Late last week, the Arkansas Medical Board initially voted 7-6 not to intrude into the relationship between women and their doctors. They declined to require medical providers to perform an ultrasound exam for a woman seeking abortion care, and then – regardless of the patient's wishes – to inform her if the exam detected a fetal heart tone.
Unfortunately, and under protest, one board member changed his vote because he felt that a 2013 Arkansas law required such regulations, and the new rules passed.
This requirement stands even if the pregnancy seriously endangers the woman's health; even if the fetus has a condition that means it will not survive; and even if the woman does not desire to have the test or to hear the required information. As one board member put it, the intrusion is "paternalistic" and "condescending." It treats women as if they're clueless about their own decision making.
Sadly, this is no anomaly.
Already, a handful of states have started requiring medical providers to perform ultrasounds and then to take actions such as swinging the ultrasound screen around to point it at the woman and describing what is on the screen – again, whether she wants to receive the information or not. Those states permit the woman to shut her eyes and cover her ears – the indignity of which does not trouble those who support such requirements. Legislators in many states have introduced similar bills in the last few years, and there will likely be more in 2015.
The Arkansas Board's decision is thus part of a trend across the country in which politicians presume to insert their interpretation of morality into the process through which a woman makes this profoundly private medical decision with her family, her doctor, and whatever pastor or faith leader she may include. A board member in favor of the intrusion in Arkansas captured the trend perfectly in explaining his view that it "simply shows these women that are pregnant that there is life on board" – as if a woman needed this political appointee's guidance.
As if...a woman had the mental capacity of a container ship, in need of schooling about what's "on board" when she gets pregnant.
As if...women and families don't know better than any politician what they can and cannot handle as they struggle to raise the children they already have.
As if...politicians ever dare to suggest that men require moral instruction before they can make deeply important decisions.
It is time we pricked up our ears and heard the true rationale behind the rash of laws restricting women's decisions and imposing extra burdens on their medical providers. It is not to protect women's health. It is to denigrate and ultimately to usurp their role as the people who make important, private medical decisions for themselves and their families.