Published March 9, 2022
This afternoon, Senator Roger Marshall (R., Kan.) will unveil a piece of legislation requiring abortionists to perform an ultrasound for pregnant women before performing an abortion. Marshall is one of four U.S. senators who are medical doctors.
His bill, the text of which was obtained exclusively by National Review, is known as the “Ultrasound Informed Consent Act” and is based on the idea that a woman cannot give informed consent to an abortion unless she has the opportunity to view a fetal ultrasound and have it explained to her.
“Prior to a woman giving informed consent to having any part of an abortion performed, the abortion provider who is to perform the abortion, or an agent under the supervision of the provider, shall perform an obstetric ultrasound on the pregnant woman,” the bill provides. It also requires the abortion provider to offer an explanation of what’s visible on the ultrasound, display the images so that the woman may view them, and make it possible for her to hear the unborn child’s heartbeat.
The bill provides that women may decline to view the ultrasound image. “Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent a pregnant woman from turning her eyes away from the ultrasound images required to be displayed and described to her,” the text says. “Neither the abortion provider nor the pregnant woman shall be subject to any penalty under this title if the pregnant woman declines to look at the displayed ultrasound images.” The bill’s provisions don’t apply to abortions performed in instances of a medical emergency.
Marshall’s legislation is certain to face opposition from abortion providers and their Democratic allies in the Senate who regularly insist that even the opportunity to view an ultrasound places an undue burden on women seeking an abortion. In 2017, for instance, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders faced intense criticism from progressives for endorsing a Democratic mayoral candidate who had backed a law requiring that women be given the option to view an ultrasound before an abortion.
Abortion providers and abortion-advocacy groups regularly sue states that attempt to enact laws similar to the one Marshall proposes, even when those laws merely require that a provider offer women the chance to undergo an ultrasound.
While abortion supporters pretend that these laws are an obstacle to abortion, the reality is that many women are denied the chance to see their unborn child, or they don’t know that the possibility even exists. Catherine Glenn Foster, president of Americans United for Life, shares this anecdote from her abortion experience when she was in college: “I was still making up my mind, and I asked to view the ultrasound [the abortion clinic] performed to see how far along I was. The technician refused. It was against their policy. Nothing about that day restored my choice, my autonomy or my sense of empowerment. They were just stripped from me over and over. I aborted my first child that day. And that decision has been with me every day since.”
From the perspective of an abortion provider, that policy is easy to understand. Ultrasound has been arguably the single most important development for the pro-life movement since 1973, enabling everyone to glimpse the slow unfolding of human life in the womb. When the Supreme Court invented a constitutional right to abortion in Roe v. Wade, ultrasound technology was barely getting off the ground. Today, pregnant mothers are able to see 4-D images of their unborn child and take home a clear picture of their child to hang on the fridge. One of the amicus briefs in this term’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization at the Supreme Court, filed by three medical doctors, obtained special permission to include ultrasound images, making the case that the Court’s abortion jurisprudence is based on deeply flawed medical science.
Abortion providers are reluctant to let women see an ultrasound because that imagery is powerful and reveals the truth about what happens in an abortion. For some women, that reality is enough to change their mind. It certainly doesn’t influence the decision of every abortion-minded woman, but pregnant mothers deserve the chance to see it anyway. The way abortion supporters denigrate ultrasound shows how little they actually value “choice.” Instead, they seek to prevent women from seeing their own children, for fear that a glimpse of that humanity will save a child’s life.
Alexandra DeSanctis is a staff writer for National Review and a visiting fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.