“Just Close Your Eyes.” Excuse me???

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s defense of a proposed state law that would require women to undergo an ultrasound before getting an abortion shows just how out of touch some Republican men are.  Actually, maybe “out of touch” isn’t the correct phrase.  After all, the proposed legislation is all about forcing women to be “touched.”

At a news conference last week, Governor Corbett shrugged off the intrusive requirements of the inaptly-named Women’s Right to Know Act (House Bill 1077), saying, “I don’t know how you make anybody watch, OK?  Because you just have to close your eyes.”

Close your eyes?  How would the Governor feel if he was required by law to submit to a physical examination of his penis and an evaluation of his erectile function before a physician could write a prescription for Viagra?  I suppose he could just close his eyes.

The forced ultrasound bill is disturbing for many reasons.  In Pennsylvania, an assault is an unconsented touching.  Requiring a woman to undergo an ultrasound or, even worse, the far more invasive transvaginal ultrasound, against her will, is tantamount to requiring that woman to submit to an assault by her physician and requiring the physician to commit an assault on his/her patient.

No woman should be forced to undergo an unwanted, unnecessary and costly medical procedure merely to obtain lawful and appropriate health care services, including abortion.  And no physician should be forced to submit to a politician’s idea of what information should be communicated to a patient.

Unfortunately, Pennsylvania law already does just that.  In 1997, the Abortion Control Act created a special “informed consent” rule for physicians.  18 Pa.C.S. §3205.  At least 24 hours prior to performing an abortion, a physician must advise the woman of the nature of the procedure, the probable gestational age of the fetus and the medical risks associated with continuing the pregnancy to term.  The law also requires a physician to tell the woman that there are pamphlets available that describe alternatives to abortion; that medical assistance is available for the costs of care during pregnancy; and that the father of the baby is liable to provide assistance as well.

The proposed ultrasound bill goes so much further.

The Pennsylvania Medical Society, to its credit, joins with pro-choice and other women’s and civil liberties groups in opposing the Republican measure.  In a letter to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Dr. Marilyn J. Heine, president of the state medical society, picked up on the importance of the doctor-patient relationship and noted, “If enacted, House Bill 1077 would significantly jeopardize the open dialogue within the physician-patient relationship, which is the very foundation upon which modern medicine is built.”

Governor Corbett’s unfortunate but telling remarks have not quelled a strong and vocal opposition to the forced ultrasound bill.  A recent poll shows a majority of Pennsylvanians oppose the bill and also shows Corbett’s numbers falling.  See Quinnipiac poll.  http://www.quinnipiac.edu/institutes-and-centers/polling-institute/pennsylvania/release-detail?ReleaseID=1719.

There is good reason for opposition to the ultrasound bill and not only because of the forced abortion requirement.  The proposed legislation contains numerous provisions designed not only to discourage abortion but also to intimidate those who provide abortion services and the women who seek that option.  You can see the actual, marked up, 22-page bill here: http://e-lobbyist.com/gaits/text/572757.

In addition to requiring that an ultrasound be performed at least 24 hours before an abortion, the bill also requires:

Ÿ            – The person performing the ultrasound to make a print of the study that must be placed in the patient’s medical file;

Ÿ            – The person performing the ultrasound to position the screen so the patient can view the fetus and to offer the woman the right to hear the fetal heart beat;

Ÿ            – The person performing the ultrasound to prepare a signed statement that includes information about the fetal gestational age and heart rate;

Ÿ            – The physician to inform the patient of the fetal gestational age and heart rate and to offer her an ultrasound video that depicts “an unborn child at the stage in pregnancy when her abortion is performed” and to sign a statement saying that this was done;

Ÿ             — The patient to sign a statement that she was provided information about the fetal age and heart rate;

Ÿ             — The physician to submit a report to the Department of Health that includes information about the abortion, the fetal gestational age and heart rate, whether the woman requested to view the ultrasound image and other details;

A physician who fails to comply with these requirements is subject to criminal penalties as well as disciplinary action, which, most likely, means losing his/her license.

Pennsylvania House Bill 1077 is not about a woman’s right to know.  It is all about imposing a system of requirements that, in effect, criminalizes abortion.   On yesterday’s edition of “Meet the Press,” Senator John McCain warned Republicans to get off the issue of contraception and “respect the right of women to make choices.”  The same applies here.

All this is not to say that Pennsylvania cannot take an interest in reducing the number of abortions.  There are many ways of doing that including more education initiatives on the availability of birth control.

In the meantime, although Governor Corbett may now regret his inartful phrasing, the fact is that we cannot just close our eyes.  The proposed ultrasound bill is an assault on the rights of women and the physicians they turn to regarding this most private and personal matter.