Centre Daily Times, April 6, 2012 by Jessica VanderKolk
A state House bill requiring an ultrasound for women seeking an abortion was pulled from the voting calendar, but that hasn’t stopped the outcry against the issue and continued debate.
The bill, introduced by Republican Rep. Kathy Rapp, was co-sponsored by Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte. Called the “Women’s Right-to-Know Act,” it would require a woman to undergo an ultrasound at least 24 hours before an abortion. The language of the bill does not specify whether a transvaginal or external abdominal ultrasound should be used but stated the test would be used to determine the gestational age of the fetus.
The bill also states that a woman may view the ultrasound while it is performed and that the professional conducting the test will inform the woman whether a heartbeat was detected and that the woman may observe it.
After opposition from doctors, House Majority Leader Rep. Mike Turzai tabled the bill indefinitely in mid-March, while leaders work through physician concerns.
A letter from the Pennsylvania Medical Society assisted in that delay, stating the bill “would significantly jeopardize the open dialogue within the physician-patient relationship,” said society President Marilyn J. Heine.
Dr. Peg Spear, who works for Penn State’s University Health Services, shared that sentiment.
“It is unprecedented for lawmakers to regulate in this way what goes on within the private and confidential context of the physician-patient relationship,” she said. “The bill is called the ‘Women’s Right-to- Know Act.’ This is a misnomer. Women already have the right, in the privacy of a visit with their health care provider, to discuss any aspect of an unplanned pregnancy. They can request an ultrasound.
“What the proposed law does is force all women to have a test which may be invasive and traumatic. Further, it does not provide any rights to women, but rather interferes with their right to decide what to do when faced with an unplanned pregnancy, a right which women in this country do still have.”
Benninghoff said he feels the bill would address “horrific situations” in some abortion clinics, like in Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s Philadelphia office. Gosnell was arrested last year and charged with the deaths of seven babies and one woman.
“It addresses some of the less-than-stellar organizations that are addressing these services,” he said. “I always thought the majority of people want to have as much information available as possible, as technology increases.”
Benninghoff said an external ultrasound would be “generally the routine” in such situations. He noted his daughter is an ultrasound technician.
“I’m the last one wanting to run around, mandating things from the government,” he said. “Ultrasounds are not an invasive procedure,” but they can provide a lot of information.
However, Spear noted that, because the ultrasound would be used to determine fetal age, early pregnancies would require a transvaginal procedure.
“I think being vague about that doesn’t mean it’s not problematic,” she said.
Michael Berkman, a Penn State political science professor, sees the ultrasound bills cropping up across the country as a continuation of the battle over abortion rights. It started with determining who can perform the procedure and enforcing waiting periods.
“Now, increasingly, they seem to be moving to shaming people and making it more miserable to get an abortion,” he said. “It’s all intended to make it more difficult; ever more unpleasant, ever more stigmatized.”
“They” are the majority Republican legislatures elected in 2010, which have conservative views on abortion. As the debate has ignited across the country through similar legislation, Berkman said he has seen Republicans pull back, realizing the bills aren’t a good idea.
“Saying you’re going to talk with doctors is a way of saying you’re not going to do it,” he said.
As has happened in other states, state Sen. Larry Farnese responded to the House bill with planned legislation of his own, requiring various tests and other mandates before men may receive medication for erectile dysfunction.
Farnese, D-Philadelphia, denounced the ultrasound bill in a statement, calling the potential transvaginal ultrasound “unnecessary” and “humiliating” for women.
“No woman should be forced to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound if they don’t want or need the test,” Farnese said in the statement.
Farnese’s bill would require that male patients receive a full prostate exam and cardiac stress test, submit a signed affidavit from a sexual partner stating the patient suffers from ED, participate in sex therapy to see if there are non-physical causes for ED, and watch a video about the side effects of the medication.
Berkman said he sees these counter bills as a way to frame the issue of people’s sexual privacy.
“And that’s as effective a way as anything else,” he said. “It does help reframe the kind of gender issue of the conflict, which I think Democrats rightly see as a more winning way to frame it than about abortion choice.”
Catherine Jampel, of State College, who signed an online petition opposing the state House bill, said she appreciates that the legislation related to men have pulled people into the conversation, but said the response puts too much emphasis on gender.
“I believe men and women, however self-identified, should stand together in solidarity in support of sensible policies,” she said.
That solidarity showed up in a survey from the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute last month, in which more men opposed the Pennsylvania bill than women.
Voters opposed it 48 to 42 percent, with men opposed 51 to 39 percent and women divided 45 to 45 percent. Voters opposed transvaginal ultrasounds 64 to 23 percent.