Deb Butler’s commercial for the North Carolina state senate may be the first time ever that a transvaginal probe has been shown on television.
“Few would dare show you this, but this is Thom Goolsby’s [the Republican incumbent] contribution to women’s health,” Butler, a Democrat, says in the commercial, without naming the device, as the camera pans to the probe she holds in her hands. “He promised us his first priority would be jobs, but instead he’s following us into the doctor’s office.”
An online survey by a local television station found that 51 percent of respondents agreed that it was “appropriate’ for Butler to show the device in the TV ad while 46 percent found it “a tasteless gimmick” and 4 percent didn’t know or care.
If you’re not familiar with a transvaginal probe, it’s a tool used for sonograms or ultrasound scans that rely on sound waves to produce an image of a fetus (or fibroids or tumors) on a computer screen. And yes, its name describes it well: The probe is inserted into the vagina as part of the procedure.
Think of the transvaginal probe as the latest weapon in the “war against women.”
North Carolina has joined the growing legion of states fighting abortions with sonograms. North Carolina’s law, passed last year over the governor’s veto but held up for review in court, requires that the woman not only have a sonogram but watch the image of the fetus, have it described to her and have the opportunity to listen to the fetal heartbeat, all at least four hours before the abortion.
Nearly half of states now have laws regulating ultrasounds for women who are seeking abortion. Eight require a sonogram be done first. Most restrictive, though, are the states where the woman must also view the ultrasound, as in Louisiana and Texas.
Other states must offer the opportunity for a sonogram or, if done for medical reasons, the woman must be given the option of viewing it.
In some cases, ultrasound is used to date the pregnancy and confirm that it’s early enough to fall within the legal limit of that state. Yet there’s often no medical reason to force a woman to have an ultrasound before an abortion.
If it’s not needed, it simply adds to the cost of the procedure, may create major inconvenience (in Texas, the woman must wait 24 hours between the sonogram and the abortion) and – abortion foes hope – will change the woman’s mind.
“The requirements appear to be a veiled attempt to personify the fetus and dissuade a woman from obtaining an abortion,” according to the report “State Policies in Brief” from the Guttmacher Institute.
It’s a psychological weapon.
I can’t help but think of the scared 17-year-old girl who wants to go to college instead of change diapers. Or the exhausted 30-something mom whose body and pocketbook can’t take on any more children. What about the rape victim who’s pregnant as the result of a violent sexual assault? Think of her having to suffer through such an invasive procedure.
At a time when the medical resources in this country are stretched and patients and insurers are complaining about health care costs, we have legislators demanding additional procedures that have no medical use be performed.
What a waste of our health care resources.
Instead of investing in the cost of ultrasounds for women who want to have abortions, let’s offer free contraception, which happens to be mandated by the Affordable Care Act on Jan. 1. A study published earlier this month in Obstetrics & Gynecology followed more than 9,000 women in St. Louis from 2008 to 2010 who were offered their choice of birth control for free. The result was a dramatic decrease in the number of abortions: 4.4 to 7.5 abortions per 1,000 women in the study, compared with 13.4 to 17 abortions per 1,000 women in the St. Louis area (lower than the national rate of nearly 20 abortions per 1,000 women).
The number of teen pregnancies dropped even more: Only 6.3 births per 1,000 teenagers in the study compared with the national rate of 34 births per 1,000 teens in 2010.
For every 79 to 137 women provided with free birth control, one abortion would be prevented, the study authors from Washington University reported.
As states persist in requiring sonograms, some pro-choice women legislators are fighting back. Virginia state Sen. Janet D. Howell decided a floor amendment regulating those popular little blue pills for erectile dysfunction was in order. Before such medication could be prescribed, a doctor would need to do a digital rectal examination and a cardiac stress test; informed consent for these procedures would be given at least 24 hours in advance.
A bill introduced by Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner, a Democrat, required both a cardiac stress test and a referral to a sex therapist to prove the patient’s symptoms were not “psychological.” And in Missouri, a bill would have made a vasectomy illegal except in cases to prevent serious injury or death.
“I just think we should have a little gender equity here,” Howell said about her amendment, which failed to pass.
Sounds fair to me.
Diana Reese is a freelance journalist in Kansas City and a contributing author to The Duke Encyclopedia of New Medicine.