Groups debate ultrasound bill at Capitol hearing

Jun. 5, 2013

MADISON – A bill that would require physicians to provide or arrange an ultrasound for women seeking abortions was heatedly debated Wednesday in packed Assembly and Senate hearing rooms. Critics warned the mandate would interfere in physicians’ relationships with patients, while supporters said ultrasounds help women make informed decisions.

Ultrasound imaging allows women to view a fetus or hear the heartbeat. Under current state law, physicians must inform women that the procedure is available and tell them how they can get one before an abortion if they wish.

The legislation sponsored by Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, would require physicians to perform or arrange for an ultrasound, except in a medical emergency or cases where the pregnancy is caused by sexual assault or incest. Physicians would have to show the ultrasound image to the woman and provide a thorough description of the fetus’ features.

Lazich said ultrasounds are a common medical procedure and women should be given full information about their pregnancy.

Carol Powell, of Pleasant Prairie, told the Senate Health and Human Services Committee that she deeply regretted an abortion she had in 1976 and that the provider in Milwaukee failed to give her an ultrasound or any information about her fetus.

“It’s a life-changing atrocity,” Powell said of her procedure. “If I was given an ultrasound, I would’ve seen the fact that I was the mother of a moving baby.”

Several states have adopted ultrasound requirements as part of their abortion service laws since the mid-1990s, according to the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. Twelve states require women to receive counseling or written information about ultrasounds. Twenty-one other states have ultrasound requirements for abortion providers, although the details vary.

Nicole Safar, public policy director for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, said abortion is already limited in Wisconsin, and forcing ultrasounds would only make it harder.

“Politicians shouldn’t make health care decisions for women,” Safar said.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said the bill is contradictory because it would require physicians to show the ultrasound image, while also allowing women to choose not to look at the picture.

Tosha Wetterneck, an internal medicine physician, said doctors know what’s best for their patients and the mandate would hurt that relationship, given that abortion is already a controversial procedure.

But Julaine Appling, president of anti-abortion group Wisconsin Family Action, said the physician-patient relationship matters little at a time when the mother is highly stressed.

The other provision in Lazich’s bill would require physicians to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the facility where they perform abortions. A companion bill, sponsored by Rep. Pat Strachota, R-West Bend, also was debated in the Assembly Health Committee.

The discussions came after recent debates over other Republican-backed bills that would keep certain religious organizations and employers from having to provide health insurance coverage for contraceptives, prohibit the use of public money to pay for abortion coverage in public employees’ health insurance plans, and ban abortion for gender selection.

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