PROVIDENCE – In each of the last three years, Cumberland Rep. Karen MacBeth sponsored legislation that would require doctors to offer to show and explain fetal ultrasound images to women seeking abortions. The bills died with little media or public fanfare.
MacBeth has introduced the bill again, but this year pre-abortion ultrasounds have become a red-hot button nationwide controversy as state legislatures across the country have passed or are considering a variety of bills mandating the procedure in various forms
“There is a lot of misinformation that is out there right now,” MacBeth told The Call Thursday. “It’s become a media frenzy.”
But she is quick to point out that her bill is different from more radical bills in other states. “We have been very clear with our legislation and the intent of our legislation every year.” The intent, the Democratic lawmaker said, is to give the woman preparing to have an abortion information about the procedure she plans to undergo.
MacBeth’s bill requires that the doctor who is going to perform the abortion, or someone working with him or her, perform an obstetric ultrasound; provide an explanation of the results; display the ultrasound images so the patient may view them, and provide a medical description of the ultrasound images “which shall include the dimensions of the embryo or fetus and the presence of external members and internal organs, if present and viewable.” The measure would not require the patient to look at the images.
The bill calls for a civil penalty on the doctor if he or she violates any provision of it of $100,000 on the first offense and $250,000 for second and subsequent offenses.
“It is a scary time for a woman,” MacBeth said, “there is a lot of emotion going on. The woman may not know to ask, she may be afraid to ask. That’s all this bill is doing. It is saying to the woman, if you want to look at this, you can look at it, if you don’t, you don’t have to look at it and we will tell you what you are looking at.
“This has ramifications for a woman that are life-long,” she said
Paula Hodges, director of public policy and advocacy at Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, said MacBeth’s bill is “an unnecessary political mandate. The concept that a state legislature would feel the need to require a physician who has been trained for years to know the medically based standard of care and to insist that they have to review any type of test and be told specifically what they need to tell a patient, regardless of whether or not the patient requests it, is an overreach. That is not the standard of care for any other place in health care unless we are dealing with abortion care.”
Hodges said the penalties included in the bill are “a mechanism of intimidation” of the physician to “try to detract the physician from offering these services in the first place.”
One thing that is frequently overlooked, or left unsaid, in the national coverage of the sonogram debate, is that doctors routinely perform sonograms before proceeding with an abortion.
Hodges acknowledged that ultrasounds “are an integral part of abortion care.”
Dr. Pablo Rodriguez, one of the most prominent doctors in Rhode Island in abortion and family planning matters with a practice in Pawtucket, agreed, saying Thursday, “Already, providers do ultrasound procedures or evaluations on all patients before they undergo an abortion in order to have a safe procedure and know exactly what the best method to use is.
“All this bill does is turn the ultrasound into a torture machine,” Rodriguez added. “You have to start turning the machine around and start describing every little part of the screen, which is hard to begin with and would serve no purpose other than to scare woman and make them change their minds. The result is to get the gestational age (of the fetus), that’s why we do the ultrasound. It’s not to be identifying parts of the fetus.
“For the most part, under 10 weeks, it is difficult,” he added, “you have to have a knowledge of embryology and anatomy to even comprehend what you are seeing. To pretend that we can give women a course on ultrasound images in the 10 minutes it takes to do an ultrasound, it serves no purpose. It is an intrusion in the patient-physician relationship.”
Barth Bracy, executive director of Rhode Island Right to Life, said Wednesday, “The abortionists are already doing the ultrasounds, so it’s not a matter of forcing them to do the ultrasounds. When you go into the doctor for anything, the doctors fall all over themselves to try to explain to you everything about the procedure. For knee surgery, they show you a model of the knee for goodness’ sake, and they show you the x-ray: Here’s the problem, here’s what we are going to do, etc. Why shouldn’t abortionists not be held to the same standard of informed consent?
Bracy contends that doctors are doing the pre-abortion ultrasounds, but not showing them to the patients. “There seems to be significant evidence showing that a lot of women, when they see the ultrasounds, choose not to have an abortion. If you are earning your money by selling abortions and you know that showing ultrasounds cuts down on the number of abortions, maybe they’ve got a conflict of interest.”