Just a day after House Republicans were forced to cancel a vote on an anti-abortion bill that some members found to be too extreme, GOP congressmen on Thursday introduced three new abortion restrictions, including one that would require women to undergo an ultrasound procedure before an abortion.
The mandatory ultrasound bill, introduced by Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) and co-sponsored by 10 Republican men, compels women to “receive an ultrasound and the opportunity to review the ultrasound before giving informed consent to receive an abortion.”
One of the other bills prohibits federal education funds from going to schools with access to an abortion provider on campus, and the other requires states to report information on Medicaid payments to abortion providers.
The ultrasound measure is likely to be the most controversial. Nearly half of U.S. states have passed some kind of mandatory ultrasound bill, but the political backlash in some of those states has been significant.
In Pennsylvania, for instance, former Gov. Tom Corbett (R) sparked national outrage when he defended the state’s mandatory ultrasound bill by telling women, “You just have to close your eyes.” He lost to Democratic challenger Tom Wolf in 2014 after women’s rights advocates brought up his comment every time his name was mentioned.
Virginia, too, became “the laughingstock of the nation” in 2012 when Republicans introduced a mandatory ultrasound bill that would have involved an invasive transvaginal procedure. Former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) later lost his gubernatorial race, in large part due to his outspoken support for the anti-abortion bill, which critics compared to “state-sponsored rape.”
The Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit organization focused on reproductive health research, notes that routine ultrasound is not considered medically necessary as a component of abortion, making the legal requirements nothing more than “a veiled attempt to personify the fetus and dissuade a woman from obtaining an abortion”. Moreover, women are expected to foot the bill for the mandatory ultrasound, which can add significantly to the cost of the procedure.
Proponents of mandatory ultrasounds claim that viewing the images makes women reconsider their decision to have an abortion. Conservative pundit Rachel Campos-Duffy, for instance, has claimed that more than 90 percent of women change their mind about abortion after viewing an ultrasound. However, those assertions are patently false: According to a 2014 study published in the peer-reviewed journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, 98.8 percent of women who viewed an ultrasound image still chose to terminate their pregnancies, compared to 99 percent who did not view the image. And for the women who didn’t terminate, viewing the image wasn’t the reason for continuing with the pregnancy.
Duncan’s federal ultrasound bill comes at an uncomfortable time for House Republicans, who this week had to cancel a vote on a bill that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Members of their own caucus had rebelled against the bill because its rape exception was too narrow, requiring women to have reported the crime to the police in order to qualify. But the move was not exactly a pro-choice victory: as others have pointed out, Republicans canceled the vote on the 20-week ban because they feared it would hurt their chances with women voters– not because they were concerned it would hurt women.