Even as the transvaginal ultrasound bill in Virginia was causing national outrage, Pennsylvania conservatives were quietly pushing a even more restrictive abortion bill. The legislation is designed with so many difficult and differing restrictions that long-time abortion policy analyst Elizabeth Nash at the Guttmacher Institute told Raw Story, “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
In addition to mandating the much-maligned transvaginal ultrasound requirements since rejected by the state of Virginia, Pennsylvania legislators proposed strongly encouraging women to view and listen to the ultrasounds, forcing technicians to give the women personalized copies of the results and mandating how long before any abortion the ultrasound much be preformed — and that’s just for starters.
That last requirement has already been passed and struck down in Louisiana, partially over concerns of patients’ privacy and potential risks for women in abusive relationships, Nash said.
“This bill definitely suffers the legislators-playing-doctor problem. … There are a number of requirements in this bill that are medically unnecessary,” Nash said, pointing out that so many requirements packed into the 22-page bill could make it logistically difficult for abortion providers to comply with them. “This bill is something that would be unacceptable to most women seeking an abortion.”
Additionally, Nash points out that the length of the legislation hides bizarre and unprecedented requirements, such as asking women who gets an ultrasound more than 14 days before her abortion to view a state-approved video on fetal gestation. The bill, unlike many other ultrasound requirements, does offer exceptions for victims of rape and incest; the bill does not require victims to have reported the incidents to the authorities.
“Certainly what’s happening in Pennsylvania and throughout the country has sparked a lot of outrage,” said Andy Hoover of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. Noting that they’ve been fighting two other pieces of anti-choice legislation, one of which puts requirements on abortion providers and one of which would ban abortion coverage in state-sponsored health insurance exchanges, “It’s been the abortion wars for over a year.”
Perhaps even more surprising, the committee didn’t hold a public hearing on the bill before voting it out of committee. Hoover said the state doesn’t require committees to hold public hearings on all bills, but, “We think a hearing was warranted here because the legislators didn’t know what they were voting on.”
Sue Frietsche, senior staff attorney at Pennsylvania’s Women’s Law Project, notes that the legislation also requires the state to compile a list of ultrasound providers, which is likely to include anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers. “I can’t think of a worse recipe for women seeking an abortion,” Frietsche said.
In 2006, Henry Waxman’s staff on the House Government Reform Committee documented [PDF] that federally-funded crisis pregnancy centers were often distributing medically inaccurate and intentionally misleading health information to women.
Considering that more than 60 percent of women who obtain abortions nationally are already mothers, Frietsche said, “This legislation is insulting to women.”
Indeed, the ACLU of Pennsylvania issued a satirical open letter to Virginia earlier this month with the title, “Yes, Virginia, there is a state more demeaning to women than you,” which listed a number of reasons why the proposed Pennsylvania legislation is worse than Virginia’s much-decried “transvaginal ultrasound” bill.
Frietsche adds that the FDA already recommends that medically unnecessary ultrasounds should be discouraged, since the long-term effects of radiation from the ultrasound machines are unknown. She said the Pennsylvania chapter of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Pennsylvania Medical Society both oppose the legislation.
The bill faces a vote in the full Pennsylvania state house in mid-March, when the legislature is back in session. A petition at SignOn.org has collected nearly 15,000 signatures opposing the legislation.
The “Women’s Right to Know Act” House Bill 1077 [PDF], was authored by state Rep. Kathy Rapp (R). Watch this video, uploaded on Rep. Rapp’s YouTube channel on February 16, which supports the passage of the bill:
Kay Steiger is the managing editor of Raw Story. Her contributions have appeared in The American Prospect, The Atlantic, Campus Progress, The Guardian, In These Times, Jezebel, Religion Dispatches, RH Reality Check, and others. You can follow her on Twitter @kaysteiger.
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