Abortion ultrasound requirement challenged

/ Source: The Associated Press

An advocacy group is suing over an Oklahoma law that prohibits a woman from getting an abortion unless she first has an ultrasound and the doctor describes to her what the fetus looks like.

In the lawsuit filed Thursday in Oklahoma County District Court, the Center for Reproductive Rights says that the requirement intrudes on privacy, endangers health and assaults the dignity of women.

The law, set to go into effect Nov. 1, would make Oklahoma the fourth state in the nation to require that ultrasounds be performed before a woman can have an abortion and that the ultrasounds be made available to the patient for viewing, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based health research organization.

The other states are Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.

The U.S. Supreme Court widely legalized abortion in the 1973 Roe v. Wade case, but the practice has remained controversial and some states have sought to restrict it.

Backers of the lawsuit say Oklahoma is the only state to require that the ultrasound screen be turned toward the woman during the procedure and that the doctor describe what is on the screen, including various dimensions of the fetus.

Elizabeth Nash, public policy associate with the Guttmacher Institute, said the Oklahoma law appears unique in that its intent is that the woman seeking an abortion view the ultrasound images.

Lawmakers overrode Gov. Brad Henry's veto to pass the anti-abortion legislation in April. Henry, a Democrat, said he vetoed the bill because it didn't exempt victims of rape or incest from the ultrasound requirement.

Republican state Sen. Todd Lamb said supporters of the law hope that it will curtail abortions in the state.

Sponsor: Women don't have to view ultrasound
"I introduced the bill because I wanted to encourage life in society. In Oklahoma, society is on the side of life," Lamb said.

Lamb said he believes the lawsuit will stand a constitutional test. He disagreed with arguments that it forces a woman to view the ultrasound. The law says women may avert their eyes during the ultrasound.

"This bill provides more information to a mother," he said.

The lawsuit against the state was filed on behalf of Nova Health Systems doing business as Reproductive Services in Tulsa.

One provision of the law prohibits women from collecting damages based on claims that a baby born with defects would have been better off aborted. Abortion rights activists have said they fear the provision could allow doctors to withhold information about abnormalities in the fetus that could lead to complications after birth.

"Anti-choice activists will stop at nothing to prevent a woman from getting an abortion, but trying to manipulate a woman's decisions about her own life and health goes beyond the pale," said Stephanie Toti, staff attorney in the U.S. Legal Program of the Center for Reproductive Rights and lead attorney on the case.

"Governments should stop playing doctor and leave medical determinations to physicians and health decisions to individuals."