Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ultrasound: Latest Tool in Battle over Abortion

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ultrasound: Latest Tool in Battle over Abortion

Article excerpt

Shannon Staley of Columbia, S.C., was eight weeks pregnant when she saw an ultrasound picture of the fetus. Seeing the image - which looked to her like an "itty, bitty smudge" - did not change her intent to have an abortion. But it would be misguided and intrusive, she said, to require that every South Carolina woman seeking an abortion be offered a viewing of an ultrasound image of the fetus she carries.

Monica Burgess of Fort Mill, S.C., though, would support such a law. She was 12 weeks pregnant when the fuzzy ultrasound picture revealed the face and thrashing limbs of the child she was bearing. She said she was already convinced that an abortion would be a mistake, and seeing that image gave her solace and reinforced her decision to give up the baby, a girl, for adoption.

Ultrasound technology - which allows doctors to "see" into the womb to check on fetal development - is among the latest weapons in America's arduous battle over abortion. So far, 10 states have approved "witness to the womb" laws of some kind, and South Carolina has been wrestling this spring over how to craft similar legislation. The Senate is expected to vote on its version of the law Tuesday.

Abortion foes say it is a medical imperative that women have access to all information about their pregnancies before deciding whether to end them, and that should include an opportunity to have and see an ultrasound. Abortion rights activists say such requirements are medically unnecessary, constitutionally suspect, and even a form of emotional blackmail of women in the throes of making a difficult choice.

Testifying at a Senate hearing in Columbia in late March, Ms. Staley and Ms. Burgess provided the bookends to what has been a hot debate over the value to women of seeing ultrasound images of the inside of their wombs.

Just a week earlier, on March 21, the South Carolina House had approved a bill, 91 to 23, that would require doctors to show all pregnant women an ultrasound before they can proceed with an abortion. Gov. Mark Sanford (R) backed the legislation. But in April, a Senate subcommittee, swayed by Attorney General Henry McMaster's position that forcing women to view an ultrasound would be unconstitutional, crafted a softer bill. If the state Senate passes that bill Tuesday, it would have to hammer out compromise language with the House.

Ten states with 'witness to womb' laws

Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, Idaho, and Michigan now require doctors to offer women seeking abortions an opportunity to view an ultrasound. Laws in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wisconsin require that doctors inform women that ultrasounds are available. In all, 22 pieces of ultrasound legislation were introduced in 15 states this year, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a liberal think tank in Washington. …

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