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Oklahoma Judge Strikes Down Law Mandating Ultrasounds Before Abortions

Elizabeth Nash, public policy associate for the Guttmacher Institute, said that antiabortion groups began pushing ultrasounds in the 1980s. Several ultrasound laws were passed in the 1990s, and the groups increased their efforts in the past few years. "They really have come back and tried to use the issue of ultrasound to deter women from getting an abortion," she said. "We're really seeing a trend now."

Arizona and Florida require ultrasounds for abortions after the first trimester; Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama mandate ultrasounds for first-trimester abortions. The Guttmacher Institute says that because an ultrasound is not considered medically necessary in the first trimester, when nearly 90 percent of abortions occur, it views such laws as "a veiled attempt to personify the fetus and dissuade a woman from obtaining an abortion."

Since 2004, the Christian nonprofit group Focus on the Family has placed 341 ultrasound machines in pregnancy crisis centers, where staff members typically discourage women from getting abortions. Carrie Gordon Earll, senior director of public policy for the group, said that women who have ultrasounds at the crisis centers are twice as likely to decide against abortion.

"With an unintended pregnancy, a woman is very much caught up in her own situation. You don't confront the humanity of the child you're carrying," she said. "Looking at an ultrasound before you make that decision can certainly reduce the regret and heartache later."

In North Dakota, providers at the state's lone abortion clinic applauded a state district court judge's decision Aug. 11 that said a law that took effect Aug. 1 does not mean doctors have to provide an ultrasound and let a woman listen to the fetal heartbeat at least 24 hours before providing an abortion. Instead, they must offer information about the existence of such services.

At least seven other states have laws covering fetal heartbeat monitoring before an abortion. An Oklahoma law (separate from the one ruled on by Robertson) mandates that women get information on how to access fetal heartbeat services.

In South Dakota, a federal judge is expected in coming months to issue summary judgment or proceed to trial in a battle over the state's 2005 "disclosure" law mandating that doctors tell women that abortion will sever their relationship with "a whole, separate, unique living human being" and increase their risk of suicide. Providers have had to comply with the law since July 2008, after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit overturned a 2006 preliminary injunction from the federal district court.

A similar law took effect in North Dakota on Aug. 1.

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