Mandatory Ultrasounds Latest Weapon to Limit Abortions, Warns Professor Sanger

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New York, Oct. 30, 2009 -- There are now 12 states that require a woman to undergo an ultrasound examination and be offered an image of her fetus before obtaining an abortion.
According to Carol Sanger, the Barbara Aronstein Black Professor of Law, it’s another weapon in the arsenal of anti-abortion forces, but one that does nothing to advance the debate over abortion.
“Characterizing the fetus as a child, as most ultrasound statutes do, is a political description, not a scientific one,” Sanger said Friday during a lecture at the West Virginia College of Law.
“It confuses medically informed consent with what I identify as morally informed consent, that realm of personal considerations that are a woman’s alone to determine. Imbued with indelible social meaning, the mandatory ultrasound requirement is less informed consent than veiled coercion.”
Sanger, one of the nation’s leading experts on family law and abortion rights, said while there is no accurate data to determine whether such laws act as a deterrent to abortions, that is their intent.
“The premise is a woman who sees her own fetus is less likely to abort it,” Sanger said. “Couched in the protective terms of informed consent, until you see your baby you really don’t have enough information to make a sound judgment about what you should do with your unwanted pregnancy.”
An ultrasound prior to an abortion is a stark contrast to how they are used for wanted pregnancies when an ultrasound is employed as a “psychological bonding mechanism” and is “regarded as a celebratory event,” Sanger noted.
“Mandatory ultrasound attempts to insure that if a woman post-ultrasound still goes forward and aborts that she will feel as guilty about it as possible,” Sanger said during her lecture titled “Abortion and the Visual Construction of Loss.”
Because of that, she added, “One cannot dismiss the power and attraction of a fetus to many women.”
As Sanger argued in a 2008 UCLA Law Review article on this topic, the statutes in question require a woman to use her body to produce the information intended to dissuade her form having an abortion.
“Looking at an ultrasound is a more complex phenomenon,” Sanger said. “Connection and joy are not universal responses to seeing images of one’s fetus.”
And that is what could ultimately blunt the effects of mandatory-ultrasound laws. As Sanger noted, “In spite of all the reasons ultrasound may persuade women not to abort, one million women still have abortions every year. Sixty percent are mothers who already have children.”
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