Nebraska’s Ultrasound Bill

Nebraska passed an ultrasound bill last week (via Lisa Correnti), “requiring that an abortionist display a real-time ultrasound of a mother’s unborn child prior to performing an abortion.”

“Ultrasound technology has made tremendous advancements and provides a window to the womb that allows mothers to see their unborn children in real time,” said Mary Spaulding Balch, J.D., National Right to Life State Legislative Director. “It is absolutely vital that a woman, at this most crucial life-and-death juncture be provided, all the information possible about the abortion procedure and the development of her unborn child. Simply put, the abortion decision cannot be undone. Women deserve all the facts.”

I’m not sure how I feel about this sort of legislation, but… wow, are the arguments against it bad.

Apparently, there was an attempted ammendment (via the Feminist Majority Foundation) to exclude cases of abortion on the basis of incest or rape which failed. That approach really confuses me… if the bill is about providing a woman with information about her unborn child so that she could make an informed decision about whether or not to have an abortion, what difference would it make why she was seeking an abortion? How would the facts of pregnancy differ based on how that pregnancy came about?

I also came across this paper by Carol Sanger: “Seeing and Believing: Mandatory Ultrasound and the Path to a Protected Choice.” Now, I only had time to read the abstract, but boy is it terrible (emphases are mine).

Several state legislatures now require that before a woman may consent to an abortion, she must first undergo an ultrasound and be offered the image of her fetus. The justification is that without an ultrasound, her consent will not be fully informed. Such legislation, the latest move in abortion regulation, supposes that a woman who sees the image will be less likely to abort. This Article explores how visual politics has combined with visual technology, and how law has seized upon both in a campaign to encourage women to choose against abortion. While rarely analyzed, the significance of seeing, or what one court has called sensory and contemporaneous observance, in fact appears throughout the law. This Article develops a visuality of law, focusing specially on the treatment of fetal imagery.

There’s no doubt that this is political, but with terms like “visual politics,” Sanger seems to be implying that showing people stuff is deceptive. I’d challenge her on that. If the visuals from an ultrasound actually affect a decision about abortion, maybe the unborn isn’t what some people would like to think it is (i.e. a “blob of cells”).

Drawing upon medical and ethnographic literature on sonography, this Article situates the regulatory appeal of mandatory ultrasound within a preexisting visual familiarity with the fetus. I argue that while a welcome and rewarding experience in the context of wanted pregnancies, ultrasound becomes pernicious when required by law in connection with abortion. The argument I develop is that not only is an abortion decision itself protected, but so is the deliberative path a woman takes to reach that decision.

Uh huh, because the unborn is a different thing based on “wantedness.” It’s the pregnancy that’s unwelcome when it’s unwanted, not the ultrasound. The problem is whether or not we ought to terminate pregnancies. Most people seek an answer to the question, “what is the unborn?” when deciding whether or not we should terminate pregnancies. Ultrasounds provide medical evidence in response to that question.

Mandatory ultrasound intrudes upon that protected area of decisionmaking in several respects. First, simply by virtue of having an ultrasound, a pregnant woman is promoted into the category of mother and it is against this conscripted status that she must proceed.

Newsflash: a “pregnant women” isn’t promoted into the category of mother because she has an ultrasound. She’s promoted into the category of mother because she’s pregnant.

Second, unlike other compulsory forms of abortion disclosure, the statutes require the woman to use her body to produce the very information intended to dissuade her from pursuing an abortion. The resulting fetal image is intended as a self-evident statement about the meaning of human life.

Don’t we have to use our body to produce information often before medical procedures? Blood tests or other such procedures before operations? I don’t see how requiring certain preliminary procedures before a more invasive one is wrong in and of itself (I assume she goes into more detail in the paper). Also, the intention isn’t to “dissuade,” but to inform (i.e. it’s not just a “blob of cells” we’re looking at).

But characterizing the fetus as a child, as most ultrasound statutes do, is a political description, not a scientific one. It confuses medically informed consent with what I identify as morally informed consent, that realm of personal considerations that are a woman’s alone to determine. Imbued with indelible social meaning, the mandatory ultrasound requirement replaces consent with coercion – not about the ultimate decision, but about how a woman chooses to get there.

And claiming that one’s offspring is not one’s child isn’t a case of extreme politics? It doesn’t take a complicated concept of the parent-child relationship to understand the sense in which a fetus is a child. A fetus may not have a legal status of “child,” but neither does a 40-year-old man, and a 40-year-old man still has a parent and is still someone’s child.

It’s incredibly dishonest to claim that the category of mother is imposed on a pregnancy. Pregnancy implies “mother.” You have to be pregnant with something.

The real question, I guess, is whether or not it’s appropriate to require an individual to meet the ultrasound requirement before undergoing a legal medical procedure, but I find that any discussion of these ultrasounds is pretty meaningless in and of itself. It all comes back to the broader question of abortion and “what is the unborn?” However, I can’t help but think that ultrasounds help to show us, medically and scientifically, what the unborn is. Science and medicine can only help better inform our ethical and moral judgments in this way.

Thoughts? I’d be interested to know if there are any pro-lifers who are uneasy about this kind of legislation.

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