Mandatory ultrasounds and “informed consent”

Last week the Oklahoma legislature passed an omnibus bill chock-full of antichoice provisions. Now it’s sitting on the Governor Brad Henry’s desk awaiting a signature or a veto. (Henry is a Democrat with a mixed record on choice — he recently signed a parental notification law.)
An in-the-know friend of Feministing emailed to explain the bill to us:

SB 1878 is a hideous piece of anti-choice omnibus legislation that would, among other things, compel physicians one hour prior to performing an abortion to do an ultrasound on the patient and point out various features (e.g. heart beat, fetal movements) to the patient. A vaginal probe ultrasound is mandated if that gives the best image, even in those instances where the unwanted pregnancy is the result of rape. In first trimester terminations (almost all of them) that will be the case. There is a very hefty penalty if the physician fails to perform an ultrasound. (BTW, Oklahoma already has a law that requires doctors to offer women the opportunity to view an ultrasound at no cost to the woman by referral to a location that provides no-cost ultrasounds).

The bill also:

  • Prevents employers from “discriminating” against health care workers who refuse to perform a medical procedure (i.e. abortion, or a pap smear on a single woman)
  • Says only physicians can prescribe mifepristone (the abortion pill also known as RU-486) — even though this is already the law
  • Requires women’s health clinics that provide abortion to “conspicuously” post a sign on the premises that states it is “against the law for anyone, regardless of his or her relationship to you, to force you to have an abortion.”

The Oklahoma State Medical Association opposes the bill because it interferes with the practice of medicine. Also, if a doctor fails to comply with the law, the fines are absurd — starting at $10,000 and possibly up to $100,000. (Compare that to the maximum fine for DUI or reckless homicide in Oklahoma — $1,000.)


Pro-Choice Oklahoma has a list of Senators for you to contact to request that they support a veto of the bill.
This type of mandatory-ultrasound legislation has been cropping up all over the country. Until recently, only Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi require ultrasounds. (Georgia and “South Carolina considered similar legislation, but dropped it.) But the South Dakota and Ohio governors recently signed laws similar to the Oklahoma bill. And Florida is also considering an ultrasound bill, which would force women to pay for the procedure themselves:

Under a bill heading toward the Senate floor, a woman not only would have to watch live images of the ultrasound, or sign a form declining to, she would have to pay for the procedure even if she doesn’t watch it.
Most clinics include an ultrasound and factor it into the price of an abortion. But opponents say it’s not medically necessary and that making the expense mandatory runs afoul of the U.S. Constitution, hitting the poor particularly hard. An ultrasound typically costs between $50 and $250.

Antichoicers call this “informed consent.” But as Jessica wrote awhile back, when Will Saletan had a horrible column on mandatory-ultrasound legislation,

Because obviously women who have made the decision to end a pregnancy won’t understand the “truthâ€? unless it’s put up on an easy-viewing screen. As Amanda so aptly noted in an email exchange: “If women only knew that they were getting abortions when they got abortions!!!!!”

Right. What mandatory-ultrasound-viewing bills do is insult women by assuming they haven’t fully considered what they’re doing when they decide to opt for abortion. We don’t need the “help” of antichoice state legislators to understand what abortion is. We get it.
Related: See Ema’s brilliant post on what *real* “informed consent” might look like.

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57 Comments

  1. ShelbyWoo
    Posted April 15, 2008 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    all prenatal testing is optional, from chorionic villus sampling, to the amnio, to ultrasounds…If your sister’s health insurance refused to pay for the 20 week ultrasound, they’re out of line–but then there are plenty of health insurance companies that refuse to pay for necessary tests
    It seems as though you just aren’t paying attention to what I am saying. I am not talking about the woman opting out of a U/S. I am saying, very clearly, that is not a necessary or recommended procedure for low-risk pregnancies. Again, I talking about low-risk pregnancies with no medical indications (medical indications would come from the other recommended prenatal tests). . That’s straight from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), who are medical professionals and doctors. I also get the same information from the Ultrasound Techs that I work with.
    And, no, the insurance company was not out out-of-line as my sister and the others I spoke of because they all had low-risk, healthy pregnancies and, following the guidelines set forth by the ACOG, there were no medical indications making an ultrasound un necessary. I have many, many issues with private, for-profit health insurance providers, but denying a claim for a superfluous procedure isn’t one of them.
    Also, there are independent ultrasound “suites” out there that will take what they call 3D photos and video as keepsakes. I think that’s more what they’re referring to in your quote, not the 20 week ultrasound.
    Actually, no, those guidelines were set forth because of a study done in the mid-1990′s, before 3D ultrasound.
    At this point, it is obvious that you have made up your mind that I am wrong, so I am not going to derail the thread with it any longer. If you would like further information on it, please to the AAFP (www.aafp.org) website and check it out. Or, you can simply Google it: low-risky pregnancies + ultrasounds.
    And, while you may find a 3-D ultrasound “creepy,” they offer a much better picture of the fetus making it easier to see abnormalities and determine fetal age; 3D ultrasounds are a great advancement in the imaging field (frankly, those ultrasound boutiques should not be allowed to operate since they are exposing women and their developing fetuses to radiation for no medical reasons whatsoever).

  2. GopherII
    Posted April 15, 2008 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    “To the women posting about how painless/not traumatic/cool/whatever else their transvaginal ultrasounds were:
    BIG. FUCKING. DEAL. NOBODY CARES.
    I know I’m being harsh, but for shit’s sake. You people are all smart enough and old enough to understand that your experience in this world is not equal to everyone else’s experience! Some people, be they rape victims or not, are absolutely horrified at the thought of having a procedure like this done. ”
    NekkidNancy,
    As one of those accused of posting that I had no difficulty with my vaginal ultrasound you seem to have taken it out of context. If you wouldve read my comments I stated specifically:
    “Ive had a vaginal probe for ovarian cysts and didnt have a problem with it at all. I found it interesting to witness my reproductive organs and actually see what was causing me so much pain.
    However, it makes complete sense how a rape survivor could possibly have a negative effect from it and could trigger traumatic flashbacks. I cant believe how fucked this legislation is. It is completely disrespectful to women.”
    and then again to clarify….
    Oops! My last post mightve made it seem I have no problem with vaginal probes unless youre raped, which is most certaintly NOT the case. I find it demeaning, and offensive, and actually a forced ultrasound would be tantamount to being raped by an object. My last post was simply to reassure anyone whose about to have a vaginal ultrasound (hopefully for legit reasons) that it is not painful for everyone.”
    I dont like the insinuation that I’m either A. bragging, B. being insensitive to rape victims, or C. overlooking individual body dimensions. I am simply stating that not ALL women have bad experiences with vaginal probes. My concern is if youre a young woman and you have a vaginal ultrasound scheduled sometimes in the near future and you read simply the personal bad experiences of women defining it as negative, ect that you will have a difficult time. For example, I knew a woman who after being told by another friend that pap smears are going to hurt she had a bad experience with her first pap.When she told her new doctor (a woman) about pap smears hurting, the Dr. said it shouldnt hurt unless the doctor is doing it wrong. She had another pap by the new doctor and it didnt bother her. She thinks the hullaballoo surrounding her first pap mightve exaggerated the ordeal and made her tense up – just dont want that happening to any readers out there.

  3. Sayna
    Posted April 15, 2008 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

    EG: “They could put up signs saying “It is against the law for anybody, regardless of his or her relationship to you, to force you either to have an abortion or to continue a pregnancy against your will.” That would fulfill the law and be a good thing.”
    Sadly, though, if Oklahoma has parental consent/notification laws, it’s not true. In those cases, a parent really can force their daughter to continue the pregnancy.

  4. Sayna
    Posted April 15, 2008 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    EG: “They could put up signs saying “It is against the law for anybody, regardless of his or her relationship to you, to force you either to have an abortion or to continue a pregnancy against your will.” That would fulfill the law and be a good thing.”
    Sadly, though, if Oklahoma has parental consent/notification laws, it’s not true. In those cases, a parent really can force their daughter to continue the pregnancy.

  5. Mina
    Posted April 16, 2008 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    “EG: ‘They could put up signs saying ‘It is against the law for anybody, regardless of his or her relationship to you, to force you either to have an abortion or to continue a pregnancy against your will.’ That would fulfill the law and be a good thing.’
    “Sadly, though, if Oklahoma has parental consent/notification laws, it’s not true. In those cases, a parent really can force their daughter to continue the pregnancy.”
    It’s also true whenever and wherever a pregnant girl doesn’t have enough transportation options to get to an abortion provider without parental permission.

  6. mindy
    Posted April 16, 2008 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

    The vaginal probe ultrasound is unnecessary in my opinion. It’s like saying,”haha not only do you have to deal with being raped but now you have to be invaded by your doctor!”

  7. susanb
    Posted July 2, 2009 at 1:46 am | Permalink

    i think the last comment makes alot of sense. this is what i would do. I would definitely follow up on this.
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