Bill proposes mandatory ultrasounds for women seeking abortions
The controversial Women's Right to Know Act would require ultrasounds 24 hours before an abortion
February 5, 2012, 10:01 pm·
A new bill being introduced in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives has brought issues of gender inequality under debate.
The Women’s Right to Know Act would require women seeking abortions to undergo an ultrasound test at least 24 hours before the procedure. The ultrasound test would be used to determine the gestational age of the fetus.
Physicians performing the ultrasound test would have to inform their patients of their right to view the ultrasound in its entirety while it is being performed and the right to hear the heartbeat of the fetus.
The ultrasound image would need to be positioned toward the patient, but the patient would not be required to view the screen.
Drexel University Law professor David Cohen, a former lecturer at Penn, described a hypothetical scenario in which a woman wanted to carry to term but is forced to terminate the pregnancy due to a medical condition that is incompatible with the life of the fetus. Regardless of whether or not she is required to view the ultrasound screen, Cohen said it will be “in her face,” and unnecessarily putting a woman through that is “horrible.” He questions the bill’s constitutionality.
Catherine Dierkes, Nursing senior and co-president of Penn for Life — a pro-life student group — supports the bill and said you cannot use “outliers” like the scenario Cohen described to argue against it.
The act would also require physicians and patients to receive prints of the ultrasound image in a sealed envelope.
Cases such as medical emergencies — as defined by state law and judged as such by a physician — and pregnancies resulting from rape or incest serve as exceptions to some of the bill’s requirements.
Patients would be billed separately for the ultrasound test in addition to the cost of the abortion. If the woman decided against the abortion, the fee for the abortion would be fully refunded.
Cohen believes this bill is “inherently sexist” because it assumes women do not know how to make decisions for themselves. He believes the fundamentals of this bill assume that “women are not adults … [and that] the state knows better than they do.”
Teresa Hamill, College senior and Penn for Life co-president, said, however, that not trusting women with all of the information the bill would require them to receive would seem sexist.
“[The bill is] not an insult to their intelligence whatsoever,” Dierkes said.
When a similar bill was proposed in Virginia, Democratic State Senator Janet Howell pointed out the inherent gender inequality of the legislation, according to the Huffington Post.
Howell proposed an amendment to include a requirement for men to have a rectal exam and a cardiac stress test before obtaining a prescription for erectile dysfunction medication. The senate in a 21-19 vote rejected the amendment, and the original bill was passed.
Howell said that her proposed amendment was meant to make a point about gender inequality.
“[This bill] is not necessary. It’s a politically motivated bill that is designed to dissuade women from having an abortion,” said Maggie Groff, the vice president for External Affairs of Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania.
She said Planned Parenthood clinics offer patients “all of the information essentially that we feel necessary or that women ask for.”
She added that the clinics “almost always” perform ultrasounds and allow women to view them at their request. The difference is the screens of their ultrasound machines are positioned away from the patients unless they ask to view it.
However, Hamill said not all women would feel comfortable asking to view this information or even know what kind of information is available to them.
Whether or not the bill will pass is up to debate. Political Science professor Marc Meredith said, “these [types] of bills are very hard to predict ahead of time.”