“The law’s supporters said they hoped the ultrasounds could dissuade women from getting an abortion by having to learn more about their pregnancies.” – Judge Puts On Hold Part Of La. Abortion Law by The Associated Press, via National Public Radio online
What law is this? It’s Louisiana’s most recent anti-choice legislation, passed by the House (79-0, with no one speaking against the bill on the House floor) and Senate and signed by Governor Bobby Jindal in late June. It requires women seeking an abortion to not only have an ultrasound before proceeding with their decision to terminate a pregnancy, but to actually view the ultrasound (many pregnancy centers in Louisiana already do ultrasounds, but do not necessarily show them to the patient). This law applies even in cases where the viewing of an ultrasound may be especially traumatic for a woman who has chosen abortion, as in cases of rape or incest.
Last week, federal US District Judge District Judge Ralph Tyson issued a temporary restraining order on the law, after a lawsuit filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights that stated the bill is “unconstitutionally vague” because it doesn’t state whether a woman must accept a copy of the ultrasound.
Senator Sharon Broome was quoted as saying, at the bill’s passage, “This is a bill that empowers women.”
I’m not really sure where to begin. I suppose I’ll start with the condescending paternal tone of the pro-bill congresspeople and supporters. It is this tone that convinces me, time and time again, that the anti-choice movement is not only anti-choice, but anti-women. Opposition to abortion could easily be a religious issue and nothing beyond that, but those who are anti-choice continually cast the debate in language that belies their deep distrust of women and women’s sexual agency. “This is a bill that empowers women”? How, exactly? By forcing them to undergo a procedure many (allegedly) would have undergone anyway? I have seen numbers ranging from 30-95% regarding how many women in Louisiana get ultrasounds before their abortions. Clearly, this is willful misinformation coming from advocates of the bill in an attempt to make the bill’s passage seem unimportant, even negligible. It isn’t.
An ultrasound can cost anywhere between $80-$300. Added to the cost of the abortion itself, this additional fee may render abortion out of reach for many low-income women. 18.1% of Louisiana lives below the poverty level (compared to the national rate of 13%). Furthermore, the requirement of an ultrasound in all cases may put some providers in a situation where they can no longer give abortion care. Those providers who only do medical abortions may well not be equipped to routinely provide ultrasound.
We forget, too often, that in many places, a woman may be forced to choose between rent, food and abortion. By making abortion more expensive, Louisiana has guaranteed that more children will be born to low-income families.
What’s worst about this, to me, is that none of this strikes me as surprising. When Louisiana Right to Life says, “Over the past six months, we have been working with experts to craft this groundbreaking legislation empowering women to know the truth about abortion” I know what they are really saying is “We want women to feel guilty and stigmatized enough to not get an abortion, although it is legal in this state.” A full-frontal attack on the availability and legality of abortion is not the most effective path, anti-choice advocates have discovered in the past decade. Rather, by slowly eroding the affordability and accessibility of abortion (see: South Dakota), anti-choice advocates are slowly rendering Roe meaningless. “Not only do we hope women will be fully informed about abortion, but in knowing the truth, they will have the freedom to make a better choice,” says LA Right to Life, taking the language of choice and turn it on its head.
This isn’t about giving women more information about abortion. No woman goes to the clinic and see the ultrasound and suddenly thinks “Oh my god, there’s a baby in there!” Women go because they have chosen, after much internal debate, this option. They go for themselves, and their futures and their families. They don’t go to be talked out of their decision.
The US is huge, and we forget, in the furor of national debate, that the states themselves move against choice in small but insidious ways, slowly turning back years of legislation, region by region. In my next few posts here, I plan to examine abortion laws state by state, nuance by nuance, to better understand the cultural landscape of this issue within my country. United we stand, right?