By Frank Wessling
A new law in Oklahoma would require a woman seeking abortion to sit in front of a monitor showing an ultrasound image of her unborn baby while a physician gives a detailed description of what is pictured, pointing out the presence of limbs, noting heartbeat and explaining the development of internal organs.
The woman must sign a form saying that she was shown the image. Doctors face fines of as much as $100,000 if they don’t do this.
Some of the women who came to a Tulsa clinic for abortions the first day the law was in effect last week had tears in their eyes when they left, according to clinic staff. But none changed their minds.
The Oklahoma law is close to being as coercive as possible. It says the woman being treated must be placed in direct line of sight with the ultrasound image while the description is given. It stops short of mandating that her eyes be open and uncovered.
Tony Lauinger, chairman of Oklahomans for Life, said all of this is to ensure that women have “full and complete information” before an abortion.
It also adds to the psychic burden of a woman with a problem pregnancy. The laudable intent is to raise consciousness about a life and death matter, but Oklahoma lawmakers reached a limit that forces a question of equity: why is the law going this far to coerce consciousness only on the woman while her partner in the pregnancy is completely ignored?
The answer, of course, is that we don’t use the law to force shotgun marriages or shotgun births. Men are left out of the abortion equation because there is no reasonably sure way to match this man with this pregnancy and thus haul him in to watch that ultrasound picture. Women can’t avoid this consequence of sexual intercourse; men can.
That disparity should not be forgotten while we try to change a culture so permissive about abortion. It should make us very careful and sensitive to the unequal burden placed on women. Laws that treat women alone as if they are childish subjects forced through indoctrination might be an anti-abortion strategy, but they aren’t necessarily pro-life.
The dignity of women is important. Oklahoma lawmakers went too far in their anti-abortion zeal and forgot that.