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Alabama Picks Up Where Virginia Left Off With Ultrasound Law

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Senate Republican leader State Sen. Thomas Norment, R-James City, left, puts his head in his hand as he listens to debate on a bill requiring an ultrasound before an abortion on the floor of the Senate at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., on Tuesday. Alabama is now pursuing a law to force women to view the ultrasound image.

CREDIT: AP Photo / Steve Helber

The Alabama state Senate is picking up the same invasive ultrasound measure that Virginia just dropped.

A state Senate committee passed a measure last week that would require a woman to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound and then be forced to view the images as well as have the doctor describe them to her. In this kind of ultrasound, “a probe is inserted into the vagina, and then moved around until an ultrasound image is produced,” as opposed to a more common transabdominal ultrasound.

Alabama already requires women to undergo an ultrasound prior to an abortion procedure, but they can decline to view the ultrasound image. Gov. Robert Bentley (R) said on Sunday he just learned of the bill and wasn’t ready to make a comment on his level of support.

“You can’t tell me forcing a probe into a woman’s vagina against her consent is anything but rape,” said state Sen. Linda Coleman, an Alabama Democrat who was the sole vote against the measure on the committee. “You can put icing on it, dress it up, but this is the forced penetration of a woman's vagina without her consent. This is the most important thing we are dealing with in Alabama, regulating a woman's vagina? As a woman I am outraged.”

After a strong push back by pro-choice advocates, Virginia began to water down their controversial transvaginal ultrasound law. However, it was only a change from a transvaginal ultrasound to a transabdominal procedure.

Lawmakers pushed for an unprecedented number of bills dealing with abortion rights, mostly seeking to restrict access to abortion procedures. Nationwide, at least 916 measures dealing with reproduction were introduced in the first four months of 2011 alone.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 20 states have some form of an ultrasound law on the books. Seven of them mandate that ultrasound laws be performed prior to an abortion. The Center for Reproductive Rights is currently challenging laws in Texas and North Dakota that force a doctor to show a woman the ultrasound image and play her the sound of the heartbeat. There are cases where it is necessary for the doctor to find out what stage the pregnancy has reached, but the laws are usually enacted to try to deter the woman from obtaining an abortion.

Alabama state Sen. Clay Scofield, a GOP sponsor of the ultrasound bill in his state, said he hoped an ultrasound would stop abortions.

“She will see the shape of the infant,” Scofield said. “And hopefully, she will choose to keep the child.”

Conservatives have insisted these ultrasound policies deter women from going through with an abortion, but researchers insist that’s a big stretch.

Tracy Weitz, assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences at the University of California–San Francisco, has been conducting research on this issue. So far, The American Independent reports, viewing a sonogram is not an indication that a woman will cancel her scheduled procedure, regardless of what emotional response the sonogram elicits.

The U.S. Supreme Court found in Casey vPlanned Parenthood that a state cannot establish a law that would create an “undue burden” on a woman seeking a legal abortion. However, they did say certain requirements—such as parental or spousal notification, waiting periods, and informed consent—were fine.

Casey also set the precedent that states could ban abortion once the fetus reached a level considered viable outside the womb—around 22 to 24 weeks. States began pushing against that, potentially challenging the Court’s opinion with proposed bans after 20 or even 18 weeks.

Many of the recent laws pursued at the state level have been modeled off of draft legislation by Americans United for Life, a group that heavily lobbies state and federal lawmakers to restrict abortion access.

“The goal posts keep moving,” Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager for the Guttmacher Institute, told The Huffington Post in January. “We're going to see more early abortion bans, more clinic regulations, more restrictions around medication abortions in 2012. What's unclear at this point is whether all the introductions are going to become law, or whether this will run its course when the people have had enough.”

Tyler Kingkade is a staff writer with Campus Progress. Keep up with him on Twitter @tylerkingkade.

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