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Forced Ultrasound and Post-Ultrasound Waiting Period for Abortion Proposed in Tennessee

February 11, 2013

A bill has been proposed in the Tennessee legislature that would force pregnant women to obtain ultrasounds prior to having an abortion. The bill would also impose a 24-hour waiting period between the ultrasound and the abortion.

As introduced, requires that an ultrasound be performed prior to an abortion, with an exception for medical emergencies. The bill tries to avoid controversy about transvaginal ultrasound that has encouraged opposition to other forced ultrasound bills, by saying it should be an transabdominal ultrasound. This is still forced use of a medical procedure with absolutely no medical indication, and without any room for the judgement of the clinician or the specific separate consent woman seeking the abortion.

Women would be also forced to either view or listen to a description of the ultrasound, and to receive a printed copy. Hey, that will be super awesome for women who were raped, or have illnesses that prohibit pregnancy, or for whatever reason wanted but simply cannot continue the pregnancy! Let’s traumatize women so we can better control them!

It’s unclear how transabdominal (over the belly) ultrasound could even fulfill the other requirements of the proposed law, given that most abortions occur very early in pregnancy and the heartbeat and visible images required by the bill are probably not going to be technically possible transabdominally when those abortions occur. There is nothing in the bill language to address this scenario, so there’s reasonable concern that this could prevent abortions by making them impossible to obtain under these requirements.

I’m concerned that providers, fulfilling the requirement to keep copies of the ultrasound in the medical records, are going to be in a bind – if they document transabdominal ultrasounds that do not show anything they’re supposed to be describing (because the technology can’t), perhaps they’ll be penalized. If they want to document those physical structures with an ultrasound, they’ll have to go the transvaginal route in many cases. This puts providers in a bind for legal compliance while letting the politicians off the hook for potentially forcing women to have objects placed in their vaginas as a roadblock to legal medical care.

It’s also unclear how the 24 hour waiting period could be enforced. Tennessee, based on its constitution, has previously held such restrictions to be unenforceable. However, this is going to a popular vote next year, so the bill if passed could definitely become enforceable at that time. The waiting period provision could also be stripped or modified before the bill goes to a vote – I’m hoping to hear more about the implications of this part of the bill from knowledgeable folks soon.

SB 632 was introduced in the state Senate by Republican Jim Tracy. The companion House bill (HB 984) was introduced by Republican Rick Womack.

The prime co-sponsors of the Senate bill at this time are all Republican women – Janice Bowling, Mae Beavers, and Dolores Gresham. Proponents of forced ultrasound bills often argue they’re needed so that women will really understand what they’re doing when they have abortions. I’d be interested in whether any of these women Senators would go on the record as stating that they think forced ultrasound is necessary because women who go for abortions simply don’t know that “pregnant” means “there’s a fetus in there.” Especially the 2/3 of women seeking abortions who are *already mothers.* I’m sure they have no clue what pregnancy is, and just turned up at the abortion clinic for ignorant funsies.

Please, Senators, come right out and tell your women constituents exactly how much you think of their mental abilities. You either think they’re stupid, or you’re simply trying to obstruct their ability to access a legal service however possible (while pretending it’s for their own good), or both. Come out and say it. You owe it to us when you’re trying to restrict our rights.

Additional resources:
Full-text of the bill as introduced
State Sen. Jim Tracy Files an Ultrasound Before Abortion Bill – coverage at Pith in the Wind (Nashville, TN)

4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 11, 2013 10:58 am

    North Carolina passed a similar law in the Fall of 2012. Part of the bill is now in injunction and I hope it fails. I find it highly invasive to force women to submit to a transvaginal U/S when they’ve already made an exceptionally difficult situation. I just lost my first pregnancy last week due to medical reasons. I had to terminate. Every ultrasound broke my heart and I find it cruel that legislators would even attempt to require me to undergo another U/S prior to termination.

  2. February 11, 2013 2:08 pm

    I haven’t read the bill, but my understanding is that the physician is forced to described to the patient what is visible and audible on the transabdominal ultrasound. I’m not at all in favor of forcing unnecessary stuff like this on physicians, but isn’t it then perfectly in accordance with both the bill and the truth for them to say, “nope, nothing is visible, you’ve just got an invisibly small embryo in there”? And it ought to be pretty easy to print a picture that shows you just how the scan isn’t showing anything. I can’t see how that would open a physician to prosecution. We really can Good Soldier Schweik these people.

    The waiting period, OTOH, is a nasty, nasty innovation.

    • February 11, 2013 4:12 pm

      That’s what I’m not sure about – whether they could come back around and audit the records and shut them down for not capturing the required structures. The language requires “a simultaneous verbal explanation of the results of the live, real-time ultrasound images, including a medical description of the dimensions of the embryo or fetus, the presence of cardiac activity, and the presence of arms, legs, external members and internal organs.” To my mind, there’s a reading of that that requires being able to visualize those things for compliance. Nothing seems to address the situation where the tech is incapable of delivering those results, so providers could feel that they have to use the tech that allows some structure visualization. I’m not sure “this scan couldn’t show anything” would be a completely defensible argument.


  1. Proposed Forced Ultrasound Legislation Withdrawn in Tennessee | Women's Health News

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