Supreme Court’s newest move on abortion approves torture for pregnant people

Supreme Court’s newest move on abortion approves torture for pregnant people
Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead
Human Rights

On Monday, the Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to Kentucky’s H.B. 2, deceptively titled the “The Kentucky Ultrasound Informed Consent Act,” as if it has anything to do with information or consent. Previously upheld by a panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, this cruel law mandates that Kentucky abortion providers at the commonwealth’s only abortion-providing clinic force their patients to submit to an ultrasound and have their pregnancy described to them in detail while also being played audible cardiac activity. H.B. 2 has nothing to do with protecting patients or improving clinical outcomes—it’s about punishing pregnant people.

Two-thirds of people who have an abortion undergo the procedure before their pregnancy reaches eight weeks, when the pregnancy is usually still too small to appear on an abdominal ultrasound. More often than not, the reality of legally mandating ultrasounds is that the majority of abortion patients are forced, by the government, to submit to having transvaginal probes inserted into their bodies in order to receive the healthcare they need. In any other context, we would call this sexual assault. There is no “informed consent” when a patient is coerced.

Think about this scenario, one that will now be the normal abortion experience in Kentucky. An abortion patient is made to lie nearly naked on the examination table with their legs in stirrups and a probe inserted into their bodies, their care delayed further while an undesired or non-viable pregnancy is still growing inside of their body against their will. They don’t want to be pregnant anymore, and they certainly don’t want to have their pregnancy—whether it’s the result of a birth control failure, an assault, or an intentional conception that’s no longer viable—described to them in vivid detail. But it doesn’t matter. No matter the silent tears or the loud sobs, their physician must continue describing the pregnancy and showing them the ultrasound images, all while playing audio of any fetal cardiac activity. If the patient closes their eyes or covers their ears or asks for the narrative to stop, their physician must either keep going or refuse to provide care.

What part of that “procedure” protects the patient? What part of that “consultation” supplies additional medical information for the practitioner? None of it. It’s punishment, plain and simple. It is a government intrusion on healthcare that is strategically intended to emotionally torment both abortion patients and their providers.

As Sixth Circuit Judge Bernice Bouie Donald opined in her dissent: “It is transparent that furthering informed consent was not the aim of the Commonwealth…The Commonwealth has coopted physicians’ examining tables, their probing instruments, and their voices in order to espouse a political message, without regard to the health of the patient or the judgment of the physician.”

This law and this ruling are indefensible. Kentucky’s anti-abortion legislators are nothing short of hateful for forcing physicians to torture their patients, and the Supreme Court’s conservatives are callous for allowing this injustice to continue.

Hayley Farless is a reproductive justice advocate and writer based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at @hayleyfarless

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