New legislation in Oklahoma means a woman seeking an abortion will have to undergo an ultrasound at least one hour before having the procedure, and listen as a doctor describes the fetus’s heartbeat, organs and lungs—even in cases of rape and incest.
The Republican-dominated Oklahoma legislature passed the controversial law early last week; on Monday, a state judge ordered a 45-day delay on enforcing the measure. The state’s Democratic governor, Brad Henry, whose initial veto of the law was overruled, called it an “unconstitutional invasion of privacy.” Supporters say the ultrasound allows women to make a more informed choice, and Republican leader Glenn Coffee called the vote a “good day for the cause of life.” The Center for Reproductive Rights, a New York-based pro-choice group that brought down a similar bill in Oklahoma last year, has filed a lawsuit.
A second law protecting doctors who withhold information about fetal defects from being sued by parents was also passed last week. Two other abortion bills are still on the table that, if passed, could make Oklahoma home to the most restrictive abortion laws in the U.S.
Oklahoma’s moves are the latest in a wave of measures in at least 22 states. Many are acting on provisions in the new health care package that allow states to prohibit insurers from covering abortions. Other measures go further. In Virginia, recent budget changes mean no state money can be spent on abortions in cases where the mother’s health is at risk. Last week, Florida’s senate approved legislation (tacked on to a bill about drug-free workplaces) that would require women who seek an abortion to pay for their ultrasounds, at a cost of up to US$1,000. Exceptions would be made for victims of rape or incest, but women in those cases would have to provide proof.