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RH Reality Check

Violation by Ultrasound: Not Just Physical

While there has been much fury recently over Virginia’s recently proposed transvaginal ultrasound bill, other states’ anti-choice lawmakers have chosen the equally unacceptable route of psychological—rather than physical—violation of women.

In Michigan, House Bill 4433 would expand the state’s already-present requirements for pre-abortion ultrasounds. If passed (a likely outcome in Michigan’s strongly anti-choice state government) the law will require pre-abortion ultrasounds to be conducted with the “most technologically advanced ultrasound equipment available,” further defined as the equipment which “is capable of providing the most visibly clear image of the gross anatomical development of the fetus and the most audible fetal heartbeat.” While the bill states that a woman be given the “option” to view the ultrasound or not, it also mandates that the monitors must be turned toward the woman, so that her only way of not viewing the image is to close her eyes or turn her head away. The bill also requires that the professional performing the ultrasound give a detailed description of the fetus’ current developmental stage, and must offer the woman a printed ultrasound image.

Clearly, even if reasonable arguments could be made in favor of medical benefits to a physician viewing a more detailed ultrasound image before performing an abortion, there is no medical benefit to be gained by forcing the patient to view such images. It would be impossible to read this bill as anything other than a transparent attempt to convince women not to go through with abortions. And it aims to enact such coercion by relying on an essentialist view of women and “motherhood:” the notion that women will be emotionally moved to continue a pregnancy if they are forced to see the fetus and hear a detailed report of its development.


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Women who have made the choice to obtain an abortion are well aware of the choice they have made. They are not naïve to the fact that they are choosing to abort a developing fetus. Whether the decision has been an easy or a difficult one, it has not been made in ignorance of what “abortion” entails. And it is not the place of the state to patronize women by insisting that they be forced to view ultrasound images in order to fully understand their actions.

Requiring transvaginal ultrasounds would violate women by invading their bodies. Turning an ultrasound monitor toward a woman and attempting to force her to view the images even if she does not want to see them is an act of emotional and psychological violation. Both are medically unnecessary and needlessly cruel and patronizing. And neither should ever be mandated by a state’s government.

Angi Becker Stevens

Angi Becker Stevens is a fiction writer whose work has appeared in many print and online literary magazines, in addition to being anthologized in Best of the Web 2010 and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. As a member of The Organization For a Free Society, she organizes around all varieties of social justice, and is particularly involved in feminist and polyamorous activism.

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