Oklahoma’s Ultrasound Fantasy World

Amanda Marcotte

Ultrasound laws are based not in science, but in a fantasy world where women are stupid, doctors are deceptive, and misogynist lawmakers are the saviors of women.

Ultrasound requirements represent
the creative, fact-free thinking that dominates the anti-choice movement. 
One state after another passes these trendy laws, which require abortion
providers to perform an ultrasound on women seeking abortion before
the abortion.  These laws beautifully encapsulate pretty much every
nasty, sexist opinion of women held by those who drive the anti-choice
movement: that women are stupid, that women are nothing but sentimental
walking wombs who have no desire but to gestate and give birth at all
points in time, and that women are largely asexual creatures whose choice
to have sex without reproducing could only be the result of male coercion. 
The fantasy driving these laws is the idea that women will take one
look at the ultrasound image, realize that she has a fetus in there,
and will run out crying with joy at impending motherhood.  These
laws are based on a theory of female intelligence that puts women on
par with rather bright dogs and dull toddlers, but not much smarter
than that. 

I spoke with an Austin-based
clinic worker about the contrast between these laws and reality, and
she said, "These laws are totally unnecessary.  Ultrasounds are
always done anyway, for dating purposes, though not always by a doctor. 
Requiring that doctors do them takes time and money, and can raise the
costs of abortion."   

She also revealed that the
patients she sees aren’t nearly as ignorant as anti-choice lawmakers
assume.  "About half of women already choose to view the images. 
They look at the image and go forward with it anyway." 

Anti-choicers like to claim
that their fantasy is indeed the truth, and that ultrasound laws reduce
the abortion rate.  For instance, the abortion rate in Ohio has
gone down, and anti-choicers in the state immediately
took credit.

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    "Reaching a record
    low in reported abortions marks a milestone for pro-life efforts in
    Ohio," said Mike Gonidakis, executive director of Ohio Right to

    He also mentioned a new
    state law requiring doctors to give women the opportunity to view an
    ultrasound of their fetus before undergoing an abortion and older laws
    requiring a 24-hour wait and parental notification. 

It’s an evidence-free assertion. 
It’s hard to determine exactly why abortion rates go up or down, but
as the Columbus Dispatch article notes, the unintended pregnancy rate
is going up for lower income women (who often can’t scrape together
$500 for an abortion in time) while higher income women are seeing their
unintended pregnancy rate go down.  The gap speaks of access to
contraception–women who can afford abortion can also afford to prevent
pregnancy–access that national right to life organizations oppose. 
So, contrary to what Gonidakis says, the abortion rate is probably going
down despite the anti-choice movement.  Their only contribution
is making it harder for poorer women to access abortion, though it’s
no big surprise that they’re only effective in making people’s lives
harder and more miserable. 

Ultrasound laws are popular
across the country, but leave it to the state of Oklahoma to pass a
new law that defines the cutting edge of reactionary fantasizing. The law requires
doctors to draw out the unpleasant process of getting an abortion
by forcing the women to sit through
an ultrasound and a lecture describing the shape, size, and features
of an embryo or fetus in detail.  It’s a classic example of how
the anti-choice stereotype of women as dumb bunnies who can easily be
tricked into childbirth through sentimentality barely conceals a much
more hostile, punishing view of women.   The justification
for this law is the sentimental dumb bunny stereotype, but the practical
effect is to make the abortion process as punishing as possible for
the woman who has violated the sexual standards of the right wing Christians
who passed this law.  Might as well call it the Bill For The Punishment
Of Fornicators.   

Unfortunate Oklahoma residents
who find themselves need to terminate unintended pregnancies have a
reprieve if this happens to them between now and March, though, as a district court
judge has slapped a restraining order on the state until March.
  A clinic is suing, citing the
impossibility of implementing the law as written.   

This particular version of
the mandatory ultrasound laws has generated even more outrage than these
laws usually do, as quick
Google search will attest.
I suspect because while all the mandatory ultrasound laws are patronizing,
this one is patronizing to the tenth degree.  When you get right
down to it, laws like these are passed mainly by groups of men who have
extremely low opinions of women, who literally think that the only reason
women get abortions is that they don’t know what being pregnant really
means.  The irritation I personally feel when anti-choicers engage
in tactics that imply that women are stupid and ignorant reminds me
strongly of my reaction to someone shoving a Bible at me and asking
me if I’ve heard the Good News. Do they expect me to say, "Gosh
who is this Jesus Christ you speak of?  I haven’t heard of him
until just now."  There’s this underlying belief that you don’t
see things their way because you’re impossibly ignorant.    

Which means that the good news
about the outrage over the Oklahoma ultrasound law presents an opportunity
to highlight the differences between the pro- and anti-choice sides
of the debate. What little appeal the laws have resides in the surface
appearance of using scientific information to better inform decision-making. William Saletan
was deceived by that illusion,

as well as the illusion that only the law would make ultrasounds happen,
when medical necessity and women’s choices have already brought the
ultrasound into abortion provision.  In reality, as the Oklahoma
law illustrates, ultrasound laws are based not in science, but in a
fantasy world where women are stupid, doctors are deceptive, and misogynist
lawmakers are the saviors of women.

Related Posts

Analysis Human Rights

El Salvador Bill Would Put Those Found Guilty of Abortion Behind Bars for 30 to 50 Years

Kathy Bougher

Under El Salvador’s current law, when women are accused of abortion, prosecutors can—but do not always—increase the charges to aggravated homicide, thereby increasing their prison sentence. This new bill, advocates say, would heighten the likelihood that those charged with abortion will spend decades behind bars.

Abortion has been illegal under all circumstances in El Salvador since 1997, with a penalty of two to eight years in prison. Now, the right-wing ARENA Party has introduced a bill that would increase that penalty to a prison sentence of 30 to 50 years—the same as aggravated homicide.

The bill also lengthens the prison time for physicians who perform abortions to 30 to 50 years and establishes jail terms—of one to three years and six months to two years, respectively—for persons who sell or publicize abortion-causing substances.

The bill’s major sponsor, Rep. Ricardo Andrés Velásquez Parker, explained in a television interview on July 11 that this was simply an administrative matter and “shouldn’t need any further discussion.”

Since the Salvadoran Constitution recognizes “the human being from the moment of conception,” he said, it “is necessary to align the Criminal Code with this principle, and substitute the current penalty for abortion, which is two to eight years in prison, with that of aggravated homicide.”

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The bill has yet to be discussed in the Salvadoran legislature; if it were to pass, it would still have to go to the president for his signature. It could also be referred to committee, and potentially left to die.

Under El Salvador’s current law, when women are accused of abortion, prosecutors can—but do not always—increase the charges to aggravated homicide, thereby increasing their prison sentence. This new bill, advocates say, would worsen the criminalization of women, continue to take away options, and heighten the likelihood that those charged with abortion will spend decades behind bars.

In recent years, local feminist groups have drawn attention to “Las 17 and More,” a group of Salvadoran women who have been incarcerated with prison terms of up to 40 years after obstetrical emergencies. In 2014, the Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto (Citizen Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion) submitted requests for pardons for 17 of the women. Each case wound its way through the legislature and other branches of government; in the end, only one woman received a pardon. Earlier this year, however, a May 2016 court decision overturned the conviction of another one of the women, Maria Teresa Rivera, vacating her 40-year sentence.

Velásquez Parker noted in his July 11 interview that he had not reviewed any of those cases. To do so was not “within his purview” and those cases have been “subjective and philosophical,” he claimed. “I am dealing with Salvadoran constitutional law.”

During a protest outside of the legislature last Thursday, Morena Herrera, president of the Agrupación, addressed Velásquez Parker directly, saying that his bill demonstrated an ignorance of the realities faced by women and girls in El Salvador and demanding its revocation.

“How is it possible that you do not know that last week the United Nations presented a report that shows that in our country a girl or an adolescent gives birth every 20 minutes? You should be obligated to know this. You get paid to know about this,” Herrera told him. Herrera was referring to the United Nations Population Fund and the Salvadoran Ministry of Health’s report, “Map of Pregnancies Among Girls and Adolescents in El Salvador 2015,” which also revealed that 30 percent of all births in the country were by girls ages 10 to 19.

“You say that you know nothing about women unjustly incarcerated, yet we presented to this legislature a group of requests for pardons. With what you earn, you as legislators were obligated to read and know about those,” Herrera continued, speaking about Las 17. “We are not going to discuss this proposal that you have. It is undiscussable. We demand that the ARENA party withdraw this proposed legislation.”

As part of its campaign of resistance to the proposed law, the Agrupación produced and distributed numerous videos with messages such as “They Don’t Represent Me,” which shows the names and faces of the 21 legislators who signed on to the ARENA proposal. Another video, subtitled in English, asks, “30 to 50 Years in Prison?

International groups have also joined in resisting the bill. In a pronouncement shared with legislators, the Agrupación, and the public, the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Women (CLADEM) reminded the Salvadoran government of it international commitments and obligations:

[The] United Nations has recognized on repeated occasions that the total criminalization of abortion is a form of torture, that abortion is a human right when carried out with certain assumptions, and it also recommends completely decriminalizing abortion in our region.

The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights reiterated to the Salvadoran government its concern about the persistence of the total prohibition on abortion … [and] expressly requested that it revise its legislation.

The Committee established in March 2016 that the criminalization of abortion and any obstacles to access to abortion are discriminatory and constitute violations of women’s right to health. Given that El Salvador has ratified [the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights], the country has an obligation to comply with its provisions.

Amnesty International, meanwhile, described the proposal as “scandalous.” Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Americas director, emphasized in a statement on the organization’s website, “Parliamentarians in El Salvador are playing a very dangerous game with the lives of millions of women. Banning life-saving abortions in all circumstances is atrocious but seeking to raise jail terms for women who seek an abortion or those who provide support is simply despicable.”

“Instead of continuing to criminalize women, authorities in El Salvador must repeal the outdated anti-abortion law once and for all,” Guevara-Rosas continued.

In the United States, Rep. Norma J. Torres (D-CA) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) issued a press release on July 19 condemning the proposal in El Salvador. Rep. Torres wrote, “It is terrifying to consider that, if this law passed, a Salvadoran woman who has a miscarriage could go to prison for decades or a woman who is raped and decides to undergo an abortion could be jailed for longer than the man who raped her.”

ARENA’s bill follows a campaign from May orchestrated by the right-wing Fundación Sí a la Vida (Right to Life Foundation) of El Salvador, “El Derecho a la Vida No Se Debate,” or “The Right to Life Is Not Up for Debate,” featuring misleading photos of fetuses and promoting adoption as an alternative to abortion.

The Agrupacion countered with a series of ads and vignettes that have also been applied to the fight against the bill, “The Health and Life of Women Are Well Worth a Debate.”

bien vale un debate-la salud de las mujeres

Mariana Moisa, media coordinator for the Agrupación, told Rewire that the widespread reaction to Velásquez Parker’s proposal indicates some shift in public perception around reproductive rights in the country.

“The public image around abortion is changing. These kinds of ideas and proposals don’t go through the system as easily as they once did. It used to be that a person in power made a couple of phone calls and poof—it was taken care of. Now, people see that Velásquez Parker’s insistence that his proposal doesn’t need any debate is undemocratic. People know that women are in prison because of these laws, and the public is asking more questions,” Moisa said.

At this point, it’s not certain whether ARENA, in coalition with other parties, has the votes to pass the bill, but it is clearly within the realm of possibility. As Sara Garcia, coordinator of the Agrupación, told Rewire, “We know this misogynist proposal has generated serious anger and indignation, and we are working with other groups to pressure the legislature. More and more groups are participating with declarations, images, and videos and a clear call to withdraw the proposal. Stopping this proposed law is what is most important at this point. Then we also have to expose what happens in El Salvador with the criminalization of women.”

Even though there has been extensive exposure of what activists see as the grave problems with such a law, Garcia said, “The risk is still very real that it could pass.”

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: Republicans Can’t Help But Play Politics With the Judiciary

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Republicans have a good grip on the courts and are fighting hard to keep it that way.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.

Linda Greenhouse has another don’t-miss column in the New York Times on how the GOP outsourced the judicial nomination process to the National Rifle Association.

Meanwhile, Dahlia Lithwick has this smart piece on how we know the U.S. Supreme Court is the biggest election issue this year: The Republicans refuse to talk about it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging doctors to fill in the blanks left by “abstinence-centric” sex education and talk to their young patients about issues including sexual consent and gender identity.

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Good news from Alaska, where the state’s supreme court struck down its parental notification law.

Bad news from Virginia, though, where the supreme court struck down Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 felons.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) will leave behind one of the most politicized state supreme courts in modern history.

Turns out all those health gadgets and apps leave their users vulnerable to inadvertently disclosing private health data.

Julie Rovner breaks down the strategies anti-choice advocates are considering after their Supreme Court loss in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.   

Finally, Becca Andrews at Mother Jones writes that Texas intends to keep passing abortion restrictions based on junk science, despite its loss in Whole Woman’s Health.