A Texas law requiring doctors to both show or describe an ultrasound image and play sounds of the fetal heartbeat to any women in the state seeking an abortion is constitutional, according to a federal appeals court decision yesterday. The ruling reversed a lower court decision, which said the requirements infringed on abortion providers’ free speech rights. ”The required disclosures of a sonogram, the fetal heartbeat, and their medical descriptions are the epitome of truthful, non-misleading information,” Chief Judge Edith Jones wrote.
But even if the information is non-misleading, that doesn’t make the process necessary, wise or fair. These type of laws—which are being pushed by a coalition of anti-abortion groups in all 50 states—may not violate freedom of speech. But they’re medically unnecessary. While I’m sure some women might like the ‘information’ (which seems like a misnomer; unless a woman was unaware there was a live fetus inside of her, these requirements pack pure emotional punch), requiring these procedures rather than simply offering them is what bothers me. As Nancy Stanwood, an obstetrician and board member of the health advocacy group Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, said:
“Some politicians might see it as ideologically necessary, but it’s medically unnecessary, so the government telling you that you need to have one sounds ridiculous on many levels.”
Under the Texas law, enacted in 2011, a woman can decline to view the legally required ultrasound, but she cannot decline to hear the physician’s description of it except in cases of rape, incest or fetal abnormality.
The appeals court concluded that “Only if one assumes … that pregnancy is a condition to be terminated, can one assume that such information about the fetus is medically irrelevant.” I disagree. I’ve written about fetal heartbeat laws here before, after Rep. Michele Bachmann introduced the ‘Heartbeat Informed Consent Act’ in Congress.
Forcing women seeking abortions to undergo ultrasounds … requires a pregnant woman who has already decided that carrying a fetus to term is not the right decision at that time to endure one more time-consuming, uncomfortable hurdle to obtaining a safe, legal surgery. Maybe for some women, this is simply a hassle. But for women who may feel more conflicted about their decision to abort, the process is cruel and manipulative. It’s a bullying tactic. It’s disgusting to so routinely see lawmakers trying to impose their preferred moral outcomes on citizens so backhandedly.
For the record, my fellow Blisstree writer, Deborah, completely disagrees:
Having seen my own ultrasound and knowing what actually takes place with an unborn child during an abortion was too much for me to remain on the fence. Now I understand that some women may not be fully informed when they seek an abortion. They may not fully realize just how developed the fetus is, even at such an early point. And they can’t overlook the fact that there are thousands of potential families out there for their child if they still choose not to become a parent. Mandating that all women receive an ultrasound before making a decision on abortion could change lives for so many people, because once you see what’s on it, you realize it’s not just about you anymore.