New Tennessee Bill Would Require Ultrasound Before Abortion

The Republican lawmaker behind the legislation is being accused of using it to bolster his Congressional bid against an incumbent, who reportedly pressured his mistress to get an abortion.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A woman who wants an abortion in Tennessee could soon be required by state law to visit a doctor for an ultrasound 24 hours before the procedure, where she would also be offered a printed copy of the ultrasound image, and be made to listen to the audible sounds of the fetus's circulatory and respiratory systems.

The bill was introduced by Tennessee State Sen. Jim Tracy, who has announced plans to run for Congress in 2014. Critics are accusing Tracy of introducing the legislation solely to bolster his primary bid against scandal-scarred incumbent Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a physician who had an affair with one of his patients and then pressured her to get an abortion, according to a report in the Huffington Post last year.

DesJarlais largely withdrew from public view after the revelations emerged last year and never fully addressed them, but he still managed to win reelection.

"Tennessee's women should not have to suffer more intrusive laws that violate their right to privacy just so Sen. Tracy can polish his conservative credentials in his race against Congressman Scott DesJarlais," Democratic State Rep. Sherry Jones said in a statement. "Republicans have spent the past three years complaining about how the government shouldn't stand between a patient and their doctor, but with this legislation, that is exactly what they are trying to do."

Tracy did not return a request for comment.

If the bill passes, it would make Tennessee the latest in a growing list of states to try to discourage abortions by mandating ultrasounds. Virginia and Alabama legislatures faced outrage from women's rights last year when they introduced ultrasound legislation, and Republican lawmakers in Michigan followed suit this week — though those states required the more invasive transvaginal ultrasound.

"In cases where the woman declines the offer to view the ultrasound image," the bill Tennessee bill reads, the doctor must instead offer "a simultaneous verbal explanation of the results of the live, real-time ultrasound images, including a medical description of the dimensions of the embryo or fetus, the presence of cardiac activity, and the presence of arms, legs, external members and internal organs."

The section of the bill that spells out what steps the doctor must take when a woman declines to view the ultrasound also says the doctor must "provide a copy of the ultrasound image to the woman," suggesting she'll get a copy of the image, whether she wants it or not.

The bill goes on to mandate that women visiting an abortion provider must provide a written, signed statement saying the woman got an ultrasound, that she was given an opportunity to view the image, that she got a printed copy and the results were explained to her.

That statement must include the signature of the doctor who performed the ultrasound. The abortion facility would have to keep a copy of the ultrasound and a copy of the signed written statement in the woman's medical record at the facility for seven years, according to the bill.