Kentucky Law Would Force Women To See Ultrasound Images Before Abortion Procedures

The Kentucky state Senate passed a law yesterday mandating that women seeking an abortion must wait 24 hours before the procedure is performed, and also must be shown an ultrasound of the fetus. The measure, which passed 32–5, requires that women receive an ultrasound and see the results, and if she chooses to avert her eyes, the “doctor still would have to describe to her the image.” Cases of rape or incest are not exempted from this requirement, and doctors face fines as high as $250,000 for disobeying the law.

Forced ultrasounds are becoming an increasingly popular tool for the anti-choice movement; 20 states have laws encouraging or requiring ultrasounds be performed before an abortion. Kentucky would be the first state to mandate the ultrasound information be impressed upon the woman if this measure is enacted. The bill must be passed by the state House and then signed by Gov. Steve Beshear (D).

Women’s rights groups have long maintained that ultrasound requirements interfere with the doctor-patient relationship by forcing providers to give unnecessary information to patients. “The laws don’t work. … [A]nd they don’t respect women’s ability to make informed choices,” Vicki A. Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, has said. Oklahoma had a similar requirement for six days before a court struck it down, and providers in the area reported that it inflicted serious emotional pain on patients but did not result in any abortion procedures being canceled:

During the six days the law was in effect, all of the patients at the Reproductive Services abortion clinic in Tulsa averted their eyes from the ultrasound screen, said Linda S. Meek, the clinic’s director. But they could not avoid hearing descriptions of fetal length and heart activity, she said. Many left in tears, but none changed course.“It’s very intrusive, and very cruel,” Ms. Meek said.


Women in other states, interviewed this summer by the New York Times, echoed the view that ultrasound information inflicted needless emotional pain:

Laura, who asked that her last name not be used, had come to the New Woman All Women Health Care clinic in Birmingham with her mind set on having an abortion. And she felt that seeing the image of her bean-size fetus would only unleash her already hormonal emotions, without changing her mind.“It just would have added to the pain of what is already a difficult decision,” she said later. […]

Laura, who has a 17-year-old son, said she took offense at the state’s implicit suggestion that she had not fully considered her choice.

“You don’t just walk into one of these places like you’re getting your nails done,” she said. “I think we’re armed with enough information to make adult decisions without being emotionally tortured.”

The bill is clearly required to limit, as much as possible, the right of women in Kentucky to receive abortions. Aside from purposely inflicting emotional pain on patients, the 24-hour waiting period would be “harmful for poor or working women in rural areas who have to travel to get an abortion,” since the state’s two abortion clinics are in Lexington and Louisville. Anti-choicers in the state Senate actually attached an amendment to this bill that would ban all abortions in the state outright, so they could “take care of this in one fell swoop.” The amendment failed for one rather ironic reason: it was ruled out of order because it was not filed 24 hours before consideration by the full Senate.