The abortion debate has raged in the United States and around the world for many decades. One of its more recent permutations surrounds laws that have been passed, or are being considered, in many US states that require women seeking an abortion to obtain an ultrasound, be shown the screen, and be described elements of the fetus before the operation. Oklahoma, Texas, and Arizona, for example, have all passed such laws between 2008 and 2011. Advocates of these laws intend to give women imagery and information about the unborn fetus that could change their minds. They argue that abortions are an unfortunate outcome and that lowering the number of abortions through these kinds of methods is, therefore, a good thing. Further, while women may have the right to their bodies and the choice of abortion, opponents argue that opting for an abortion is still immoral, and thus justifies the state intervening to try to persuade women against it. Opponents claim that this violates a women’s right to make decisions regarding their own bodies unmolested by the state. They see women as fully capable of understanding the implications of abortions and that these laws insult their intelligence by imagining the government has something to teach them. On this point, they also argue that showing women these ultrasounds rarely has any impact on their decision, as advocates might hope. Opponents also question the implications for the patient-doctor relationship, in which a doctor is forced to perform an operation that is not medically necessary. These and other pros and cons are considered below.
“For women facing an unplanned pregnancy, there is often a sense of panic, distress and fear that can lead to hasty decisions. That is why I authored House Bill 2780, which requires that women be given information obtained from an ultrasound before an abortion is performed. Many clinics already perform ultrasounds before abortions — something they have acknowledged in legal filings — but women have told me over the past 20 years that they have not had access to that information. Women should have the choice to see that image. I have personally visited with women who obtained an abortion in a panic and were devastated years later to see a friend’s ultrasound and realize: That child is the same age as my baby when … It is a devastating moment of intense sorrow and regret. I filed this bill to empower women, no matter what their circumstance, to have as much information as possible before making a life-altering decision. Individuals who argue women are too fragile to face the reality of abortion and make an informed decision do not respect women. The image of a baby on an ultrasound provides amazing clarity of thought. What was seen as a closed door suddenly becomes a world of endless possibilities. Critics say the state should stay out of this issue, but I believe turning a blind eye to women in need is inexcusable, and preventing them from receiving accurate medical information is true cruelty. It appears the pro-choice movement believes it is a tragedy only if a woman exercises her informed right to not have an abortion, but they have no problem maintaining barriers to informed consent that will leave women emotionally shattered for the rest of their lives once they learn the truth.”
“If pro-choice advocates are sincere with their words, wouldn’t they be happy to see fewer women choosing to have abortions as a result of technology’s ability to help ensure a fully-informed conscience? Since pro-choice advocates want to reduce the number of abortions as long as a woman’s right to choose remains intact, they should support a law that required women to watch a video of an abortion. In fact, proponents of choice would have the best of both worlds: more information for women on which to make a personal choice and fewer abortions.”
“Ultrasounds Every woman reviews with her doctor an ultrasound or X-ray of an anomaly that has been found during a breast or uterus examination. A doctor should also review with the woman an ultrasound of a living child within her body. The idea of ‘if I don’t see it, I don’t have to deal with it’ doesn’t work for a cancerous cyst. It shouldn’t be allowed for women seeking abortions. An ultrasound shows her the reality of a child who is living inside her womb.”
“I think we can be pretty sure that a woman about to have an abortion is aware of what’s inside her womb. And in case she’s not, the doctors who counsel her before the abortion are perfectly capable of telling her. By adding another step, Fulton and the other lawmakers championing these bills are implying that they have some insight to offer in the medical process. By requiring that a woman go through an additional medical procedure solely for the purpose of telling her what she already knows – that she’s pregnant – these bills are wasteful and offensive to medical providers.”
“I have always consitered ultrasound mandates to be insulting to a woman’s intelligence and ability to make informed decisions without governmental interference. To me, they don’t give a woman more information that would influence a mind already made up.”A woman named Laura who sought an abortion in Arizona in 2010 under its new laws, said to the New York Times: “You don’t just walk into one of these places like you’re getting your nails done. I think we’re armed with enough information to make adult decisions without being emotionally tortured.”
“Oklahoma law already requires that women considering abortion be told about ultrasounds (a sensible requirement), and no one has explained why more is needed.” This requirement ensures that women are offered the choice to opt for the procedure and view the fetus before the abortion. It appropriately puts the choice to access information in the hands of the woman seeking an abortion, instead of somehow attempting to mandate the absorption of that information.
Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood of Arizona, said the ultrasound requirement in a February 2011 law “is about putting hurdles in front of people seeking abortions. It’s not about informed consent. It’s not about safety.”
“No one expects abortion foes to abandon their beliefs, but forcing those beliefs on women who have decided on abortion goes way beyond fair compromise on a procedure that is a legal right.”
“States don’t prescribe the tests cancer patients must have, or what doctors must say to them. The government leaves that to the medical profession, where it belongs.”
Intrusions on personal choices are not always justified. But, when a woman’s choice to have an abortion affects another life (the unborn), the state has the authority to step in with reasonable measures. Given the gravity of killing an unborn child, it is a small intrusion for the “killer” to be forced to have an ultrasound and to be given the option of viewing it.
“In one of the few studies of the issue — there have been none in the United States — two abortion in British Columbia found that 73 percent of patients wanted to see an image if offered the chance. Eighty-four percent of the 254 women who viewed sonograms said it did not make the experience more difficult, and none reversed her decision.”
“Because human features may barely be detectable during much of the first trimester, when 9 of 10 abortions are performed, some women find viewing the images reassuring. ‘It just looked like a little egg, and I couldn’t see arms or legs or a face,’ said Tiesha, 27, who chose to view her 8-week-old embryo before aborting it at the Birmingham clinic. ‘It was really the picture of the ultrasound that made me feel it was O.K.'” This may run against the wishes of some pro-life advocates who intend for ultrasounds to discourage abortions, but it also can be offered as a sign that mandating ultrasounds need not be seen as a form of punishment; it’s effect is not clearly negative of the psyche of the patient. Indeed, in this sense, it can be viewed as a neutral piece of information for the patient, whom can interpret it as they see fit in making their choice to have an abortion or not.
Most laws requiring that women view ultrasounds have exemptions for things like medical emergencies, perhaps where the fetus is deformed. Other appropriate exemptions can also be built into specific laws, such as for instances of rape. This can help better target the intended effect of required ultrasounds.
“the law [in Oklahoma] intrudes far deeper into people’s medical decisions than anything in the controversial new federal health care law.”
“My argument is not about condoning the killing of anyone or anything — it is about the choice a woman has to do what she wants with her own body. The government should never, ever have the explicit power to tell people what they can and cannot do concerning their own bodies.”
“I have always consitered ultrasound mandates to be insulting to a woman’s intelligence and ability to make informed decisions without governmental interference.”
Ultimately, if it’s not going to change a women’s mind, since the ultrasound is given only after they’ve made the choice and gone in to have an abortion, then the process amounts to punishment.
“having a cadre of politicians take this image by force does add something to the experience: the sense of having been intimidated, assumed stupid, and even violated.”
“using government power to require unwanted, unnecessary medical procedures goes way beyond acceptable limits in any context.”
Senator Tony Fulton, Republican of Nebraska: “If we can provide information to a mother who is in a desperate situation – information about what she’s about to choose; information about the reality inside her womb – then this is going to reduce the number of abortions.”
“Some might object to a law that could produce such a strong influence, but abortion providers and organizations like Planned Parenthood, who profit from performing abortions, exert their own influence right now in the opposite direction. In other words, the abortion decision in its current state is not a pure one – it is tainted with various motives. Is it not better to influence women to refrain from having an abortion than to persuade them to have one? Indeed, a lower abortion rate resulting from the free and voluntary choices of well-informed women should be welcome news to everybody. After all, even the most ardent pro-choice advocates, including President Obama, insist that nobody is for abortion and that everyone wants to reduce the number of abortions. Naomi Wolf, a feminist author and supporter of abortion rights, described abortion in a 1995 essay as a ‘necessary evil.’ As a guest on Fox News’s ‘Hannity’ last fall, Steve Murphy, a Democratic strategist, said he and other pro-choice advocates are morally opposed to abortion, but they feel it is important to ensure it remains a woman’s choice. In fact, every pro-choice advocate I have ever come across has stressed that they are pro-choice, not pro-abortion.”
“According to a NYT article a new study outside the US has come to the conclusion that laws forcing women to have ultrasounds before having an abortion do not change the women’s mind! What intrigues me is that these invasive laws are not changing women’s minds, they are, in some instances, reassuring the woman that what she’s doing is the RIGHT thing for her. I suspect this is the exact opposite effect the anti-choicers had in mind. So, once further studies, preferably one done here in America, confirm or deny these findings, will the states that have these laws on their books take another look at them? I suspect, like abstinence only, which HAS been proven ineffective, these laws mandating medically unnecessary ultrasounds will continue to add to a woman’s burden if she is considering having an abortion.”
“This bill hits women in the doctor’s office, after they’ve already decided to have an abortion. They have taken stock of their lives, their social, emotional, and economic ‘circumstances,’ and they’ve decided that abortion is the best option for them. Having an ultrasound and hearing a description of the fetus does not change these circumstances. It does nothing to make the pregnancy easier to bear[…]”
“The legislators behind these bills are arrogant in assuming they have something to say to a woman about her “womb.” There’s no doubt that, as a woman, it’s hard to predict how you’ll feel after an abortion. But an image of the fetus sheds no light on the decision and adds nothing to the emotional process.”