Utah's new abortion bill would force women to pay for ultrasounds they don't need

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'This bill increases not only the cost burden, but also adds additional logistical and time burdens,' Planned Parenthood of Utah CEO Karrie Galloway said.

If a freshman GOP state senator has his way, Utah will be placing yet another barrier in the path of people seeking an abortion.

Utah already has a number of burdensome requirements designed to prevent people from obtaining an abortion.

The state mandates that patients receive "counseling" intended to discourage them from getting the abortion and imposes a 72-hour waiting period, for example.

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Now, state Sen. Steve R. Christiansen has introduced a bill that would force medical professionals to perform an ultrasound on any pregnant person seeking an abortion.

The medical professional would be required to describe the images in the ultrasound and force the mother to listen to what the bill authors call a "fetal heartbeat," misleading terminology that has been called out time and again by doctors.

Christiansen's bill would also force people to pay for the ultrasound unless they get one done at one of the state's four crisis pregnancy centers. The Salt Lake Tribune notes that most, if not all, of these centers explicitly oppose abortion.

Currently, the Utah Department of Health provides free ultrasounds to anyone seeking an abortion if they choose to voluntarily have one, but in making them mandatory, the bill would get rid of the free ultrasounds.

Karrie Galloway, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Utah, said, "This bill increases not only the cost burden, but also adds additional logistical and time burdens because it requires every patient to have two visits — one for the ultrasound and a second 72 hours later for the abortion."

When asked to explain his reasoning and whether mandating such a procedure would be a worthwhile use of time for the medical professional, Christiansen provided a written statement saying, "Just as is the case with the bill after which mine is patterned in Kentucky, the mother would have the right to turn her head and ask that the volume be reduced."

Christiansen is correct that this bill is patterned after Kentucky's invasive ultrasound mandatory ultrasound law, but his statement failed to answer the question of whether this is a good use of a medical professional's time.

That might be because it isn't.

Dr. Jennifer Russo wrote in the AMA Journal of Ethics that ultrasounds prior to abortion are "not medically necessary and can add to the cost of the abortion procedure," and "given that 57 percent of patients in a recent large study did not want to view the ultrasound, one might conclude that required viewing interferes with the shared decision making model typical in the patient-physician relationship."

Abortion rights advocates argue that bills such as Utah's forced ultrasound bill aren't about health at all; instead, they say the laws are about making it harder for people to obtain an abortion.

Lauren Simpson of Alliance for a Better Utah pointed out that under Utah law, "a woman already has the option to watch an ultrasound and listen to that cardiac rhythm if she chooses. [...] The sole purpose of this bill is to punish women for making the deeply complicated and personal decision to have an abortion. "

A panel of Utah legislators recently made this very clear by advancing yet another bill that would make it a felony to perform an abortion in the state. A Republican sponsor of the bill, Sen. Dan McCay, says the solution is simply that women who want an abortion would have to travel to other states.

If Utah were to pass this ultrasound law, it would join Kentucky, Louisiana, Texas, and Wisconsin as states that not only require ultrasounds but force the medical professional to describe it.

In the end, it's just another requirement that adds to the time and expense it takes to get an abortion in the state.

There are only a handful of locations that provide abortions in the state, and those facilities are subject to elaborate and unnecessary restrictions, including physical plant regulations and surprise inspections with no regard for patient privacy.

These locations are clustered and 97% of all counties in Utah have no abortion facilities.

Hurdles placed on abortion in the state may push women to seek abortion later in pregnancy, which is more expensive and more difficult generally. If someone isn't able to obtain an abortion in Utah — or any other state with these sorts of restrictions — they must go out of state and spend thousands of dollars, thanks to travel costs, missed work, and the price of the procedure.

Women seeking later abortions end up visiting multiple providers, as many initially turn them away, according to a study published in Perspective on Sexual and Reproductive Health.

The same study shows that costs increases dramatically — later abortions tend to cost $1500 more. Transportation costs can increase five-fold, and navigating insurance coverage is much more difficult.

People seeking abortions who can't cover all the added costs won't be able to obtain the procedure, an effect that's arguably the intention of Utah's latest proposed law.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.