The Wisconsin Capitol is a friendly place right now for those who oppose abortion.
That’s the message Wisconsin Right to Life Legislative Conference attendees repeatedly heard Tuesday from the state’s top two Republican lawmakers, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.
“We are in a very good place in Wisconsin,” Vos said. “We have a pro-life Legislature, pro-life governor in Scott Walker and a pro-life attorney general (J.B. Van Hollen). We can all wrap our arms around this agenda.”
And it sounds like the first bill to get a warm reception from Republicans will be what's being dubbed the “Woman’s Right to Know her Unborn Child Act,” also being termed the "ultrasound bill" by pro-choice forces.
The bill would require a woman seeking an abortion to receive an ultrasound and be informed of what is visible on the monitoring screen — although the woman would not be forced to look at the image.
“This bill is a priority,” Fitzgerald said. “It is long overdue.”
Under current state law, women are required to meet with a counselor and a physician for a counseling session at least 24 hours prior to having an abortion. The ultrasound would be performed at this session.
“They could see the ultrasound and would hear the heartbeat,” said Barbara Lyons, executive director of Wisconsin Right to Life. “We will not only save lives with this bill but save women a lifetime of regret.”
As it now stands, many women who seek an abortion in Wisconsin already undergo an ultrasound prior to the procedure, but they are not required to view the image.
According to the website for Affiliated Medical Services, an abortion provider in Milwaukee, an ultrasound is performed to verify and date the pregnancy. Women are given the option of viewing the ultrasound and receiving a copy.
Women may have an ultrasound as part of a physical exam for an abortion performed at Planned Parenthood clinics in Wisconsin, according to a section on the Planned Parenthood website entitled “what happens during an in-clinic abortion.”
Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, is the former public policy director for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin. She says requiring an ultrasound to be performed before all abortions would mean an invasive procedure for women who are less than 12 weeks pregnant.
At that stage in a pregnancy, she said, the uterus may be blocked by the pelvis, preventing a traditional ultrasound from picking up the image. Thus, a vaginal ultrasound would need to be performed in order to provide an image for a medical professional to discuss with a woman.
Lyons warned conference attendees that “critics will say a vaginal ultrasound is the equivalent of rape.” She added that “the bill does not require this form of ultrasound.”
But Taylor said complying with the bill, if it is passed, might necessitate vaginal ultrasounds in some cases.
“This is the epitome of intrusiveness,” she said. “What’s next? Are we going to require men to have a rectal exam before being prescribed Viagra?”
A bill that would have required vaginal ultrasounds for all women in Virginia who seek an abortion set off a national firestorm, leading lawmakers to back down on mandating the invasive procedure. Now, Republican lawmakers in Michigan want to require a vaginal ultrasound at least two hours before an abortion.
Taylor said lawmakers should be focusing on creating jobs rather than pushing forward a conservative social agenda, noting the state's dismal job growth record under Gov. Walker
“It is not up to the men, or the women for that matter, in the Legislature to be telling doctors they must do certain things … especially uncomfortable, invasive procedures before a woman can undergo a legal procedure,” Taylor said. “People should be outraged that this is how lawmakers are spending their time.”