Here we are almost 40 years after the Supreme Courtís historic Roe vs. Wade decision, and legislators are still threatening a woman’s right to reproductive choice. Texas lawmakers just passed a bill requiring that women wishing to terminate a pregnancy must first undergo an ultrasound and then take some time to think about her decision. The state house approved the bill yesterday, and the state senate supported a similar anti-abortion measure last month. The final say will rest in the hands of Texas governor Rick Perry. Apparently, Perry praised Texas lawmakers for their vote — which makes my stomach sink.
You may think itís simple enough. A woman comes to her doctor and wants an abortion. Why not slap a scanner on her belly and take a sneak peek?
What harm can it do?
Iím all for extensive counseling when it comes to offering a woman a pregnancy termination. Abortions should never be rushed choices stemming from fear or anxiety that might lead to post-abortion regret.
And Iím not against performing ultrasounds on women seeking to terminate a pregnancy. As an OB/GYN who made the difficult choice to perform abortions because I felt so strongly that women should be offered safe, compassionate care, Iíve chosen to perform ultrasounds on many abortion candidatesónot because some law forced me to, but because my patient didnít know her last period and we needed to determine the due date. So Iíve been the one holding the ultrasound probe, and yes, from time to time, Iíve had patients who change their mind after gazing at the little beating heart of their fetus.
But Iíve also seen others break down when they see that fetus on the screen and hear its heartbeat. Iíve held my patient in my arms when she tells me how she feels like a terrible person, how she wonders if sheís going to hell, and how nobody will ever love her after the terrible thing sheís decided to do. Iíve held her hand when she tells me, ďI know you want me to tell you that Iím sure Iím doing the right thing. But Iíll never know for sure, and Iíll probably be counting her birthdays 20 years from now. But I just canít do this right now. Please forgive me.Ē
When I did have to perform an ultrasound on someone seeking pregnancy termination, I always gave my patients the choice of looking away when I scanned them. Some wanted to look and listen anyway. But at least the government wasnít forcing me to put my patient through a potentially traumatic process when sheíd already made up her mind. I canít imagine how damaging such a law would have been to my relationship with my patients.
As a pro-choice OB/GYN who wishes nobody ever had to terminate a pregnancy, Iím very conflicted about this whole issue (as you can tell in this post I wrote about choosing to perform abortions after being raised in a very Christian household full of pro-lifers).
But the government forcing a woman to see or listen to a description of her babyís beating heartóand then sending her on her merry little way so she can search her soul and make sure sheís doing the right thingóis a giant step backwards for womenís reproductive rights. In my experience, women are our own biggest critics when it comes to choosing to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. They beat themselves up, not just in the moment, but often for years afterwards. As I wrote about in this post about how women want their doctors to treat them, women seeking to terminate a pregnancy need our love, not our judgment.
Put yourself in this woman’s position.
She just got accepted to law school when she finds out that sheís knocked up by the boyfriend who just broke her heart. Or she already has four kids sheís struggling to care for and got pregnant in spite of her IUD and condoms. Or her uncle molested her. Or some dude she barely knows at her college raped her. Or she just doesnít want to be a motheróat least not right now.
While Iíve encountered a few frustrating women who use abortion as birth control, these women are rare in my experience. Most women are tearful in my exam room. When I hug them, they melt into a puddle of conflicting emotions. And when Iíve performed their abortions, theyíve sent me flowersónot just because I safely helped them through a rough time, but because I did it with love.
Iím no longer performing surgery of any kind, and I live in California, so this law doesnít directly apply to me. But I was just in Texas on my book tour for Whatís Up Down There? Questions Youíd Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend. And I was speaking to women at universities across the state. When I think of these frigginí powerful women having their rights stripped from them, it kills me.
We can’t let this happen.
This is just yet another in a series of attempts to undermine a womanís right to choose whether she becomes a mother, and as harmless as it may sound, I know the truth. This is not just a little jelly on the belly. This is emotional blackmail. Legislators think they can prey upon a womanís tendency to be sensitive, caring, and compassionate. They think they can guilt us into changing our minds and becoming mothers when weíre not ready. They want to punish women for their choice by putting them through a process that could result in post-traumatic stress disorder.
Iím sorry, but the decision of whether or not to perform an ultrasound should rest between the doctor and her patient. Period. The government has no right to mess with a womanís emotions when sheís already likely to be emotionally gutted. We women are frigginí powerful. Itís not that weíre not eternally resilient and canít handle it. But why pour acid on a wound when what a woman in that situation needs is compassion?