Editorial: War on women arrives in Rhode Island

Monday, March 19, 2012

Rhode Island is currently considering a bill that would require physicians not only to perform an ultrasound on women before performing an abortion but also to display and describe the ultrasound’s images. It is already Rhode Island law for a woman to undergo an ultrasound before an abortion in order to determine the gestational age of the fetus. Thus, the changes called for in the bill place an unnecessary obstacle between a woman and her right to choose.

Rep. Karen MacBeth, D-Cumberland, has introduced the bill, which she describes as “pro-information,” every year for the last four years. While the bill does not require women to view the ultrasound image, MacBeth said she believes the opportunity to do so could be a vital part of a woman’s decision whether or not to proceed with the abortion. But the majority of clinicians interviewed in a study by Tracy Weitz, assistant medical professor and the director of a center on reproductive health at the University of California San Francisco, said that in their experience “ultrasound viewing typically had little or no impact on a woman’s decision.” Paula Hodges, public policy and advocacy director for Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, said the bill “is not grounded in scientifically-based or medically-based standards of care,” and was instead “a politicalstatement.” In fact, in a response to an opinion piece by New York Times reporter Nicholas Kristof regarding the wave of similar legislation around the country, MacBeth admits that “ultrasounds are already being performed as part of most abortion procedures.” It follows, then, that her bill’s requirement that physicians offer to display the images – or face a fine of up to $100,000 – results from her personal beliefs rather than medical fact.

And though women are not required to view the ultrasound, they are required to listen to “a medical description of the ultrasound images, which shall include the dimensions of the embryo or fetus and the presence of external members and internal organs, if present and viewable.” Depending on the gestational age of the fetus, this could mean revealing the fetus’ sex. We believe this provision is intended to appeal emotionally to women who have already undergone an emotional decision-making process. It is inappropriate for legislation to reflect the personal beliefs of the legislators – an abortion is a medical procedure that should not be subjected to legislation detached from recommendations from the medical community.

This legislation is in line with a recent phenomenon that many are, rather accurately, calling a war on women. Though several states already required the ultrasound image to be displayed or described to women seeking abortions, this type of legislation has been catching steam in recent months. Virginia became the seventh state to require an ultrasound before an abortion March 7, and other states such as Pennsylvania and Idaho are moving forward with similar legislation. We hope that Rhode Island citizens will stand up for the women of their state and rally against this bill that does more harm than good.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.

  • Anichka5

    Thank you. This is a war on women, and my mother predicted it even before she passed in 1996. She told me that if my generation didn’t step up and get involved, we would lose all of the rights that she and the women of her generation fought so hard to get. And she was right.