Bill would require ultrasound before abortion

Contributing Writer
Tuesday, March 13, 2012


A bill that would require women to get an ultrasound before having an abortion was introduced this January in the Rhode Island House of Representatives. The bill is being sponsored by Rep. Karen MacBeth, D-Cumberland, who said she has introduced a similar bill every year for the last four years.

Under the legislation, physicians would face a civil penalty of up to $100,000 for a first offense and up to $250,000 for subsequent offenses for failing to perform an ultrasound on a patient seeking an abortion. The physicians would also be required to display ultrasound images to a patient and provide a medical description of the images, including “the dimensions of the embryo or fetus and the presence of external members and internal organs.”

But the bill explicitly states  that it would not require a woman to look at her ultrasound images.

MacBeth characterized the bill as “pro-information for women.” She said that she was motivated to introduce the bill by her own experience as a single and pregnant woman seeking advice about her pregnancy, which she had no plans to terminate. She said she went to the Planned Parenthood center for advice at the time. 

“I saw Planned Parenthood, and I thought it helped you plan your parenthood,” she said. “I went in, explained what I was there for, and they looked at me and said, ‘Oh, you’re in the wrong place, we don’t do that here.'” MacBeth said she realized there were women “going to Planned Parenthood or other organizations and not getting the information they should.”

MacBeth compared abortion to other surgical procedures, pointing out that usually doctors provide an extensive explanation of every step in a surgery. She said she worried there were women seeking abortions who were not being fully informed of their options or who did not know they could view their own ultrasound images. 

“This (bill) is just saying to the woman, you know, ‘you can look at this,'” said MacBeth. “There may be women who say ‘absolutely not,’ but what about the woman who says ‘yes, I’d like to’ and when she sees the pictures says, ‘Oh my goodness, I had no idea, this isn’t the right choice for me?'”

“I don’t see this as a pro-life or pro-choice bill,” said MacBeth. “It’s neither. It’s a bill to give women information.”

The bill is also supported by Rhode Island Right to Life, a state advocacy group that lobbies for pro-life legislation. Barth Bracy, executive director of the advocacy group, wrote in an email to The Herald that the bill would help prevent women from making uninformed decisions, only to regret them later. 

“Tens of thousands of post-abortive women around America have come forward to say that they deeply regret their abortion,” Bracy said. “Since the law currently recognizes the woman as the one who must make this decision, she deserves all the information available.”

The bill has been met with criticism from medical professionals and women’s rights groups. Paula Hodges, public policy and advocacy director for Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, said the bill was unnecessary and political. Rhode Island law already requires physicians to explain the abortion procedure to patients, and ultrasounds are given to most patients anyway because they are used to determine the gestational age of the fetus, she said. 

“The fact of the matter is that this bill is not grounded in scientifically-based or medically-based standards of care,” Hodges said. “It’s a political statement.”

Hodges also criticized the bill as harmful to women. “It instills a judgement on women who have already been through their decision-making process,” Hodges said. “This is a disgusting abuse of power in my opinion.”

Lily Goodspeed ’13, a member of Feminists at Brown, an umbrella group for students working on issues relating to sexism and the support of women, said the bill made her uncomfortable. “Abortion is a serious decision – it’s a really hard decision,” she said. “I don’t think women should be made to feel guilty or that anyone should add difficulty to the choice that ultimately is theirs.” The bill is being held for further review by the House Judiciary Committee. 

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