New Oklahoma Law Forces Ultrasounds

It all started in 2007 in South Carolina — a first-of-its-kind bill was introduced requiring women to view an ultrasound before an abortion. By the time the bill was sent to the governor's desk, it was slightly less pernicious — it didn't require women to view ultrasounds, just that physicians offer them. Since then we've seen similar bills pass like the wind across a total of 12 states, including in South Dakota, Michigan, Utah, Georgia, Idaho and Wisconsin, requiring doctors to offer women an ultrasound and to be "given the opportunity to view the ultrasound."

Now a new round of ultrasound legislation is spreading across the country — it has already hit Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi — and this time, women are forced to view the ultrasounds. Women must also listen to, in detail as outlined by law, information on the ultrasound and to certify in writing that all this has been done. In Oklahoma a law has just been passed that even some anti-choice advocates don't want to see instituted.

This week, in an override of Oklahoma's Governor Brad Henry's veto, the state Congress passed an omnibus abortion bill that both the Oklahoma State Medical Association and the Oklahoma chapter of the Association for Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) opposed on the grounds that it is invasive (on both a literal and figurative level) for both patient and physician, paves the way for more lawsuits, punishes physicians with outrageous fines, legislates that the providers post signs and even mandates what the signs must say, and forces the doctors to use certain language when talking to their patients about what they are seeing in the ultrasound.

More specifically, the law requires physicians to perform a vaginal ultrasound (if that option provides the best image, which it almost always does for pregnancies in the first trimester) one hour prior to an abortion on women who seek an abortion and to point out features like the heartbeat as well as fetal development – even if the woman has been a victim of rape. Yes, you read that correctly. The bill kindly allows that a woman may "avert her eyes" while receiving the vagina probe but there is no option, according to Dr. Dana Stone, chair of the state's chapter of ACOG, to "opt out of the procedure."

Now, not only do we have legislators mandating what kinds of information women receive but also what kinds of medical care they should receive. But the bill goes farther than that – much farther.

The law levies extreme fines against physicians who fail to comply. And also allows for new avenues for doctors to be sued. If a physician fails to send a written explanation of any adverse reaction to a medication abortion a woman experiences to her or his State Board of Medical Licensure the physician can be fined anywhere from $10,000 to more than $100,000. In addition, both the father of the baby and the maternal grandparents are given the right to sue the doctor for violating the new law. Dr. Stone correctly points out that this is not a conservative stance in the slightest.

Dr. Dana Stone knows a lot about this bill — against which she desperately fought. She sent talking points to her Senators prior to the passage of the bill outlining the various problems. She also attempted to get an op-ed published in the largest daily newspaper in the state, The Daily Oklahoman, prior to its passage into law. But she was turned down by the Opinion page editor with this response:

"The bill you reference passed the House by an overwhelming margin on Tuesday, having also gotten overwhelming support in the Senate. It is thus too late to urge readers to contact lawmakers [emphasis mine] to vote against the bill."

In fact, the editor was wrong. It was not "too late to urge readers to contact lawmakers to vote against the bill." The Senate had not yet voted on the legislation — there was an opportunity for readers to act if they so chose. Even more disturbing than the editor's mistake was his decision not to publish commentary from one of their state's leading expert medical voices.

Here is the rejected letter:

The people I admire most stand by their bedrock values, even when those values benefit people with whom they disagree. Republicans have long promoted the conservative principle of limited government. They believe that government intervention is often misguided, and most decisions are best left to the individuals and organizations closest to any issue. I hold that belief as well. I am stunned, then, that a Republican-sponsored bill in the state legislature would take government invasion to the extreme. Senator Todd Lamb has sponsored a bill that mandates an unnecessary, invasive test before a woman can undergo a medical procedure she is paying for herself. The fact that Senate Bill 1878 deals with the controversial issue of abortion and claims to work for informed consent should not make this government intrusion any more acceptable to true conservatives. The bill requires a woman to endure an ultrasound performed by a probe placed in her vagina, even against her wishes, before a pregnancy termination is done. Other simple alternatives exist to educate a woman about the development of an embryo. The state of Oklahoma cannot justify this personal and intimate violation. Pro-choice and pro-life Oklahomans who find this level of government intrusion offensive should contact their state legislators and ask them to vote against this bill.

Dana Stone, M.D, Oklahoma City

In an AP article about the law, Oklahoma Rep. Rebecca Hamilton offered this astoundingly insensitive commentary on the debate: "I've had numerous ultrasounds in my life, and they're not that onerous…It's not that big a deal."

Yes, ladies – just get over it. Being forced by the government to have a vaginal ultrasound, view the ultrasound, listen to a physician go through a government imposed speech about the ultrasound image and then sign a piece of paper so that the government knows you've gone through their imposed ringer is just "not a big deal," okay?

And, really, why listen to the doctors on this one? We've got elected officials who clearly feel they've got a handle on health care provision, as evidenced by this section in the law detailing what physicians must do:

1. Perform an obstetric ultrasound on the pregnant woman, using either a vaginal transducer or an abdominal transducer, whichever would display the embryo or fetus more clearly;

2. Provide a simultaneous explanation of what the ultrasound is depicting;

3. Display the ultrasound images so that the pregnant woman may view them;

4. Provide a medical description of the ultrasound images, which shall include the dimensions of the embryo or fetus, the presence of cardiac activity, if present and viewable, and the presence of external members and internal organs, if present and viewable; and

5. Obtain a written certification from the woman, prior to the abortion, that the requirements of subsection B have been complied with; and

6. Retain a copy of the written certification prescribed by paragraph 5 of this subsection. The certification shall be placed in the medical file of the woman and shall be kept by the abortion provider for a period of not less than seven (7) years. If the woman is a minor, then the certification shall be placed in the medical file of the minor and kept for at least seven (7) years or for five (5) years after the minor reaches the age of majority, whichever is greater.

These kinds of laws are misleading and unnecessary on so many levels it's hard to know where to start. Anti-choice advocates are brilliant at enacting legislation based on invisible claims of wrong-doing, pretending to care about women's health and well-being when in fact they are using precious legislative, human and financial resources that could be funneled towards laws and advocacy that actually help women; laws that expand health care coverage, protect women from domestic violence, provide needed resources for child-care and more.

Here's to hoping that physicians and health care consumers can come together more cohesively to challenge new laws that mandate the way physicians provide care and the way patients receive it.

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  • invalid-0

    Kentucky had its own measure in the legislature that was, fortunately, stuck in committee when the session adjourned. I hope it stays that way.

  • invalid-0

    I forgot about the link describing the proposed-measure as the Clockwork Orange for Women Bill.

  • invalid-0

    of frightening supporters. The link to more information:

    The post has commenters who are proposing the ELECTRIC CHAIR for young women and physicians for providing or having an abortion. Can someone explain the anti-choice belief that abortion is murder but giving someone the electric chair (60% of those they’d send to their death are already mothers so it’s an even more heinous desire) is justice?

    Thanks for the information, Terri. And for some confirmation that those who fight against legal abortion have anything but women, children and families best interest at heart.

    Amie Newman

    Managing Editor, RH Reality Check

  • invalid-0

    Seriously if some doctor came at me with a vaginal transducer I would not refrain from kicking said doctor. And then I would sue because that is riddiculus. “Just get over it” my a**.

  • invalid-0

    The legislature is setting up physicians to get sued – they have just created myriad more situations for doctors to be penalized in one way or another while also forcing women to undergo procedures that neither the woman needs or wants nor the doctor in some situations.

    The irony is that OF COURSE if a physician feels that a vaginal ultrasound (or abdominal ultrasound) is warranted for medical reasons then that is what will happen. Why do we need government stepping in to tell both doctor and patient what is medically necessary? In most situations, women are provided an ultrasound prior to an abortion procedure.

    How many patients have come to the state legislators requesting this? How many physicians? If these state legislatures were being petitioned left and right by patients and doctors then there’d be reason to examine the issue. They aren’t.

    They are being lobbied by POLITICAL anti-choice groups seeking to set precedent and undermine the ability of women, their families and doctors to make the best decisions about their health and lives.

    It’s a travesty.

    Amie Newman

    Managing Editor, RH Reality Check

  • invalid-0

    Handmaid’s Tale – here we come.

    I would like to personally kick every one of those legislators – male *and* female – and then tell them to stay out of my business.

    If they feel the need to meddle, then let them go out into the wide world and work at a food bank or volunteer at a shelter.

  • invalid-0

    is to expose them. Let everyone know they are just anti-abortion extremists-not pro life. Then work to get them thrown out of office when they come up for re-election. Of course,it will take constant vigilance even then because other idealogues like them will always be running for political power.

  • invalid-0

    The doctor will definitely be sued. And, if the attorney is sharp, the doctor will be sued for more than just malpractice. Forcing a medical procedure on someone without consent is medical battery, which isn’t covered by malpractice insurance.

    Just another way to drive doctors out of the business, which will further decrease access to family planning services.

  • invalid-0

    When the ones who ought to be sued are the “pro” life legislators who voted for this mongrel of a bill. When these people run for re-election, I feel protestors should follow them and let voters know what hardships have been placed on women by the “pro”life bills they passed. Expose them for the fakes they are.

  • invalid-0

    I have have always hated anything political. But living in Oklhoma now I have been horrified by the laws that have been past in the last year. Now I have to check the newspaper every day to see what the lawmakers are doing to us next. Everyone of the lawmakers need to be voted out of office and we need people who don’t hate everyone except of course white males and sports!

  • invalid-0

    the sheer stupidity and cruelty towards women demonstrated by the legislaters who voted for this bill makes my hair hurt.. Every last one must be voted out of office. At every campaign stop, protestors should show up with pictures of vaginal transducers, to show voters what these idiots are forcing women to go through;that this indeed is a “big deal”.