Starting September 1, if you're a woman in Texas seeking an abortion, a few new things are going to happen at the doctor's office. You're going to be given a sonogram, have the image of the fetus described to you "in detail," and possibly be asked to listen to a fetal heart monitor (although you can turn that one down if you like). If your doctor doesn't do all this, he or she could lose their medical license. You're also going to be made to wait 24 hours after the sonogram to have an abortion, or two hours if you live more than 100 miles from an abortion provider.
And, as we reported previously, depending on what happens in the Legislature's special session, you might be forced to fill out, send to the Department of State Health Services and have posted on the Internet a fun questionnaire about something you may have foolishly thought was a private medical decision between you and your doctor. (We'll get back to that later today.)
At least one of those requirements may not stand for long. The Center for Reproductive Rights announced earlier this week that it's filed this class-action lawsuit in Austin to block the implementation of the ultrasound law. The new requirements, scheduled to take effect September 1, would "violate the First Amendment rights of both the doctor and the patient by forcing physicians to deliver politically-motivated communications to women," the center said in a release. It has also launched a new website: Trust Texas Women.
"It is based on outdated stereotypes that women are too immature or too incompetent to make important decisions," CCR Nancy Northrup says in the release, calling the law "patronizing."
Says Northrup, "It's as if the politician has charged into the doctor's office and told the woman, 'Honey, you just don't understand what you are doing. Let me explain it to you and tell you what to do.'"
There's another problem with the law, Holly Morgan, communications director for Planned Parenthood of North Texas, tells Unfair Park.
"Abortion care providers already do sonograms as a standard of care," she says. "It's something you do to determine the gestation of the fetus." The logic behind the bill, she says, is that if women see a sonogram of the fetus they're about to abort, they'll "see the light" and change their minds. But the reality is a little more complicated.
"We've always allowed our patients to see it if they want to," she says. "But very very few women choose to do it. ... The few women who say, 'Yes, I want it' more often are doing it because they need to show their partner, 'See, yes, I really was pregnant, and that's why I needed the money from you to get an abortion.' It's for practical reasons. The vast majority of women don't want to see it, and they definitely don't want a printed copy."
Becky Visosky, spokeswoman for the Catholic Pro-Life Committee, agrees that "most abortion centers are already doing those sonograms," marking the first time that Planned Parenthood and the Catholic Pro-Life Committee have agreed on something since Juno came out.
"All we're saying here is that women should be allowed the opportunity to see the test that's being performed on them," Visosky tells Unfair Park.
And what if women don't want to see their sonograms?
"Under the law, while a sonogram must be performed with a verbal description of the results, the woman may choose not to view the sonogram or hear the heartbeat," Visosky writes in a follow-up email. "We support the law's intent to ensure a woman is at least provided the opportunity to receive all the information available to her before making the irreversible decision to abort her child."
In other words: If you don't want to hear about your sonogram, too bad. You can always turn your head and not look. But if you're already having a bad day, what with having to get an abortion and all, and would rather not sit through an explanation of What's Inside Your Uterus At the Moment -- well, bummer. Because, Visosky claims, that glimpse of the fetus just may make you change your mind.
"When women who are considering abortion see the sonogram, upwards of 80 percent of them decide to keep their child," she says. That percentage seemed awfully impressive, until she added that that would be "within a pregnancy resource center environment. It hasn't been tested in abortion centers."
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"Pregnancy resource centers," of course, are those "crisis pregnancy centers" where people who are likely not medically trained tell women that abortions lead to higher rates of breast cancer, suicide, and being damned to hell, as investigations in Maryland, Virginia, Washington state, and New York have shown.
But actual scientific studies demonstrate that women in real doctor's offices who view sonograms of their fetuses are just as likely to go through with an abortion.
Like the proposed abortion questionnaire, a similar sonogram bill was already passed in Oklahoma and struck down, also through a lawsuit by the Center for Reproductive Rights. Morgan, of Planned Parenthood, says she expects to see a similar pattern in Texas, with the sonogram law and most of the other anti-abortion measures in the legislator.
"I don't think any of this is going to go unchallenged," she says.