South Carolina Considers Pre-Abortion Ultrasounds

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South Carolina is considering a controversial abortion bill. If passed, the state would become the first to require women to view an ultrasound image before getting an abortion.


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

South Carolina is considering a bill to make pregnant women see an ultrasound of the fetus before getting an abortion. Several states give women the option. But the measure some lawmakers consider today could become the first law to require it.

NPR's Kathy Lohr reports.

KATHY LOHR: In South Carolina, the bill would require that doctors do an ultrasound as part of an abortion procedure. The image must be reviewed with the woman referred to as the mother in the legislation. She then must certify in writing that she saw the ultrasound, and was offered materials describing fetal development and abortion alternative one hour prior to receiving an abortion.

Ms. HOLLY GATLING (Executive Director, South Carolina Citizens for Life): The purpose of the bill is to provide a woman contemplating abortion a window into her womb. It gives her an opportunity to view what is inside of her.

LOHR: Holly Gatling with South Carolina's Citizens for Life says it's about providing accurate information. But pro-choice groups say the measure goes too far. Lindsay Siler is with Planned Parenthood Health System, which has clinics in North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia.

Ms. LINDSAY SILER (Spokeswoman, Planned Parenthood Health System): We feel that there is certainly a very big difference between giving the woman the option to view an ultrasound image and forcing a woman to view an ultrasound image. South Carolina is the first state to consider such an extreme measure.

LOHR: The bill has raised constitutional questions. Even the state's attorney general, Henry McMaster, has weighed in on the issue. In a letter to legislators, he said it would be illegal and improper for the state to force a person seeking an abortion to view an ultrasound image against her will.

The word review is used in the law. And according to McMaster, it would be constitutional as long as there's no provision to force the patient to see the ultrasound. Lori Kehoe with the National Right to Life Committee says the law has been misunderstood.

Ms. LORI KEHOE (National Right to Life Committee): This law simply says a team must review it with her, if she refuses to have it reviewed, certainly, we accept that. But we don't believe there's anything in that law that forces a woman to listen or view it.

Ms. KATHERINE GRAINGER (Legislative Counsel, Center for Reproductive Rights): The way that this bill is written is a mandate that requires a woman to view the ultrasound image before she can have an abortion.

LOHR: Katherine Grainger with the Center for Reproductive Rights says a similar bill has now been introduced in Missouri. She says the laws are a cruel tactic to try to prevent women from having abortion.

Ms. GRAINGER: It's up to a physician and the woman to make decisions about her pregnancy and about her abortion. Even the mandatory ultrasound, even if a woman isn't required to view it, it's requiring that a physician do an ultrasound in all circumstances when a physician might not think it's medically necessary.

LOHR: Another unresolved issue: the cost of the ultrasounds and who will pay for them. Pro-choice advocates say women and clinics would have to bear the extra burden. But pro-life groups are compiling lists of crisis pregnancy centers where ultrasounds are free. However, these centers do not offer abortions, instead they strongly counsel against them.

Kathy Lohr, NPR News.

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