What’s So Bad about the Forced Ultrasound Bill?

I came across an interesting comment last week in response to my post about the shameful aborted debate in the Wisconsin State Senate on June 13. The commenter, whom I commend for having gone to the trouble of actually reading the forced ultrasound bill (SB206), asked what was so horrible about it. The perplexed commenter thought it didn’t sound all that bad. After all, the more invasive form of the procedure, vaginal ultrasound, was not required, and an exception was included for cases of rape or incest.

My body, my choice

Dear perplexed commenter, I’m so glad you asked.

The bill specifies that the technician performing the ultrasound “provide a means for the pregnant woman to visualize any fetal heartbeat.” Most abortions are performed in the first trimester of pregnancy, during which time it is usually not possible for a fetal heartbeat to be detected using any means other than a vaginal probe. So essentially the stipulation that a fetal heartbeat be detected and confirmed to the pregnant woman is the same thing as requiring a transvaginal ultrasound.

So the assertion that this bill represents rape by the state is a valid one. Please note the irony of the current state law requiring that the physician certify that the woman is not being coerced into having an abortion, while stipulating that she be forced to have a vaginal ultrasound. Apparently the GOP figures that coercion is bad unless they’re the ones doing the coercing.

The exclusion in cases of rape or incest may sound good on paper—until you consider that the vast majority of cases of rape and incest go unreported. Rep. Mandy Wright (D-Wasau) spoke on Thursday about her own experience of having been raped repeatedly by a cousin when she was eight years old. She began by apologizing to her parents for sharing this family secret. “This has been kept private with my family for good reason. It was not reported. There’s a reason that only 19 percent of rapes are ever reported.” So the rape exception actually applies only to reported rapes, and given that such a small percentage of rapes are reported, it’s not much of an exception.

Pregnancy presents substantial difficulties for many women, and there are still medically problematic pregnancies that endanger the life of the woman. Imagine that just being pregnant was posing an immediate danger to your life, and yet, to procure a necessary, life-saving, perfectly legal abortion, you would have to have this unnecessary, invasive procedure in which the technician must “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.” For many women, this would amount to state-mandated torture.

Pregnancy poses significant dangers especially for young adolescents. Imagine a young girl already traumatized by rape, who then becomes pregnant as a result of that rape, and who is further traumatized by having to publicly report her rape. And then she would be traumatized—and violated—yet again by being forced to go through the ultrasound procedure prescribed by this bill. In the words of Rep. Sondy Pope (D-Cross Plains), “what you’re doing [by passing this legislation] is cruel, absolutely cruel.”

Rep. Sondy Pope. Photo by Leslie Amsterdam 

Rep. Pope spoke on Thursday about her personal experience:

I don’t like talking about personal stuff, because it’s personal. I went through five pregnancies, and I have one child. My husband and I went to the doctor for my second pregnancy, and … he said, “Here’s the deal. This baby’s going to be born sooner or later, but you’re not going to have a live child. Now, I can admit you tomorrow morning, and we can get this over with. Or you can wait until nature takes its course. And I’ll give you a few minutes to decide what to do.”

Abortion. We’re talking abortion. That was the procedure that I could choose. Or just walk around like a time bomb waiting for this child that we so desperately wanted, to be born and die. Women don’t want to grow up and have abortions. These are not choices that we like. …

I’m appalled, just appalled, that you feel your morals, whatever your church dictates to you, has got to play out in my life. That’s disgusting. The only amendment that didn’t get offered today that should have was that a legislator be in the room. Some places, some decisions do not belong to you. You can’t have them. You just can’t. You can’t hurt people this way. You aren’t immune to it. Someday your daughter, your sister, maybe your wife is going to be faced with something like this, and then maybe I hope you remember this. Because what you’re doing is cruel, absolutely cruel.

Another troubling aspect of this “not-so-bad” bill is that it requires that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the doctor’s clinic. As Harriet Rowan points out on PRWatch, this is “an onerous provision for clinics located in less-populated areas of this mostly rural state. Opponents see the provision as a blatant attempt to close a Planned Parenthood facility in Appleton, the only abortion clinic in Wisconsin outside of Madison and Milwaukee.”

Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) wrote in the Cap Times yesterday:

Women used to die from abortions. Women used to become sterile from abortions. Limiting access to abortion does not end abortion. Instead, it makes it unsafe for women, as it was in the days before Roe v. Wade. Wisconsin is moving so far backward that it’s not “if” women are going to start dying, but “when,” especially considering Sen. Mary Lazich’s, R-New Berlin, words during the debate on the ultrasound bill: “I think we ought to be doing a lot more. You’re probably going to see a lot more laws from me … this is a small step today.” Women of Wisconsin should be alarmed that these direct attacks will continue.

All in all, the forced ultrasound bill is meant not only to discourage women from having abortions, regardless of their circumstances, but to victimize and shame those who seek an abortion, to limit their access to the extent that some will choose dangerous, life-threatening options rather than jump through the hoops prescribed by the GOP.

This bill, dear perplexed commenter, is nothing short of an assault by GOP lawmakers on the women of this state. They seem to think that they know better—better than women, better than their doctors, better than their families—what’s best for Wisconsin women. And they believe they have the right to violate women in this most personal of ways to try to influence a private decision that is none of their business.

Nondebatable!

The Wisconsin State Senate today passed a bill requiring that Wisconsin women seeking an abortion undergo a medically unnecessary ultrasound procedure, after which the physician must give an account of the number of “unborn children” present, the characteristics, dimensions, and location in the womb. Because, of course, women are too ignorant to know “what they’re carrying in their womb and what they’re doing” unless it’s rammed down their throats. Senator Mary Lazich (R) has proclaimed that “it’s time for women to know the facts.” Because how could we possibly “know the facts” about what’s happening in our own bodies without her and her Republican colleagues forcing them on us?

Senator Kathleen Vinehout (D) pointed out that not a single one of the constituents in her district asked for this bill or expressed support for it. She related the concerns of a couple of her constituents, one of whom pointed out that only 16 percent of rapes are reported, that one in six women in the U.S. will at some point in their life experience rape, and that that comes to more than 400,000 Wisconsin women.

Senator Lazich dismissed Sen. Vinehout’s “theatrics” (before proceeding with her own) by pointing out that the bill exempts rape and incest. Does it also exempt unreported rapes? Because those are the rapes Sen. Vinehout was referring to. In case you forgot, that’s 84 percent of rapes.

Here’s how it went down:
 

For those who don’t have the stomach to watch the video (and believe me, I don’t blame you one bit—watching it over and over again to get all the juicy quotes was truly nauseating), let me describe to you the “very cold, cold procedure and what happened, and the cold environment” in which democracy was dealt yet another death blow in Wisconsin.

Your voice and the voices of many of your legislative representatives were dismissed and discounted. After Senator Lazich’s animated testimony, Democratic senators tried to continue, but they were silenced. Senate President Mike Ellis came completely unhinged and shouted while slamming down his gavel so hard that it broke: “You’re out of order! Sit down! You’re not recognized! The question before the house is nondebatable. Call the roll!”

So that’s how democracy dies in Wisconsin. At least it was with some drama and the perfect symbolism of a broken gavel. And once this bill passes, we will have to live with it “day after day after day after day” for the rest of our lives. The women of Wisconsin will have to “live with this trauma” of having our voices silenced, of having our knowledge and judgment questioned, of having unnecessary medical procedures forced upon us by a legislature that refuses to hear our voices or even consider our concerns. “And it’s time for that to end.”

It’s time for those whom Senator Lazich and Senator Ellis purport to represent to know the facts about how their senators are carrying on in the state capitol in their name and what they’re doing when they reelect these legislative bullies over and over again. “If you have a loved one that’s thinking about” voting Republican, “for crying out loud, you want them to have full information. … You want them to know what’s going on” in that legislative body and “what they’re doing and that they’re not going to be able to change that for the rest of their life. They make that decision. It’s over. It’s over in a few minutes, and then later on they can live with the fact that” with that one decision in the voting booth, they supported the death of democracy in Wisconsin.