'I would not have had an abortion if I had seen a sonogram'
By Kristen Walker
January 11, 2011 (LiveAction.org) - This past Wednesday, January 4, in New Orleans, the battle over the Texas
"Sonogram Law" waged on.
Texas Solicitor General Jonathan Mitchell faced off with Jennifer Rikelman, an attorney from New York's Center for
Reproductive Rights, before a panel of three judges from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The issue at hand? A
temporary partial injunction ordered by Justice Sam Sparks in Austin this summer claiming the law violated the free
speech rights of abortionists.
The bill, which was signed into law by Texas governor and current Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry last
year, would require doctors to show abortion patients an ultrasound of their unborn babies, describe certain
attributes of the fetus, such as its size, and allow the mother to hear the fetal heartbeat. While most of the law
was temporarily struck down by Sparks, certain portions, such as a 24-hour waiting period, were not enjoined.
As a proud native Texan and Dallas resident, I have written about this case several times, most recently in
September when I attended, incognito, a speech by Center for Reproductive Rights president Nancy Northup, hosted by
Planned Parenthood North Texas, in which the case – and others like it around the country — was discussed at length.
From the Associated Press:
"The statute is as clear as can be that patients may decline to view sonogram images and may decline to listen
to the fetal heartbeat," Mitchell said.
The judges pressed Rikelman to explain how [the] law exceeds the state's authority to regulate the medical
"How do you draw the line?" Judge Patrick Higginbotham asked.
"We would draw the line at what is medically necessary," Rikelman responded. "The government shouldn't be able
to interject itself in our conversations with physicians in that way."
I recently had surgery. Before I went under general anesthesia, the surgeon — as required by law — had to tell me
all the awful things that might happen to me. The surgeon himself had to tell me I might have a stroke or die under
general anesthesia. I won't kill you with suspense — I lived. But I think we have a pretty clear case here of the
government mandating speech on behalf of doctors.
Was it medically necessary that I have this information? No. Knowing I might have a stroke did not keep me alive.
But it informed me. I had to sign on the dotted line saying I had been informed of the risks involved, and that I
consented to the procedure anyway.
Sonogram laws inform women. They don't restrict abortion in any way. A woman can still have an abortion for any old
reason at all. But the law makes sure she knows what she is doing. Unfortunately, many of them don't.
Case in point:
A group of the law's supporters traveled to New Orleans for Wednesday's hearing. Nona Ellington, 43, of Houston,
said she wasn't given the choice of having a sonogram before she had an abortion in 1983 at age 15. Ellington said
she was told her fetus was a "blob of tissue" before she had the abortion, which she blames for five subsequent
"I would not have had an abortion if I had seen a sonogram and heard the baby's heartbeat," she said after the
Ellington has also said in public testimony that her abortion led her to depression and suicide attempts, and that
because of the damage done to her body by the abortion, she was never able to conceive.
Who is CRR — and other detractors of the law — trying to protect? What harm will come to a woman from knowing the
truth? Don't they want women to make an informed choice? Is their mission really about empowering women, and if so,
what will they lose by making sure she has all the information she needs?
Let's say a woman sees a sonogram, hears a heartbeat, and says, "Oh wow, I didn't realize this was really a baby I
was going to destroy. I don't want to have an abortion now." Who loses in that case? The woman goes away happy
because she is going to keep her baby. The baby, needless to say, is certainly better off. Who loses, and what does
he or she lose?
The abortion doctor and the clinic lose. And what do they lose? Money. Nothing else. They have not been harmed in
any way, except they will not be performing that abortion. The woman, on the other hand, has gained a child she
would not have had. The child has gained a life he would have lost.
Abortion advocates such as the people at CRR claim they are helping women, but all they're doing is denying them
knowledge and therefore power. Pretty important, considering they claim they're all about empowering women.
How does denying a woman information about her developing fetus empower her?
And they have the nerve to call the Sonogram Law condescending.