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Mandatory Ultrasound Laws are About Political Interference, Not Medical Information

Nancy Goldstein,
Reproductive Freedom Project
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June 26, 2008

Christine Vestal had a story on yesterday about legislative efforts to require doctors to perform ultrasounds before an abortion. The green light really came on for anti-abortion activists this past April, when Oklahoma legislators easily passed a first-in-the-nation law that forces health care providers to perform an ultrasound before a woman has an abortion regardless of medical necessity or benefit, and requires the woman to listen to a description of the fetal image against her will.

Vestal notes that 17 states considered more than 30 ultrasound bills this year, “a record level of legislative activity on any abortion issue,” and that we should expect to be seeing even more of them in the next legislative session.

Trevor Lippman, State Strategies Fellow for the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, correctly nails the Oklahoma law’s real intent, and the harm it poses to women’s health:

The Oklahoma law is about political interference, not about medical information. We think a woman should be able to trust that the advice she receives from her physician reflects what her physician really believes is in her best interest, not something that her physician has been forced to say.

What the article fails to note, however, is that the Oklahoma law doesn’t stop at mandatory ultrasounds. It also permits health care institutions and individual health care workers to refuse to provide certain health services without ensuring that patients can access the care they need elsewhere. And it restricts a woman’s access to medication abortion (also known as mifepristone or the early abortion pill), despite the fact that it is a safe and effective non-surgical method of terminating early pregnancy, by limiting a doctor’s ability to administer the drug and hampering a doctor’s discretion to determine appropriate and necessary medical care.

In the face of Oklahoma’s law, and its copycats, the ACLU will continue working to ensure that every woman has medically accurate information, access to the medical care she needs, and is able to make the best decisions for her health and her individual circumstances without political interference.