Ultrasound requirements represent
the creative, fact-free thinking that dominates the anti-choice movement.
One state after another passes these trendy laws, which require abortion
providers to perform an ultrasound on women seeking abortion before
the abortion. These laws beautifully encapsulate pretty much every
nasty, sexist opinion of women held by those who drive the anti-choice
movement: that women are stupid, that women are nothing but sentimental
walking wombs who have no desire but to gestate and give birth at all
points in time, and that women are largely asexual creatures whose choice
to have sex without reproducing could only be the result of male coercion.
The fantasy driving these laws is the idea that women will take one
look at the ultrasound image, realize that she has a fetus in there,
and will run out crying with joy at impending motherhood. These
laws are based on a theory of female intelligence that puts women on
par with rather bright dogs and dull toddlers, but not much smarter
I spoke with an Austin-based
clinic worker about the contrast between these laws and reality, and
she said, "These laws are totally unnecessary. Ultrasounds are
always done anyway, for dating purposes, though not always by a doctor.
Requiring that doctors do them takes time and money, and can raise the
costs of abortion."
She also revealed that the
patients she sees aren’t nearly as ignorant as anti-choice lawmakers
assume. "About half of women already choose to view the images.
They look at the image and go forward with it anyway."
Anti-choicers like to claim
that their fantasy is indeed the truth, and that ultrasound laws reduce
the abortion rate. For instance, the abortion rate in Ohio has
gone down, and anti-choicers in the state immediately
"Reaching a record
low in reported abortions marks a milestone for pro-life efforts in
Ohio," said Mike Gonidakis, executive director of Ohio Right to
He also mentioned a new
state law requiring doctors to give women the opportunity to view an
ultrasound of their fetus before undergoing an abortion and older laws
requiring a 24-hour wait and parental notification.
It’s an evidence-free assertion.
It’s hard to determine exactly why abortion rates go up or down, but
as the Columbus Dispatch article notes, the unintended pregnancy rate
is going up for lower income women (who often can’t scrape together
$500 for an abortion in time) while higher income women are seeing their
unintended pregnancy rate go down. The gap speaks of access to
contraception–women who can afford abortion can also afford to prevent
pregnancy–access that national right to life organizations oppose.
So, contrary to what Gonidakis says, the abortion rate is probably going
down despite the anti-choice movement. Their only contribution
is making it harder for poorer women to access abortion, though it’s
no big surprise that they’re only effective in making people’s lives
harder and more miserable.
Ultrasound laws are popular
across the country, but leave it to the state of Oklahoma to pass a
new law that defines the cutting edge of reactionary fantasizing. The law requires
doctors to draw out the unpleasant process of getting an abortion by forcing the women to sit through
an ultrasound and a lecture describing the shape, size, and features
of an embryo or fetus in detail. It’s a classic example of how
the anti-choice stereotype of women as dumb bunnies who can easily be
tricked into childbirth through sentimentality barely conceals a much
more hostile, punishing view of women. The justification
for this law is the sentimental dumb bunny stereotype, but the practical
effect is to make the abortion process as punishing as possible for
the woman who has violated the sexual standards of the right wing Christians
who passed this law. Might as well call it the Bill For The Punishment
Unfortunate Oklahoma residents
who find themselves need to terminate unintended pregnancies have a
reprieve if this happens to them between now and March, though, as a district court
judge has slapped a restraining order on the state until March. A clinic is suing, citing the
impossibility of implementing the law as written.
This particular version of
the mandatory ultrasound laws has generated even more outrage than these
laws usually do, as quick
Google search will attest.
I suspect because while all the mandatory ultrasound laws are patronizing,
this one is patronizing to the tenth degree. When you get right
down to it, laws like these are passed mainly by groups of men who have
extremely low opinions of women, who literally think that the only reason
women get abortions is that they don’t know what being pregnant really
means. The irritation I personally feel when anti-choicers engage
in tactics that imply that women are stupid and ignorant reminds me
strongly of my reaction to someone shoving a Bible at me and asking
me if I’ve heard the Good News. Do they expect me to say, "Gosh
who is this Jesus Christ you speak of? I haven’t heard of him
until just now." There’s this underlying belief that you don’t
see things their way because you’re impossibly ignorant.
Which means that the good news
about the outrage over the Oklahoma ultrasound law presents an opportunity
to highlight the differences between the pro- and anti-choice sides
of the debate. What little appeal the laws have resides in the surface
appearance of using scientific information to better inform decision-making. William Saletan
was deceived by that illusion,
as well as the illusion that only the law would make ultrasounds happen,
when medical necessity and women’s choices have already brought the
ultrasound into abortion provision. In reality, as the Oklahoma
law illustrates, ultrasound laws are based not in science, but in a
fantasy world where women are stupid, doctors are deceptive, and misogynist
lawmakers are the saviors of women.
- Carole Joffe, Averting Their Eyes from Assault on Women’s Health
- Marjorie Signer and Cindy Cooper, UltraLove: The Medical Right Falls Hard for Ultrasounds