Yesterday, the Oklahoma state legislature overrode Governor Brad Henry’s veto of two extremely restrictive, and quite likely unconstitutional, abortion laws, bringing Oklahoma one step closer to being the worst state for women in the nation.
The first measure requires women seeking an abortion to undergo a mandatory ultrasound and, as we’ve already discussed here, is intrusive beyond belief. As the New York Times notes, while several states have passed ultrasound laws and a few require women to be offered the chance to see the image, Oklahoma’s law goes even farther, stipulating that the monitor must be placed where the woman can see it and that she must listen to a detailed description of the fetus. Furthermore, doctors would be required to use a vaginal probe in cases where it would provide a clearer picture of the fetus than a regular ultrasound, which is often the case earlier in pregnancy (when the vast majority of abortions take place).
In other words, as a prerequisite to obtaining an abortion—a legal, medical procedure—in addition to being forced to hear information she may not want to hear, a woman must be vaginally probed by her doctor, even if it is not medically necessary and even if she has already been the victim of rape or incest. Within hours, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit against the legislation, arguing that is violates the doctor’s freedom of speech, the woman’s right to equal protection and the woman’s right to privacy. And others have suggested that it could break Oklahoma’s rape laws as well.
And if you thought it couldn’t get worse than that, the other measure might be even more appalling. This one would “prohibit women from seeking legal damages if physicians knowingly or negligently withheld important information or provided inaccurate information to them about their pregnancy.” In other words, it allows doctors to conveniently omit the fact that a fetus has a birth defect in order keep the woman from choosing an abortion. Or put even more plainly, it offers legal protection to doctors who lie to women in an effort to impose their personal beliefs on their patients.
What I would like to know is how the Oklahoma legislature can—in a single vote—pass one bill that requires women to hear and see unnecessary information in the interest of providing “accurate information about the development her unborn child” and another that explicitly protects doctors who mislead women by “withholding important information about their pregnancy.” My guess is that the bills’ supporters don’t try all that hard to maintain the pretense that this is just about “access to information.” And, indeed, State Senator Todd Lamb was pretty explicit about the true aim of this legislation
- “The goal of this legislation is just to make a statement for the sanctity of human life…Maybe someday these babies will grow up to be police officers and arrest bad people, or will find a cure for cancer.”
Ah, yes. It’s just about saving the babies…one vaginal probe, one small lie, one scared doctor, and one shamed woman at a time.