Republicans’ Ultrasound Obsession

Today, a woman seeking an abortion in Texas must first submit to an ultrasound examination that detects the fetal heartbeat, which must be audible to the woman preparing for the abortion, who must be told what she is hearing. Because 90 percent of abortions are done in the first trimester of a pregnancy when the heartbeat is not detectable with an external ultrasound scan, penetration with a transvaginal wand is almost always required to hear the heartbeat.

The physician providing the abortion is also required to make a real-time image of the fetus on a screen visible to the patient. If the woman declines, the doctor is required to describe the body of the fetus, and the state of development of its organs.

A 24-hour waiting period follows the ultrasound.

A federal judge in Austin ruled parts of the law unconstitutional, but was overturned by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Virginia made the term “transvaginal” part of our national political lexicon; Texas passed a law that actually requires the physically invasive process.

In the same session in which they passed the ultrasound bill, Republican legislators in Austin reduced the state’s family-planning funding appropriation from $111.5 million to $37.9 million.

Much of that money would have gone to Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of women’s health services in the state. As a result of the budget cuts, 13 Planned Parenthood clinics were closed, eliminating services to 280,000 low-income women.

Last month, Perry took aim at Planned Parenthood again, rejecting $35 million in federal Medicaid Women’s Health funding.

Perry turned down the federal funding because some of the money would automatically flow to the Planned Parenthood clinics that continue to operate in the state. (Not, however, to clinics that provide abortion services, which are separately funded.)

Perry’s decision to forgo the $9-to-$1 federal matching Medicaid grant eliminates preventativecare for 130,000 more low-income women in Texas.

“What we are opposed to are abortions,” Republican legislator Wayne Christian told The New York Times. “Planned Parenthood is the main organization that does abortions. So we kind of blend being antiabortion with being anti–Planned Parenthood.”

Twelve states require one or the other type of ultrasound, and at least the option for a woman to view an image of the fetus, before undergoing an abortion. Other states that are considering mandatory ultrasounds as a precondition for abortion include the following.

Idaho’s legislature is debating an ultrasound bill that requires that the patient view the fetus on a screen before an abortion.

Pennsylvania’s Republican Governor Tom Corbett is supporting a bill that would require a woman to undergo an ultrasound exam and view a real-time image of the fetus before an abortion. Corbett turned a regional story into national news by suggesting that opponents were overreacting to the proposed law.

“I’m not making anybody watch, okay? Because you just have to close your eyes. As long as it is on the exterior and not on the interior,” Corbett said.

Utah has approved a bill that would require a  woman seeking an abortion to wait 72 hours before the procedure, the longest mandated pre-abortion waiting period in the nation.

Okahoma’s state Senate has approved a law that would require physicians to inform a woman seeking an abortion that she has the right to hear the fetal heartbeat before the abortion. Oklahoma’s legislature had already passed a mandatory ultrasound requirement, but it is temporarily unenforceable pending a court challenge.

In Florida, which is one of a dozen states that already have an ultrasound law on the books, the legislature is considering a bill that will impose a 24-hour waiting period and require women to be informed that fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks, a statement disputed by many scientists and physicians.

The increase in ultrasound requirements is directly related to gubernatorial and statehouse gains by Republicans in 2010—and one Christian right group.

When researchers from the Sunlight Foundation, a non-profit group that promotes transparency in government, analyzed ultrasound legislation moving through state legislatures, they found that 13 bills shared language found in model legislation drafted by the religious-right group Americans United for Life.

It was also AUL that published a report on Planned Parenthood in July 2011, which served as the rationale for Florida Republican Congressman Cliff Stearns’s investigation of Planned Parenthood, whichin turn served as the rationale for the Komen Foundation’s disastrous attempt to defund the organization.

Credit AUL, also, for the language in the law that went into effect in Texas in September 2011—not only the most extreme anti-abortion measure in the nation, but the only ultrasound law to be upheld in a federal appeals court.


Further reading: Lou Dubose on Rick Santorum’s fetal attraction

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