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Media Watch: Saletan in Slate

Amie Newman

William Saletan lets pregnant women in on a secret: ultrasounds reveal the mystery of what's growing in there.

In Slate this week, Saletan reports on the newest legislative distraction tactics, hot on the heels of the recent Supreme Court ruling, put forth by anti-choice advocates—ultrasound legislation. And, according to Saletan, they are "all the rage" around the country with Mississippi, Idaho and Georgia having passed ultrasound laws and South Carolina about to do the same. Laws designed to presumably scare women away from choosing an abortion require clinics to offer each woman an ultrasound view of her fetus. Or, as the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) puts it, this kind of legislation…"allows women a chance to see whom it is they are about to destroy."

And, if you think the NRLC bring the extremist voice to the table, you'd be wrong.

William Saletan, author of Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War, veers way off course arguing that, in fact, pro-choicers should support this legislation:

Women aren't too weak to face the truth. If you don't want to look at the video, you don't have to. But you should look at it, and so should the guy who got you pregnant, because the decision you're about to make is as grave as it gets.

Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

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Really, Will? This decision is a grave one, huh? Well—who knew. Certainly not the pregnant woman on the precipice of ending her pregnancy. I am certain that pregnant women—whether they view an ultrasound or not—have an inkling that their decision to abort their pregnancy is significant for them and their families. And, if they do not seem significantly leadened by their decision, am I to assume that we should then rely upon legislation crafted to "allow women … to see whom it is they are about to destroy"?

Saletan, having actually written a book about reproductive rights, should know the statistics: 61% of women who have abortions are already mothers. As a mother myself, I'll let Saletan in on another secret: most pregnant women who receive prenatal care in this country have an ultrasound at least once in their pregnancy. It stands to reason, therefore, that for the majority of women who undergo abortions, an ultrasound will not show or tell them what they don't already know—that there is an embryo or a fetus inside the uterus. Having undergone ultrasounds before, most women who have abortions in this country are familiar with what it does—and does not—show them.

What is particularly disturbing is Saletan's wrestling match distinction that strong women face the truth and look at the ultrasound while, I can only assume he believes, weak women turn their heads and cry. Why should women who have abortions be subjected to these regulations designed to illicit particular emotions proclaimed herein by Mr. William Saletan? Is there a code of behavior by which men who get vasectomies need to abide? Should men who undergo liver transplants be required to view a video of one, as Scott Lemeiux of Lawyers, Guns and Money posits?

Saletan does redeem himself somewhat when he questions whether the anti-choicers truly believe viewing an ultrasound will result in a different choice being made:

But pro-lifers seem equally petrified that women won't change their minds. They rigged Mississippi's ultrasound law with a clause that would ban nearly all abortions if Roe is overturned. Now the Supreme Court has echoed that equivocation, ruling that one way to "inform" women of the evil of partial-birth abortion is to criminalize it.

Of this latest legislation, the National Right to Life Committee reasons, "Even if they don't admit it out loud, they know that if women see their unborn children, the headlong rush to abort will slow down and, in many cases, be stopped." Women are already given the option to view an ultrasound at many abortion clinics and doctor's offices around the country. At the abortion clinic I worked for we never had more than a handful of women decide not to go ahead with an abortion after viewing an ultrasound; although most ended up back in the clinic at a later date deciding to go ahead after all. Despite knowing almost nothing about women who have abortions, William Saletan continues to beat the dream, ending his piece by telling us that by requiring women to view an ultrasound before her abortion we are really trusting women. Now that's the sort of twisted logic I expect from the NRLC. I'm not buying it.