Requiring an ultrasound and counselling before an abortion

A bill given emergency status by Texas Governor Rick Perry is the largest invasion of the patient-physician relationship that I am aware of. Proposed by Senator Dan Patrick (R-Houston) and supported by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the bill as originally written would require physicians to perform a ultrasound and explain the physical characteristics of the fetus to anyone contemplating an abortion.

Physicians would be required to inform women about alternatives to abortion at least 24 hours before the procedure and would be required to produce an audible fetal heartbeat for the patient to hear.  The patient would be allowed to “avert her eyes” if she chose.  Even though later amended to sound less invasive, this bill seeks to substitute the wisdom of the state for the sanctity of the individual patient-physician relationship.

I personally believe that abortion is not a good thing and that ways of decreasing the number of abortions that are felt to be necessary are very helpful, but this type of legislation only places more regulations between the patient and the physician. If the goal is to decrease the number of abortions, it seems that efforts to provide family planning and reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies would be much more effective than attempting to regulate the patient-physician relationship.  This is a laudable goal, but a bad implementation.

You may not be concerned about what is happening in Texas, but a total of 18 states regulate ultrasounds by abortion providers and nine require verbal counseling or written material on how to obtain a ultrasound.  If this is still not a concern to you, consider that if you allow legislators to engage in the practice of medicine in this area, it becomes a much smaller step to enact laws regulating anything else you do.  I know physicians that pray with their patients.  If a legislator can change the way you have to discuss abortions, why could a legislator not restrict prayer with your patients.  Far fetched example, you may say.  Maybe, but the bottom line is I believe our patients are best served by keeping the government out of our exam rooms.  I support decreasing the number of abortions that are felt to be necessary, but to interfere with the patient-physician relationship is not the right way to do it.  The government invasion of healthcare must be stopped.  That is what I am going to tell my legislator.

Robert Luedecke is an anesthesiologist and member of the Bexar County Medical Society Committee on Public Health.

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