Abortion ultrasound bill gets first airing

ATLANTA - Women seeking an abortion should be guaranteed access to the latest technology to help them make one of the most important decisions of their lives, a Republican lawmaker said Tuesday.

But Democrats on a House committee with jurisdiction over criminal law criticized legislation requiring abortion clinics to perform ultrasound examinations on their patients as a thinly disguised effort to steer women away from abortions.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. James Mills, R-Gainesville, would expand a law the Republican-controlled General Assembly enacted two years ago requiring women seeking an abortion to wait at least 24 hours before having the procedure.

Under the 2005 Woman's Right to Know Act, doctors who perform abortions must use that waiting period to inform patients of the probable age of the fetus and the medical risks involved in having an abortion or carrying a child until birth.

Mill's bill would add the requirement that an ultrasound be performed on the patient. The doctor then would have to offer the woman a chance to see the image of her unborn child, but she would have the right to decline.

During a hearing on the bill Tuesday, Mills told the committee that an ultrasound can determine the size and gestational age of the unborn child and whether the fetus is malformed in any way.

He acknowledged that the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 decision legalizing abortion on demand is the law of the land and denied that his legislation seeks to circumvent that right.

"Whether you are pro-life or pro-choice is not what this bill is about,'' he said. "This is full disclosure of all the facts to the patient. ... It lets the patient make a more informed decision.''

But Rep. Nikki Randall, D-Macon, called the bill "insulting to women'' and a "last-ditch'' effort to convince those who have made an agonizing decision to have an abortion not to go through with it.

"This is a decision I don't think any woman takes lightly,'' she said. "Believe it or not, we know what's going on.''

Other Democrats on the committee argued that if ultrasound exams are so beneficial, they should be required for all pregnant women and not just for those seeking abortions.

"All of them should be offered the same opportunity,'' said Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam, D-Riverdale.

But Mills said his bill would only amend the Woman's Right to Know Act, which is strictly limited to women seeking abortions.

Beyond such technical issues, however, he also told committee members that he knows of abortion clinics that are performing ultrasound exams but not allowing their patients to see them.

On the other hand, Mills said, obstetricians routinely show ultrasound images to their patients as part of their prenatal care.

"The evidence shows that when the viewing is offered, it alters the decision that's being made,'' he said.

After hearing mostly from Mills and committee members on Tuesday, Rep. David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, the panel's chairman, said he will hold at least one more hearing to give advocates on both sides of the issue a chance to speak.