Tonya was about eight or nine weeks into her pregnancy when she decided to have an abortion.
A Planned Parenthood center in North Carolina performed an ultrasound on her, but when health-care workers at the clinic asked her whether she wanted to see it, she said no.
She had made her choice — to take the so-called “abortion pill” and end her pregnancy.
“It’s a relief because you know it’s the best choice, but you still feel ashamed,” the woman told The Washington Post.
Ultrasounds have long been a flash point in the battle over abortions. But under a new law in North Carolina, doctors in the state must now submit ultrasound images, along with fetal measurements, to state authorities when performing abortions past a certain point in a pregnancy.
The law, which was implemented Jan. 1, is meant to ensure abortion providers comply with previously established legislation that prohibits the procedures past 20 weeks of pregnancy.
But critics of North Carolina’s new law say it is a gross violation of women’s privacy, as state bureaucrats get extremely intimate portraits of what is going on in women’s wombs.
The new law also extends the waiting period for the procedure from 24 to at least 72 hours.
Tonya — a 44-year-old from Hillsborough, N.C., who asked The Post not to use her full name — had her abortion three years ago under the old law, which required a 24-hour waiting period, among other things.
“I find it very intrusive; I see no point in that,” she said of the new reporting requirements. “I don’t feel that it’s upholding doctors; I think its just another way to shame everybody involved.”
Perhaps the most contentious part of the requirement centers around ultrasounds.
North Carolina’s new legislation states that doctors who are planning to perform an abortion past the 16-week mark in a woman’s pregnancy must submit records to the state’s health department to show how they estimated the fetus’s gestational age; they are also required to submit measurements and images to show how they made that determination.
Elizabeth Nash — a policy analyst with the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit reproductive health organization — said the measurements must include things such as the length of a fetus’s femurs and the diameter of its gestational sac.
“That is incredibly unusual, and it serves no public health purpose,” Nash said.
The new law has been building further friction between antiabortion advocates, who contend the new requirements hold the abortion providers accountable, and abortion rights activists, who claim the law allows the state to “stockpile” women’s most personal information.
Planned Parenthood’s political arm has helped lead the charge against the new legislation — circulating an online petition protesting the “harmful law” and voicing concerns on social media with the hashtag #stockpilingsonos.
Melissa Reed, executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes! South Atlantic, called it “completely inappropriate.”
“These are the most intimate part of a woman’s medical records,” she said. “This is an egregious interference between women and their doctors.”
— PP South Atlantic NC (@PPSATNC) December 30, 2015
But antiabortion activists say the new law is meant to protect lives.
Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, said the legislation “is designed to strengthen the state’s public policy decision — that babies after 20 weeks have the right to live.”
She said it was being debated over the summer when the antiabortion group Center for Medical Progress released numerous secretly recorded videos revealing controversial conversations with Planned Parenthood executives.
“I think we’ve established through these videos that the abortion industry is not trustworthy,” she said.
North Carolina intends to use the law “to make sure doctors are telling the truth,” Fitzgerald said.
Kelsea McLain, a board member for the Carolina Abortion Fund and an abortion clinic volunteer, said she started working with abortion providers several years ago, after she had her own procedure.
Around that time, McLain said, North Carolina was grappling with new legislation that “threw a wrench” into women’s health care. It required health-care workers to show women their ultrasounds and discuss them in detail before an abortion — although the patients could close their eyes and hold their ears.
However, it was struck down last year by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, which ruled that it violated First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court declined to review the lower court’s ruling.
McLain, from Durham, who used to work as a clinic manager at a small abortion center in Raleigh, said the “ultrasound moment is a very personal moment” for most women and that releasing those images — whether or not their names are attached to them — would make many feel “violated.”
“I would feel unsafe,” she said, “and that my privacy would be violated in a major way.”
And, McLain said, many who work at abortion clinics are not happy about it either.
“There’s a general belief this law was not required for any other reason but to intimidate doctors,” she said.
Nash, with the Guttmacher Institute, said the idea to report abortions to government authorities dates back to the 1960s. As state laws on abortion were changing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requested that states document them, when possible, and report the data to help track morbidity and mortality rates, among other things. Over time, it helped develop criteria for abortion reporting forms.
Currently, there are no national requirements for reporting abortions. Instead, state laws stipulate how and when health-care workers must report the procedures to their governments.
Arizona legislators proposed a similar modification to the state’s law in 2004, Nash said, but it failed. Louisiana passed a similar law in 2012. Oklahoma did the same in 2013.
But Nash said what makes North Carolina’s new law stand out is the detail it requires.
To be sure, the legislation makes it clear that the required information will not include the physicians’ or the patients’ names — only the names of health-care centers where the abortions were performed.
“Information will be reviewed by a board certified obstetrician within the department to monitor for compliance with the law,” according to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.
The health department said ultrasound data will be stored in a “secure filing system” and destroyed after two years.
No copies will be made, according to the health department.
Still, Tonya, the 44-year-old from Hillsborough, said lawmakers in the state should not be targeting women and their doctors.
“Policymakers need to turn their attention to education and prevention,” she said, “and services and care for children once they enter the world.”