Gynecologists know perfectly well when an abdominal ultrasound is not enough and a vaginal ultrasound is necessary. With the new regulations in Ohio, however, that control goes to the politicians, explains Mary, a nurse at the Akron Women’s Medical Group. She asked to keep her surname private in fear of the protestors who attempt to gather contact information of the staff in order to harass them. She is upset that the government is now requiring hospitals to perform vaginal ultrasounds on all women who want to terminate their pregnancies, whether they need one or not. Vaginal ultrasounds are an intrusive and emotional procedure for the patient, involving a hand-held probe penetrating the vagina.
“Having no control over such a procedure is almost like…” said Mary, waiting for somebody else to finish her sentence with the word ‘rape’.
“Women come here at their most vulnerable,” she said.
Mandatory vaginal ultrasounds are one of the new additions to the controversial “24-hour law” first introduced in 2006. Although abortion is legal in the state of Ohio, the government keeps adding new laws, making it harder for women to terminate their pregnancies. During a 24-hour period, the patient is presented all her options and – according to some – pressured into keeping the baby.
“Women come in here knowing less than they did 15 years ago,” said Mary whose clinic preforms up to 45 abortions during their busiest weeks. The state now requires that hospitals perform vaginal ultrasounds as part of the routine examination that an abortion-seeking woman must undergo. Through this procedure, a nurse is required to take a picture of the fetus and show it to the woman. The patient is also forced to see her fetus’ heart-beat, provided it is detectible at that stage.
Kathleen Clyde, member of the Ohio House of Representatives opposes these new restrictions. “The legislature should not be asserting itself into the doctor’s office…,” she said. “Forcing women to undergo a medically unnecessary ultrasound is outrageous.”
Clyde fears that if the situation deteriorates, low-income women could see some “very scary things.” Before abortion was first legalized in 1973, women risked many health dangers when they had illegal abortions. Both sides agree that the design of the law succeeds in revealing whether the women is being coerced into having an abortion against her will – but the effectiveness and purpose of the law adds even more debate to an already controversial topic.
Part of the problem is the sensitive terminology of what it means to be “pro-choice” and “pro-life.” In general, those who oppose abortion and support the new provisions call themselves pro-life. Those who instead fight for a woman’s right to decide whether an abortion is the right choice for her are pro-choice. This, however, is often misleading. The way some see it, some people on the pro-choice side push for abortion more than they do for all the other choices that women have.
“To me this is pro-abortion and not pro-choice, because one choice is considered less than the other,” said Kelly Shinners, a nurse at Bulter Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island. “Abortion is just one of those choices.”
Shinners’ goal is to make women of all backgrounds, financial situations and education levels understand all their choices. She doesn’t want them to believe abortion is their only choice because that is not what being pro-choice means.
Jaime Miracle, the policy director at NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, refers to the other side as ‘anti-choicers.’ Miracle thinks the 24-hour law is ineffective and believes that once a woman is already in the clinic, her mind is made up.
“This is another example of the anti-choice [movement:] not understanding these women’s decision-making process,” said Miracle. According to her, the values of ‘pro-choice’ mean more than just the abortion issue of pregnancy. From her point of view, it’s about having quality medical care (including contraception) and about having one’s family the way they want it to look.
Extremists exist on both sides of the debate. The most passionate ones take their views to the sidewalks outside abortion clinics. The protesters aren’t usually hostile, although security guards are preventatively summoned as a safety measure and to comfort the women. By law, people have the right to protest peacefully on the sidewalk. Recently, on Jan. 29th, two peaceful protesters stood with their signs, sniveling while bundled up against the sub-zero temperature. They were fighting for their opinion to be heard in front of the Akron Women’s Medical Clinic, and simply handed out pamphlets with information about different kinds of abortion and contraception which outlined all of options available to women. The pamphlet cites several post-abortion symptoms, including ‘using drugs or alcohol more than before.’ The protestors pleaded: “Contact a pregnancy center. God bless you.”
These pregnancy centers – found in most cities, especially near universities – aren’t always praised for their work, however. Their fliers advertise their services as having ‘no judgment, no pressure and no politics.’ They can be found in abundance at police stations, schools, hotels and various waiting rooms. But not everyone believes that the message they are spreading among young women is accurate.
In order to investigate this suspicion, NARAL Pro-Choice League decided to investigate the truth of their advertisements in a two-year undercover study. As their policy director, Miracle explained that their goal was “to experience what the women would experience.”
The results were shocking. Half of the undercover patients were not pregnant and went in to get tested – when their tests came back negative, most centers did not endorse birth control but instead told them about abstinence. Those who were pregnant and asked for advice were often given false information that linked abortion to breast cancer and dementia – some were even told the story of a woman who claimed that ‘abortion turned her into a crack-head whore.’ Upon receiving these results, NARAL began fighting for pregnancy centers to advertise their services correctly.
Other centers of seemingly objective information, such as Planned Parenthood branches, are also facing intense criticism. Kayla Smith, legislative director at Ohio Right to Life, accuses Planned Parenthood of being a “business making hundreds of thousands of dollars out of these women’s abortions.”
Planned Parenthood, the leading provider of information about contraception, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and abortion, is often accused of only offering two options: becoming a parent or having an abortion. According to Smith, it often pressures women to have abortions. They often come to high schools to present information to students. For many, they are considered the neutral source of information. But not for Smith. She believes that the 24-hour law is a better source of information. “Even if it saves one life it is effective,” she said.
Misha Barnes, the managing director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood, believes the organization to be a quality healthcare provider. She joined the organization after being a patient there herself.
“I don’t consider myself pro-choice or pro-life,” she said. She supports policies that allow people to make their own decisions about their life and get educated about all their options, including parenting, adoption and abortion.
“We support them in whichever decision they make,” said Barnes. According to her, Planned Parenthood also gives their patients time to think it through. Even if a woman comes in wanting an abortion straight away, she is told all of her options and is scheduled for a consulting appointment where she receives more information and signs a consent form. Only after that does the 24-hour period take place. Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio is a non-profit health care provider that receives government funding. The funding is for family planning services, STD testing and sexuality education – not for abortions.
With all this plentiful – if often conflicting – information being thrown at female patients facing a difficult decision, the 24-hour law has the potential to be a great source of facts, especially for younger women. But abortion clinics might soon see another hurdle. A new “transfer-agreement” requires abortion clinics to have a formal agreement with a hospital to take on patients in case of abortion complications, even though it is agreed that abortion complications are very rare. The new provision excludes public hospitals from being able to participate in the agreement and as many as three abortion clinics have been shut down because of it. There are three potential concerns with the transfer-agreement. First, those hospitals that are formally against abortions will refuse any agreement requests, hence lowering the number of clinics for women to turn to. Second, some people fear this agreement is going to become a platform for influential individuals within the hospital who hold pro-life ideals. And third, hospitals might fear negative publicity. Especially with economic problems looming over the country, it is easier and safer for them to stay out of the abortion debate.
With abortion clinics in Ohio shutting down, there is concern that Ohio is going in the direction that Mississippi found itself at this time last year. The government began threatening to shut down the last abortion clinic in the state last January. Once no abortion clinics exist in a state, women are forced to get abortions in other states. If they cannot afford to do this, they are more likely to turn to illegal, dangerous and potentially fatal procedures.
Bridget Harrison, policy adviser for Speaker William Batchelder at the Ohio House of Representatives, emphasized that she could not speak for the legislators who are promoting anti-abortion laws’ long-term goal. But she did say, “I think that the ultimate goal of people who are pro-life is to completely eliminate abortions.”
Maisie Crow, photographer and multimedia producer, made a movie about the clinic in Mississippi called The Last Clinic. It demonstrates the struggles that the clinic faces as well as people arguing for and against its closing. She worries that we are going back to the times when women were dying because of illegal abortions. “It’s shocking to me that we might return to that,” she said. “I’ve met women who have aborted no matter what the law is.” Crow considers herself pro-choice and believes that women need to have access to health care and have the option to consider what is best for them.
Although religion is at the center of the abortion debate, even the church does not deliver a consistent message. Churches like the Unitarian Universalist Church consider themselves pro-choice.
Reverend Richard Pentello from St. Patrick Catholic Church in Kent, Ohio, a priest for 35 years, refers to abortion as ‘unfortunately an option’ in today’s society. The Catholic Church sees a fetus as life, not just as a cluster of cells, and they believe that all life is valuable “from the moment of conception until natural death.” Although he respects the rights of women, he does not believe that “those rights supersede the right to life.” He and the church understand that there are various circumstances but believe it important for the option of adoption to be considered. Despite the church’s strong pro-life opinion, Pentello said that women who opted to get abortions for whatever reason can still go to heaven as long as they are truly sorry and seek forgiveness.
”Those who violate the dignity of life, like abusers and terrorists, are left in the hands of God,” he said.