Tennessee Bill to Require Ultrasound before Abortion

Jim Tracy (Source: State of Tennessee)

Jim Tracy (Source: State of Tennessee)

Add Tennessee as the latest state to attempt a transabdominal ultrasound on women seeking an abortion. The bill would require a woman to have the ultrasound at least 24 hours before an abortion.

The stated purpose of the bill by State Senator Jim Tracy is to determine the gestational age of the fetus. The actual goal is to deter a woman from an abortion. The bill lists requirements of what that ultrasound is supposed to rely:

Display the live, real-time fetal transabdominal ultrasound images in a quality consistent with current medical practice in a manner that the pregnant woman may view them;

Right away, it is clear the purpose is not to determine the age of the fetus but to make sure the woman can view the ultrasound. It isn’t an optional requirement for her either.

She is to be offered a printed copy of the ultrasound and presented with an opportunity to listen to the heartbeat. If the woman decides she isn’t interested in any of that, then the she has to listen to a description of what is going on understandable to a “layperson.”

In cases where the woman declines the offer to view the ultrasound image pursuant to subdivision (b)(3)(A), provide, in a manner understandable to a layperson, a simultaneous verbal explanation of the results of the live, real-time ultrasound images, including a medical description of the dimensions of the embryo or fetus, the presence of cardiac activity, and the presence of arms, legs, external members and internal organs, and provide a copy of the ultrasound image to the woman;

If she doesn’t want to look at the ultrasound or listen to the heartbeat, then she needs to listen to a medical professional describe everything that he sees, and he still must provide a copy of the ultrasound to the woman.

The problem, as The Tennessean points out, is that in the first three months when most abortions are performed a transabdominal ultrasound probably cannot produce what the bill requires of it.

Critics say the bill calls for a procedure that could be technically unfeasible. Transabdominal ultrasounds, in which a probe is rubbed across the pregnant woman’s belly, often cannot produce an image of a fetus or detect a heartbeat in the first trimester, when the vast majority of abortions take place.

For pregnancies still in their first three months, doctors often use a different procedure, known as a transvaginal ultrasound, to produce images of fetuses and listen for heartbeats. But because transvaginal ultrasounds require internal probes, abortion foes have often stopped short of calling for their use.

If doctors were to perform transabdominal ultrasounds too early in a pregnancy, they would likely produce images too blurry to pick out arms, legs or other features, critics of the bill say.

So even if the bill passes it isn’t going produce the images that its sponsor wants. That just means Tracy and his supporters will have to go back to the drawing board and prepare an amendment allowing transvaginal ultrasounds. Anti-abortion foes may be hesitant to advocate transvaginal ultrasounds but if they continue to get away with passing laws requiring transabdominal ones, the time for even more invasive procedures is coming.

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