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Sen. Coleman Questions Ultrasound Probe Procedure Before Abortion

By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

The Senate Health Committee passed SB12 out of committee Wednesday but not without stiff objection by Senator Linda Coleman (D-Birmingham).

The first bill on the agenda, if passed, will be named the Right to Know and See Act. It is a follow up to the Right to Know Act passed in 2002. It is sponsored by Senator Clay Scofield (R-Blount, Madison, Marshall).

The bill “require a physician to perform and ultrasound, provide verbal explanation of the ultrasound, and display the images to the pregnant woman before performing an abortion.” This, however, does not apply in medical emergency and an amendment also omitted ectopic pregnancies.

Scofield said that the bill is designed “to let the mother know that this is not just a clump of cells. That this is a living being. Studies have shown that women who are shown these images beforehand, about 95 percent of the time in clinics that do this, the mother chooses to keep the child.”

“We have testimonies from women in Alabama who were told it was a blob of tissue, it was not a baby, it did not have a heartbeat and then afterwards they find out the truth and are emotionally devastated,” said Cheryl Ringuette Ciamarra, Alabama Board Director to NRLC

The bill requires that the physician:

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Provide a simultaneous verbal explanation of that the ultrasound is depicting.
Display the ultrasound images so that the pregnant woman may view them.
Provide a medical description of the ultrasound images, which shall include the dimensions of the embryo or fetus and the presence of eternal members and internal organs, if present and viewable.
Nothing is this section shall be construed to prevent a pregnant woman from averting her eyes for the ultrasound images.

A physician in violation of any of the above procedures will be guilty of a Class C felony. The bill also provides that the physician that does not comply with the act is open to action from the mother, the father and grandparents of an unborn child for actual and punitive damages.

The ultrasound must be performed prior to informed consent for the abortion procedure to continue.

Ciamarra said that there is a form giving up consent to view the image in the paperwork filled out before the procedure begins. She said often when offered the form, the medical staff will say, ‘You don’t want to see this so sign here.’ So, she has already signed her rights away. Then when they do the ultrasound and she asks to see it they say, ‘Well, you will have to talk to the doctor about that.’

She stated, “Once you see the picture, then you have the knowledge and can actually give informed consent. With the screen being tilted so the woman can’t see it then she is not giving fully informed consent.”

“This bill makes sure that the doctor does that standard informed consent with the woman,” said Ciamarra..

According to the bill the procedure would use a “vaginal transducer or an abdominal transducer, whichever would display the embryo or fetus more clearly.”

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This is where Copeland began taking issue with the bill saying, “The problem that I have with this..I have a problem with the legislature getting into medical profession in that sense and us making a determination as to what happens to women’s bodies. There are other ways that we can do this.”

She said, “The FBI described rape as penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or the anus or any other part of the body such as oral penetration, but basically it is rape. I am talking about the probe that this instrument that is used.”

Chairman Greg Reed (R-Jefferson, Tuscaloosa, Walker, Winston) asked Coleman, “Do you understand that the technical capability of a trans-vaginal probe in the use with ultrasound in the term of gynecology or obstetrics? Because of the smallness of the fetus at this point, the requirement to get accurate imagery, that is required, [there is a need] to use a vaginal probe in order to see that. You can’t see the imagery using a transducer on the outside of a woman’s body to see the kind of imagery that we are talking about. Whether related to the sanctity of life topic or not.”

“The point is that the state is legalizing rape on women by passing this legislation,” said Coleman. “I understand what you are trying to do as far as the sanctity of life but then again, I don’t think that we need to go to these types of measures. We are stepping into the shoes of making the decision that should be made between that woman and her physician.”

Chairman Reed said to Coleman, “This is a clinical portion of what would be a required part of a elective procedure, an abortion is an elective procedure.”

Coleman later took issue with Section 6 which discusses the parental rights of the father and grandparents of the unborn fetus. She said, “What about the cases of incest and rape? You want to give a father, let’s say it was a case of rape, you want to give them some rights now? You are going to give a rapist some rights and his parents some rights?

Scofield offered that after they moved the bill out of committee, he would be glad to discuss her concerns and see if adjustments could be made.

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When asked after the meeting about the provision that a woman can avert her eyes during the ultrasound, Coleman replied, “Yes, the woman can turn away. If that’s the case, then what’s the point?”

The bill passed out of committee with only one “nay” vote.

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