Arizona mandates ultrasounds before abortions

PHOENIX -- Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has signed into law legislation that will require abortion providers to allow women the opportunity for an ultrasound exam at least one hour prior to obtaining an abortion.

"This bill sends a message that Arizonans continue to care deeply about protecting life and protecting families," Brewer said April 2 as she signed H.B. 2416, which was passed by the Legislature March 30.

It also prohibits the practice of "telemedicine" with regard to chemical abortions, whereby a physician consults via video conference with a woman seeking a drug to induce an abortion and gives her a prescription without ever seeing her in person.

The new law will likely save lives, according to Ron Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference, the public policy arm for the Phoenix and Tucson dioceses and the Diocese of Gallup, N.M., which includes part of Arizona.

"The woman can say no, but they do have to offer her an ultrasound at least an hour before," Johnson said. "We want to give them a little bit of time to have meaningful reflection so they can actually see their unborn child."

Johnson said women could still refuse the ultrasound, but will at least have the option and time to think before undergoing an abortion. Not surprisingly, he said, those who favor abortions have opposed the bill.

"We see people who call themselves pro-choice showing themselves to be anything but," Johnson said. "You would think that these so-called pro-choicers would be supportive of legislation or efforts that would enhance the woman's informed choice of what she was going to do. But of course, they are always opposed to this type of legislation."

Kelly Sarotte, director of the Aid to Women Center in Tempe, a pro-life pregnancy clinic, said women will often change their minds about obtaining an abortion after viewing ultrasound images of their unborn child.

"Ultrasound is very profound in showing a lady her baby's heartbeat, and oftentimes a baby may be moving around," Sarotte told The Catholic Sun, newspaper of the Phoenix Diocese. "They can really identify that they're truly pregnant when they see that little heartbeat."

Ultrasound images are effective in clearing up any doubts a woman may have about the humanity of her unborn child, she said. "There's no denying it -- it's not a blob of tissue; there's a human heart beating within them."

Regarding telemedicine, Johnson said H.B. 2416 prohibits the practice when it comes to chemical abortions, something he said has been practiced in Iowa.

"The doctor doesn't have to examine the woman in person," Johnson said. "They can be hundreds of miles away and they have a video conference or some sort of electronic device and they talk to the woman, push a button and a little drawer opens and she gets her abortion pills."

In this setup, the doctor can be separated by hundreds of miles from the female patient, who is participating in the video conference from a clinic, where a nurse practitioner has examined her and provided the results to the doctor. The clinic has the prescription medications in a drawer the doctor can open remotely.

The prescription drugs that cause chemical abortions are given during the first 60 days of gestation and are about 98 percent effective in ending pregnancies -- and the lives of unborn babies. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that about 17 percent of abortions in the United States are carried out this way.

Johnson said Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of abortions in the country, had talked about spreading the practice of abortion via telemedicine to other states.

"We want to make sure that practice doesn't take place in Arizona and this bill will make sure that practice is illegal in Arizona with regard to abortions," he said.

Brewer signed other legislation March 29 that prohibits abortions based on gender or race. Arizona is the first state in the nation to outlaw the practice.

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