Fight Over Pre-Abortion Ultrasound Intensifies

Louisiana has struck a compromise over a divisive law that mandates ultrasounds for women before they terminate a pregnancy.

By Michelle Chen Aug 23, 2010

Louisiana has struck a compromise over a divisive law that mandates ultrasounds for women before they terminate a pregnancy. The new legislation, reports CNBC, was challenged by pro-choice groups who claimed the law "was unconstitutionally vague because it didn’t specify whether providers must force women to view or accept copies of their ultrasound." (h/t RH Reality Check). The law is one of many around the country that impose a psychological tax on women seeking abortion; the hope is presumably that, once exposed to a blurry projection of their womb, women will flee from clinics, overcome with guilt and maternal instincts. However, in Louisiana, a pre-abortion ultrasound is already part of standard practice, and the main question raised by the new regulation is whether women would be forced to see the results. The new settlement between the Center for Reproductive Rights and the state health department dictates that "the law doesn’t require a woman to receive the photograph — but only requires the photograph to be offered." How the law will be implemented may vary by provider, but for now, it seems like the legislature has not made the existing policies much tighter. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2010 so far, "legislators in 18 states introduced bills aiming to further incorporate ultrasound into abortion procedures." That’s on top of a flurry of bills aiming to cut off coverage of abortion services under the health care reform plan’s insurance exchanges. Reproductive rights advocates will continue challenging another perverse restriction in the Louisiana law that bars abortion providers from medical malpractice coverage. Yes, lawmakers seem to think that by stripping abortion providers of liability protection they can persuade doctors that instead of providing women with an essential reproductive health service, they should just play it safe with prostate surgery or mole removal. The restriction blatantly evokes the days when women subjected themselves to underground butchery because they lacked access to safe, legal abortion providers–with particularly devastating impacts on Black and Latina women. Today, Guttmacher reports:


  • In 2005, 92% of Louisiana counties had no abortion provider. 62% of Louisiana women lived in these counties. In the South census region, where Louisiana is located, 21% of women having abortions traveled at least 50 miles, and 10% traveled more than 100 miles.
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  • In 2005, there were 9 abortion providers in Louisiana. This represents a 31% decrease from 2000, when there were 13 abortion providers.
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  • In Louisiana, 5 metropolitan areas lack an abortion provider: Monroe; Houma-Bayou Cane-Thibodaux; Lafayette; Lake Charles; Alexandria

The legal restrictions and limit on abortion access tend to affect poor women of color the most, especially in a state like Louisiana, where nearly a third of the population is Black and poverty is rampant. Black women nationwide have a disproportionately high abortion rate. In the South specifically, this has become fodder for a right-wing campaign that fuses race-baiting with anti-choice rhetoric. The battle over the right to choose will plod along in the courts, but with lawmakers becoming increasingly aggressive about regulating reproductive health, it looks like the final score will be settled in the political arena, for better or worse.