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Women became emotional and some cried after being shown fetal ultrasound images at a Tulsa abortion clinic Wednesday, a day after Oklahoma enacted what has been called the nation’s most restrictive abortion law.
None of the women, however, decided against terminating their pregnancies, said Linda Meek, the executive director of Reproductive Services in Tulsa.
Lawmakers on Tuesday overrode Gov. Brad Henry’s veto of a bill to require all women terminating a pregnancy to undergo a fetal ultrasound image an hour before an abortion is performed.
A New York reproductive rights group has filed a lawsuit challenging the law and asking a judge to halt enforcement of the law until the litigation is resolved.
A hearing in the case is set for Monday in an Oklahoma County District Court.
At the Tulsa clinic, which also offers birth control services and has an adoption agency on site, employees began complying with the new law Tuesday. Doctors who don’t comply with the law could face fines up to $100,000 or prosecution.
"We weren’t sure when they would vote, and we were pretty sure it would go through. We complied all day yesterday,” Meek said.
Ultrasounds are performed on women seeking abortions at the Tulsa clinic, Meek said.
The imaging is used to determine the gestational age of a fetus and to make sure the woman does not have a tubal pregnancy.
The law allows women to avert their eyes.
At the clinic, the image was placed in the woman’s line of sight and she is given a description of the fetal development to include presence of organs, limbs and cardiac function.
Some women closed their eyes and turned their heads away, Meek said.
"The doctors are just telling them this is a new law that we have to give them a detailed description, and we apologize for that,” she said.
The staff is required to record the time, and the women must sign a certificate that says they were properly shown the image. That form goes in their medical chart.
"It’s like they don’t think women have given serious thought and consideration before they walk through our doors,” Meek said.
Strictest in country
An existing law requires women to receive counseling and wait 24 hours before having an abortion. In Oklahoma, there are three clinics licensed by the state Health Department to perform abortions.
Two of the three clinics are challenging the new ultrasound law.
In 2009, 6,974 abortions were performed in Oklahoma, according to preliminary figures from the Health Department. That’s an increase of 850 from the 2008 figures.
Proponents of the new law say its aim is to make sure women have "full and complete information prior to the irrevocable act of abortion of an unborn child,” said Tony Lauinger, chairman of Oklahomans for Life.
Oklahoma’s ultrasound law is the nation’s strictest abortion ultrasound law, said Stephanie Toti, attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is challenging it.
At least a dozen other states have abortion ultrasound laws, but none of the laws mandate that a woman must be shown the image like Oklahoma’s law, said Toti, who is also representing the clinics in the legal challenge.
"It’s very difficult to force them to do it,” Toti said.
"The law says they have to place the image in the patient’s view. It’s humiliation for the patient to have to cover her eyes. The physician has to describe what is being shown. It’s really destructive to the physician-patient relationship, when they have to show you an image you don’t want to see and describe the image even though you’ve told them you don’t want to hear it.
"That kind of disregard for a patient’s choices violates principles of medical ethics.”