound Bills About Humiliating Abortion Seekers

And now for something I didn’t think in January I would have reason to update: the abortion bills across the country which mandate that the women receive an ultrasound before getting the legal medical procedure.

When we last left Virginia, the thinking was that the Senate sponsor of the trans-vaginal ultrasound bill would not accept the watered-down version passed in the House of Delegates, and that this would doom the legislation for the year. This was wrong on a number of levels. Far from being uncompromising about the demand to have doctors stick instruments in abortion seekers’ vaginas, the sponsor, Jill Holtzman, had a complete change of heart about the ultrasound bill entirely, and would strike the bill because she no longer supported the concept. And far from dooming the bill, the state Senate in Virginia would have the opportunity to vote on the House of Delegates’ version after all.

Virginia officials backed off last week from requiring vaginal ultrasounds before abortions, but state legislators are still expected to pass a bill that mandates abdominal ultrasounds and adds other significant requirements for women seeking abortions.

In recent years, this common diagnostic tool has taken a greater role in abortion-related legislation. Seven states require ultrasounds before abortions. Twenty states regulate some aspect of ultrasound exams, including requiring abortion providers to give women the option to view the image or listen to the fetal heartbeat if an ultrasound is performed.

Eleven other states have legislation pending. If all of the measures pass, more than half of the states will have laws governing ultrasound exams before abortions. “I think we’re in the middle of a wave of ultrasound bills,” said Elizabeth Nash, a policy analyst with the Guttmacher Institute, which studies reproductive health.

This is an invasive procedure even without the trans-vaginal aspect. The woman would have to make an additional trip to the doctor to get the ultrasound, and pay for the procedure herself. And the entire point is to bring shame and guilt upon the woman for giving up the pregnancy, with the aim to force her to look at the fetus and hear its heartbeat. It’s true that ultrasounds are often provided in abortions to determine the development of the fetus, because of various laws surrounding abortions in the later stages of pregnancy. Some of those, at the earliest stages of pregnancy, are even trans-vaginal, because that’s the only way to get an image.

But that’s not the goal of these laws. Another trans-vaginal ultrasound bill in Alabama is a testament to that:

(Sen. Clay) Scofield said he hopes that, if signed into law, his bill will stop some abortions. Though the bill states a woman can look away from the ultrasound image, Scofield wants her to see it.

“So she sees that this is not just a clump of cells as she is told,” he said. “She will see the shape of the infant. And hopefully, she will choose to keep the child.”

By the way, states with mandatory ultrasounds have not seen a precipitous drop in abortions. The humiliation has no other utility.

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David Dayen

David Dayen