A string of anti-choice bills were introduced in the Wisconsin house and senate this week, and abortion opponents are eager to make the restrictions as palatable as possible to the general public by framing them as positive for pregnant people. Their latest effort is to gather sponsors for an anti-choice bill named after a woman who chose to continue a pregnancy after receiving an ultrasound.
“Sonya’s Law” is a forced ultrasound bill with a targeted regulation of abortion provider (TRAP) provision that would require doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The bill’s state senate sponsor is Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin).
According to a press release about the legislation, Sonya is a single mother of two children who was unsure if she could handle a new baby but not sure she wanted an abortion. Because she was unsure about seeking an abortion, she sought out an ultrasound to help her decide. She chose to carry the pregnancy to term.
But Sonya’s story isn’t necessarily typical. Many patients who enter a clinic intending to terminate a pregnancy have already have made their decision; they do not want to have a baby, and they do not want to remain pregnant. If they believe that an ultrasound may help them decide what to do, or solidify their decision, they can ask to receive one, or to view it if one is included with a procedure. But it remains their decision, not that of the legislature.
Sonya’s Law also mandates:
…a simultaneous oral explanation during the ultrasound including the number of unborn children and presence and location of the unborn child; display the ultrasound images so that the pregnant woman may view them; provide a medical description of the ultrasound images including the dimensions of the unborn child and a description of any viewable external features and internal organs of the unborn child; and provide a means for the pregnant woman to visualize any fetal heartbeat, in a quality consistent with current medical practice, and a simultaneous oral explanation of the visual display of the heartbeat in a manner understandable to a layperson.
Reproductive rights advocates argue that forced ultrasounds amount to emotional manipulation, and may also lead women to deceptive crisis pregnancy centers in search of free ultrasounds; that may even be the true intent if of the bill.
Two stories posted on the Wisconsin Right to Life website in support of the legislation feature women who did receive ultrasounds from the clinics that they went to, making it clear that ultrasounds are already available at clinics. “The forced ultrasound requirement itself is unnecessary regulation, as providers are already routinely providing an ultrasound,” Jenni Dye, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, told RH Reality Check. “Even stories shared by Wisconsin Right to Life already clearly indicate that women are receiving this information and making informed [choices]. Instead, this is simply an effort to make the process more cumbersome for women, taking these personal decisions out of the hands of women in consultation with their doctors.”
Also included in Sonya’s Law is a provision that would require doctors to acquire admitting privileges to local hospitals in order to perform abortions. With a wide variety of hospitals to choose from, and a less conservative and abortion rights-hostile climate than in some states, Wisconsin providers in larger cities may not find this as difficult as some clinics in other states, like North Dakota and Mississippi. But in more rural areas, those rules could be clinic-closers, in areas where such closures would be felt the most.
Still, pro-choice advocates find the rules troublesome, whether they lead to clinic closures or simply reinforce the idea that abortion is a dangerous procedure. “While state and federal regulations to ensure the safety of all patients are appropriate, this regulation is nothing more than politically motivated targeting of abortion providers,” Dye said in a statement. “Abortion is an exceedingly safe medical procedure when done legally in existing clinic settings under existing regulations.”