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Kentucky’s Abortion Law Forces Me to Humiliate My Patients

Close-up of ultrasound machine
Close-up of ultrasound machine
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September 26, 2019

I’m a doctor at the only abortion clinic in Kentucky. Providing safe, compassionate medical care has been my life’s calling, and my patients’ well-being is always my first priority. But Kentucky politicians — determined as usual to interfere with access to reproductive healthcare — are trying to force me to harm and humiliate the patients who entrust me with their welfare. That’s why I’m joining with the ACLU today to ask the Supreme Court to keep Kentucky lawmakers’ insulting, anti-abortion political agenda out of the exam room.

H.B. 2, the law we’re asking the Supreme Court to review, is cruel and offensive. It mandates that I display an ultrasound to every abortion patient, describe it in detail, and play the sound of the fetal heartbeat — even if the patient does not want it, even if in my medical judgment I believe that forcing it on them will cause them harm. The law forces me to do this to a patient who is half-naked on the exam table, usually with their feet in stirrups and an ultrasound probe inside their vagina. With my patient in this exposed and vulnerable position, the law forces me to keep displaying and describing the image, even when the patient shuts her eyes and covers her ears.

Take a moment to imagine what this must be like. To tell your doctor, “thank you, but I don’t want to hear you describe the ultrasound,” and to have your doctor tell you that you have no say in the matter — that you must lie there, undressed, with an ultrasound probe inside of you, and have the images described to you in government-mandated detail over your objection. Even if the patient has already had one or more ultrasounds performed. Even if the fetus has been diagnosed with a condition incompatible with survival. Or even if the patient is pregnant as a result of sexual assault, and having to watch and listen to the ultrasound over their objection forces them to relive that trauma.

We have had patients burst into tears when we tell them that they must undergo an unwanted narrated ultrasound and that they must close their eyes and cover their ears if they want to avoid the speech Kentucky politicians insist we force upon them. I’ve had patients sob through the experience, and others pull their shirts up over their faces to cover their eyes.

As physicians who have dedicated our professional lives to providing compassionate medical care, being ordered by politicians to force this unwanted and harmful experience on patients who have sought our help is appalling. It goes against the very fundamentals of our role as healers and violates the trust at the heart of the physician-patient relationship.

My patients’ health and well-being come first, and if there is anything I can do to protect them from politicians trying to barge into the exam room, I will do it. Today, that includes asking the Supreme Court to put an end to this insulting political intrusion.

Enough is enough.

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