This is utterly amazing: the latest front in the left’s war on thoughtfulness about bioethics is to attack mandatory laws regarding ultrasounds prior to abortions—because the entry point for those ultrasounds
is may be the vagina.
Seriously. I’m seeing headline after headline on the left about ultrasounds being “vaginal probes” that are conducted “against women’s wills” for “no medical reason.” (As if bioethics don’t constitute a medical reason.)
They are making it sound, in their phrasing, like an ultrasound is somehow comparable to rape, and Dahlia Lithwick makes the comparison explicit. Jezebel pretends that the rationale is not a bioethical one—a way for society to slow things down, see if we can think abortions through—but rather that the girl or woman has already been penetrated by the male sexual organ, which of course has nothing to do with it.
What is the alternative way, other than a sonogram, to judge the approximate size and developmental stage of a human fetus? I will tell you: the nurse practitioner (or doctor, or nurse, or clinic worker) places one hand on top of one’s pelvis, and the other hand in the vagina, and evaluates the size and age of the baby that way.
There is no way to judge fetal age without putting something into a woman’s vagina, and in most states it’s illegal to perform an abortion without establishing fetal age—it’s just that one technique provides a less accurate, less detailed picture than does the other.
Can society force a woman to think about what an abortion is, and what it might do to her and her baby? No. But it can hint that there are issues she may want to think about now, because she is very likely to think about them later, when she’s ready to start a family, and looks at a similar image on a screen. (Wow, it’s a baby. So, what was it the first time? Oh, shit.)
* * *
I don’t know, frankly, where I am on the pro-life/pro-choice scale these days: for years I wanted to reduce the number of abortions performed by moral suasion only, but about a year ago I had an interesting discussion with NiceDeb and a well-known right-leaning D.C. writer who pointed out that my libertarianish vision may not be realistic: there are, after all, many people “on the margins” who believe that everything the law doesn’t prohibit should be allowed.
They may have a point: girls and women are more vulnerable to being pressured or conned into the horrors of abortion when the process is legal. That is a fact.
It may not be dispositive, as with its analogs in the debate over legalizing hard drugs. But it is a fact.
I will tell you, however, that an ultrasound doesn’t involved physical pain, and that an abortion does. The entry point for both is, of course, the vagina—that sacred opening that leftists want to protect against invasive “probes,” but not instruments of pain and, sometimes, lifetimes of regret.
* * *
I had my abortion the summer I turned 20.
It took place at the UCLA hospital, which was across the street (and a bit of a walk) across the street from my apartment just off fraternity row in Westwood. The night before the procedure was scheduled, a laminaria stick was inserted into my cervix, which was painful in the way that a pap smear is painful, though slightly more so. I was not told that this might, in and of itself, provoke a miscarriage—and that I might get two experiences for the price of one. The clinicians created a wall of gauze in the back of my vagina through which, theoretically, only fluids would pass, rather than tissue.
The boyfriend who had insisted that I have the abortion (an adoptee who didn’t want to think of “his” child being somewhere out there in the world, without him knowing him/her) drove me back to the apartment from the hospital parking lot. We’d been told that I might be in some pain, and that we should keep Tylenol in my system, that I should take one every four hours. We did so, but I nonetheless went into hell that night.
I had to eat little bits of cheese and bread, because any time my stomach contracted it would set off a new wave of contractions in my uterus. And the contractions were overwhelming, all-encompassing: a pain worse than I’d ever experienced before. Pain that in fact was far worse than when I had been raped at the age of 14.
I had no idea why the pain was so bad: I’d been told that I might get a few bad cramps, but this was extreme, and it went on and on. This was not pain in the vagina, which doesn’t have a lot of nerve endings, deep in—but rather pain in the uterus that spread to surrounding organs. I took the Tylenol, but it didn’t make a dent.
Lots of fluid came out, and a few bits of tissue. I saved them in a jar in case the clinicians needed to see them: I’d been told that was the thing to do.
The next day, we went off to the clinic. I hadn’t slept much, of course: only cat-napped around dawn when the contractions finally subsided a bit.
We were sat down for a little last-minute briefing before the procedure, during which my counselor explained that I would be given a sedative pill before the abortion. My boyfriend turned that down: “she doesn’t need it,” he explained. Then he tried to talk his way into the surgical room where the abortion would be performed, because he felt that it was important that he be with me at all times. (How could you have been with someone this controlling? you are asking. I’ve never figured it out, except that all kinds of manipulations become possible when a teenager, or a 20-year-old, has parent issues. I had largely raised myself, and I did a poor job of it.)
When they got me onto the table and removed the wall of gauze out from in front of my cervix, they told me it was all over, but they needed to do a vacuum aspiration anyway, just to make sure. They did this, and meanwhile—UCLA being a teaching hospital—other doctors came in to observe. At one point I had five or six strangers peering up my vagina.
After the tube was attached to me I began to have a panic attack, a “get me out of here” reaction, and the counselor who was at my side talked me through it, telling me to concentrate on my breathing, and relax a bit with each outward breath. I asked if I could still have the sedative pill, but was told that it was too late: the drugs wouldn’t hit my bloodstream in time.
After the procedure, I went home and slept for a very long time.
It would take me another several years to get away from the domineering man who had emotionally blackmailed me into doing something so painful—and so horrific in its long-term implications.
* * *
And then, of course, there is the experience of an ultrasound: one is in a dim little room, with a screen, and a well-lubed, innocuous instrument in sterile wrap is eased in, with no need for the practitioner to even look inside the vagina. One is shown what the images on the screen signify. The end.
One experience is physically painful and horrifying, even in a top-rated hospital with a dedicated, sympathetic counselor at one’s side; its ramifications last for decades. The other is less invasive than a standard pelvic exam.
And yet the smarmy John Cole, and my buddy Tommy Christopher (who may be wrong on some things, but does shoot straight and tell you what he thinks—and has defended right-leaning women when other lefties would not), would have you believe that an ultrasound is highly invasive, whereas an abortion is a cozy little experience of no importance whatsoever that imparts no trauma.
Which is, even if my experiences were not typical, a far cry from the truth.
This issue can be debated among reasonable people, and I agree that it’s a heavy thing for the state to mandate a medical procedure that is “invasive,” even if that’s in a pretty technical sense.
Yet let’s not pretend that an ultrasound wand, and an undilated cervix, is more invasive than a dilated cervix combined with a vacuum tube and/or surgical instruments.
It. Is. Not.
UPDATE: The point is being made that sensitive ultrasound equipment may pick up the fetus’s image with a mere abdominal procedure. If so, so much the better. But, again—a vaginal ultrasound is much less invasive than a pelvic exam of any kind, and an abortion (even an early one) is far worse than a pelvic.
UPDATE II: If you are interested in what Abortion Regret looks like from the male perspective . . . well, it doesn’t appear to be any better.
UPDATE III: Tommy Christopher’s response is thoughtful, though it necessarily focuses on the bogus argument that is, apparently, out there—to the effect that once a woman has been penetrated, it’s open season on her innards. (Sure: so, having consented to sex with my husband, I’m also consenting to, say, sex with his brother? Good grief: Consent lasts for the act itself, and not even my husband has blanket, 24/7 access: nor can he transfer his hall pass to someone else, for crying out loud.)
But Christopher has a sort of trust in the medical establishment that I’m not sure I possess, and sees great significance in the fact that the woman who’s getting the ultrasound isn’t forced to look at it. This doesn’t matter, because a record has been made of fetal age, and a health professional has been required to look, and make sure that the fetus is not too old, and that there are no medical reasons (at least, apparent within her uterus) that the woman or girl should not have an abortion.
That’s a regulation; that’s putting the brakes on, and it serves a function similar to the waiting period I’m forced to go through whenever I buy a gun (and the mountain of paperwork I have to fill out to get it): it doesn’t guarantee anything, but it serves notice to me and to the gun dealer that the government thinks it’s a serious matter for me to have lethal force at my disposal in a handy package. (And well made, and wonderful—dang, but I love my guns.)
Similarly, the ultrasound creates another check on the forward momentum of a girl or woman who is contemplating an act with heavy bioethical implications.
It’s not supposed to be perfect: nothing is. But it gives the woman, and the abortionist, a sense that the state has an interest, however tenuous, in her well being, and it puts the abortion-provider on a little bit of a regulatory leash, which cannot be a bad thing in the wake of the Kermit Gosnell scandal in Pennsylvania, wherein at least one abortion clinic was left to operate in a regulatory vacuum for decades, resulting in deaths of women and viable babies, and the maiming of some unfortunate patients.
No, I don’t trust the government in particular—but I trust the abortion industry even less. And for, I think, good reason.