And the land we belong to is grand - unless you're pregnant.

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posted by ANaturalAdvocate

Yesterday, the Oklahoma State Legislature overrode vetoes of two controversial bills dealing with abortion.

The first bill (HB 2780) requires women seeking an abortion to view an ultrasound image and listen to the physician describe - in detail - what she is seeing. Specifically, it requires that, at least an hour before the procedure is to be performed, the physician who will perform the abortion (or a technician working with the physician)

  • performs an ultrasound “using either a vaginal transducer or an abdominal transducer, whichever would display the embryo or fetus more clearly;”
  • explains simultaneously what the ultrasound is showing, including “the dimensions of the embryo or fetus, the presence of cardiac activity, if present and viewable, and the presence of external members and internal organs, if present and viewable;” and 
  • display the images in such a way that the woman may view the images (although - thankfully - nothing in the bill “shall be construed to prevent a pregnant woman from averting her eyes from the ultrasound images required to be provided and reviewed with her”).

Failure to comply with this bill is a felony, by the way. 

The second bill (HB 2656) states that

“In a wrongful life action or a wrongful birth action, no damages may be recovered for any condition that existed at the time of a child’s birth if the claim is that the defendant’s act or omission contributed to the mother’s not having obtained an abortion.”

What this means is that an omission on the part of the doctor with regards to a potential birth defect or other condition cannot be held against him in a wrongful birth suit if he did not tell the woman about the defect in an attempt to prevent her from obtaining an abortion. Mind you, the bill is awful nice in stating that suits stating that an act or omission of the physician caused the defect (or could have prevented or lessened it) are perfectly fine. However, in Oklahoma a physician can now hide the fact that the fetus has a potential defect - or even lie about it - with no consequences if that prevented her from obtaining an abortion.

These bills have also been given “emergency” status, meaning that they are “immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety” and therefore will be in immediate full force. 

There has been, as you might imagine, some uproar about these actions, although not necessarily as much as you might imagine. The Center for Reproductive Rights and a physician and reproductive services provider have both filed lawsuits regarding the first bill requiring ultrasounds on the basis that the requirement interferes with the privacy rights of women and subjects them to unwanted speech, in addition to a couple of legal technicalities (such as void-for-vagueness and “impermissible special law”). 

Frankly, though, I’m more concerned about the impact of the second law on the rights of pregnant and laboring women and, perhaps, the rights of women in general. HB 2656 is a clear acceptance of a physician’s right to keep information from a woman that would directly impact her healthcare decisions. Once a woman’s right to healthcare information from her provider is chipped away at, who knows where the chipping might end.

My only consolation here is that I cannot imagine that these laws - in clear violation of medical ethics and good practice - will stand for very long. However, their impact in the meantime, and the fact that there was enough support for the Legislature to overturn the governor’s veto in such quick measure, is a little disturbing to contemplate.


More reading:

NYT: Strict Abortion Measures Enacted in Oklahoma

Oklahoma Passes Strictest Abortion Law, Protects Doctors Who Lie To Women

Center for Reproductive Rights Files Lawsuit against Oklahoma’s Ultrasound Requirement