New Oklahoma Law: Women Seeking Abortions Must Have Ultrasounds Against Their Will

Anti-choicers in Oklahoma have pushed through a bill that requires doctors to perform invasive ultrasounds, even if the patients say no.
The Oklahoma State Legislature is playing doctor again. Last year they dictated how specialists at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center may care for pregnant women who have medical complications. This week, despite intense lobbying efforts and the Governor’s veto, the legislature passed Senate Bill 1878, which mandates invasive and unnecessary medical testing for women.

Under the guise of obtaining informed patient consent, this new law requires doctors to withhold pregnancy termination until an ultrasound is performed. The law states that either an abdominal or vaginal ultrasound, whichever gives the best image of the fetus, must be done. Neither the patient nor the doctor can decide which type of ultrasound to use, and the patient cannot opt out of the ultrasound and still have the procedure. In effect, then, the legislature has mandated that a woman have an instrument placed in her vagina for no medical benefit. The law makes no exception for victims of rape and incest.

By existing law, women already must be told where to find information about fetal development and referred to locations for a free ultrasound before a termination can be scheduled.

Physicians learn to protect the doctor-patient relationship throughout medical training. We learn that this interaction is for the patient’s benefit, that the patient sets the agenda for the encounter, and the patient is entitled to refuse any treatment or testing. We are not there to impose judgment or our own beliefs on the patient. These protections are vital to maintaining the therapeutic nature of the relationship.

This new law inserts the government directly into the doctor-patient interaction and promotes the legislators’ personal values rather than the best interest of the patient. This sets a dangerous precedent that could be extended into other aspects of patient care, especially other controversial areas of medicine.

In a further reversal of standard medical practice, this bill defines failure to perform this unnecessary medical procedure as "unprofessional conduct" and suggests that the state medical board may remove the physician’s license. Failure to perform the ultrasound also leads to fines beginning at $10,000 and increasing to more than $100,000. By comparison, the highest fine for negligent homicide or driving under the influence in Oklahoma is $1,000.

This "Big Brother" assault by minority special interests on the doctor-patient relationship should repel all Americans. We must hold our legislators accountable for this very literal government intrusion into women’s bodies. Advocates for women’s health need to watch for similar legislation in their own states.

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Dana Stone, M.D., FACOG