Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Why Women Need the GOP in the Exam Room
In February of this year, the Virgina Senate passed a bill requiring women to undergo an ultrasound before an abortion. This was the first of several measures expected to dramatically alter abortion law in that state. Republicans, who are now in control of both the House and the Senate in Virginia, are considering laws that will ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, require that insurers that cover abortions also offer policies that do not, and give rights to a fertilized egg at the moment of conception.
The ultrasound bill requires that before an abortion, a woman must have an ultrasound to determine the gestational age of the fetus and be "offered" the opportunity to view the images. If she declines, she must sign a statement saying that she refused to view the ultrasound. The statement and the ultrasound images then become part of her permanent medical record. Opponents of the bill say that this violates a woman's autonomy and privacy, while supporters claim it is a "legitimate health issue."
Virgina is not unique in this regard. Since the mid-1990s, several states have moved to require ultrasound as a part of the abortion procedure despite it not being considered medically necessary. Of those, some require that the woman be offered the "opportunity" to view the images. The state of Texas has taken this mandate to preposterous levels. Under Texas law, physicians must perform a sonogram before performing an abortion. The woman then has options to view the sonogram images and to hear the fetal heartbeat. She is required, however, to hear the medical explanation of the sonogram at least 24 hours before the procedure. That's right, required. The Texas legislature knows better than individual women or their physicians what information they need to make a medical decision. Wouldn't you feel better having the lawmakers of Texas in the exam room with you?
Governor Rick Perry called this legislation "a victory for Life." He stated that "this important sonogram legislation ensures that every Texas woman seeking an abortion has all the facts about the life she is carrying, and understands the devastating impact of such a life-ending decision." He can try to dress it up as an informed consent procedure all he wants, but a pig in lipstick is still a pig. This is clearly an attempt to dissuade women from abortion and is insulting and degrading to those women who wish to have a legal medical procedure.
Given the GOP opposition to abortion, one would think that they would support birth control, since using birth control regularly decreases the number of unplanned pregnancies and thus, the number of abortions. Make access to birth control easier and more women will use it. Easy, right? Oh no, not in GOP thinking. They want to make access to birth control more difficult. The Republicans consistently vote to cut Title X funding, which makes family planning funds available to low income families.
Additionally, when President Obama included contraception is his health care mandate, Republicans were quick to characterize as an "attack on religion" his failure to initially exempt Catholic church based organizations. Personally, I think that once Obama opened himself up for compromises concerning contraceptive coverage, he made a mistake. If there is a federal law, ALL employers should be required to follow it. If church based agencies can opt out, what about the private employer who is opposed to birth control? What if an employer is opposed to blood transfusions based on his religion? Should he be allowed to offer insurance that doesn't cover it? Contraception is basic primary care, and it should be treated as such.
One last thought- since the GOP has decided that women are clearly unable to think for themselves, I offer my own informed consent procedure to make sure we don't make any rash decisions. Before deciding to continue a pregnancy, a pregnant woman must receive information from her physician about labor and delivery, including pain, mess, and episiotomies. In addition, she must have the opportunity to view photos of sagging breasts and stretch marks and to hear the incessant wail of a baby with colic. She must be "offered" the opportunity to view photographs. If she refuses, she must sign a statement, which will then become part of her medical file. It is, after all, a legitimate health issue."