Trans-vaginal ultrasound

Hmmm, I thought I had blogged about all the controversy with Virginia’s new abortion bill.  Well, I read a ton, but apparently never mentioned it here.  Nonetheless, I’m sure you all to what I’m referring.  Anyway, one of my early thoughts on the whole matter was, “but doesn’t NC’s new law require this, too?”  Indeed. One of the interesting features of this story is the way that smart framing by opponents (just keep saying “trans-vaginal ultrasound”) had a massive political effect that was lacking elsewhere.  (Here’s a nice WP Post explaining all this).

Anyway, WRAL’s Laura Leslie finally writes the piece that’s been lacking:

State lawmakers in Virginia have amended a controversial ultrasound bill to remove language requiring women to undergo a “trans-vaginal” ultrasound before an abortion.

The story attracted a lot of national attention, especially from liberal pundits, and even earned a satirical mention on Saturday Night Live…

North Carolina’s ultrasound law, passed last year over the governor’s veto, didn’t provoke the same level of controversy. It doesn’t include the words “trans-vaginal probe,” either. But it effectively requires the procedure for many, if not most, abortions.

The new law requires an ultrasound before any abortion procedure. The woman has to be shown the image of the fetus, have the image described to her, and be offered the opportunity to hear the fetal heartbeat.

In early pregnancy—up until about 8 weeks—the only way a doctor can comply with those requirements is by using a trans-vaginal sonogram probe.

Rex Healthcare’s Rhonda Thomas is president of the NC Ultrasound Society. She says abdominal ultrasounds can’t see much before the two-month mark, especially if the patient has had prior pregnancies or is overweight.

“They’re just more sensitive,” Thomas said of trans-vaginal scans. ”That’s the test of choice.”

So… fascinating how exactly the same law can take a dramatically different political path.  Really makes you wonder what would have happened here in NC and other states had opponents hit upon this tack earlier.  Seems damn effective. Until then, a NC woman who wants an abortion will have a trans-vaginal ultrasound whether she wants one or not.

On a related note, I’m kind of surprised at the number of people who are surprised by this.  As a father of four, I was quite aware that this is how ultrasound is done in early pregnancy.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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