LINCOLN, Neb. — Abortion foes have a new tactic: The hope that women can’t look away.
Lawmakers in 11 states are considering bills that would offer or require ultrasounds before a woman gets an abortion. The most stringent are proposed laws in Nebraska, Indiana and Texas, which would require a doctor show the ultrasound image of the fetus to the woman, despite legal challenges to a similar measure in Oklahoma.
A similar bill was proposed in Wyoming but it was defeated in a state House committee before reaching the floor.
“Many times, these are young mothers who are in vulnerable situations. And they are about to make a very grave choice.” said Nebraska Sen. Tony Fulton of Lincoln, who introduced the ultrasound bill (LB675) there. “This is about informed consent.”
Sixteen states already have laws related to abortion ultrasounds, some requiring they be performed and others requiring a woman be told where she can get a free ultrasound.
But Oklahoma’s law, which is being challenged in court, is the only one that requires the image to be presented to the woman, even if she refuses to look at it. It also requires the doctor to describe the picture.
Indiana’s proposal requires the mother to listen to the fetal heartbeat.
Oklahoma’s law was supposed to go into effect Nov. 1, but a judge put it on hold after the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit saying it intrudes on privacy, endangers health and assaults dignity.
“They really do not even veil their goal, which is to make a woman feel badly and to make her change her mind,” said Celine Mizrahi, a lawyer for the New York-based center. “It really is a ridiculous position to put the doctor and patient in.”
Most women who have decided to terminate a pregnancy have made the decision after considering facts and options, Mizrahi said. And the medical procedure, she said, is between a doctor and a patient.
Fulton, who said he opposes abortion, also introduced a less restrictive bill (LB676) in Nebraska. It requires the physician performing the abortion to tell a woman an ultrasound is available, but it doesn’t require the ultrasound to be performed.
Sen. Heath Mello, a Democrat who said he opposes abortion, signed on as a co-sponsor, calling the measure a “positive first step to reducing the number of abortions in Nebraska.”
“It seemed like a good compromise, without bringing in the constitutional issues seen in other states,” he said.
A similar compromise was reached last year in South Carolina, after more than a year of debate over whether to require a woman to view the ultrasound.
The bill’s sponsor settled for a law requiring that women be given the option of viewing an ultrasound at least one hour before getting an abortion.
This year, there’s legislation in South Carolina to make the waiting period 24 hours.
But even these less restrictive ultrasound laws — which can “seem less scary to folks who are pro-choice” — are troublesome, Mizrahi said.
For instance, they may require a referral to a place that offers ultrasounds for free.
Most of those, Mizrahi said, are so-called “crisis pregnancy centers,” run by anti-abortion groups and “set up specifically to discourage women from having abortions.”
Fulton’s not sure yet which of his two bills is the best option, but he said they have the same goal.
“We all want to see the number of abortions decrease,” he said. “Let’s give this information to a mother who’s about to make a huge decision.”