Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) proposed a bill on Thursday that would force women in the early stages of pregnancy to have a physically invasive and medically unnecessary ultrasound procedure before they can legally consent to having an abortion.
The "Heartbeat Informed Consent Act" requires doctors to make the fetal heartbeat visible and audible to the woman prior to the abortion procedure and to describe the ultrasound image to her in detail, even if she prefers not to hear about it. If the woman is between four and five weeks pregnant, the doctor has to perform a "transvaginal ultrasound" in order to hear the heartbeat, which involves a probe and can be physically uncomfortable for the woman.
"It's similar to a pelvic exam, which can come with discomfort for the woman, and it's invasive," said Dr. Nancy Stanwood, an obstetrician and board member of the health advocacy group Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health. "It's also medically unnecessary. Some politicians might see it as ideologically necessary, but it's medically unnecessary, so the government telling you that you need to have one sounds ridiculous on many levels."
Bachmann says the bill is intended to coax women who are considering getting abortions into changing their minds and carrying their pregnancies to term.
“A study by Focus on the Family found that when women who were undecided about having an abortion were shown an ultrasound image of the baby, 78% chose life," she said in a statement.
But Dr. Stanwood, who performs multiple abortions a week, said that in her experience, performing an ultrasound on a pregnant woman who has already decided to have an abortion never actually changes the woman's mind.
"I've been in practice for 16 years and I've never met a woman who didn't understand what pregnancy meant," she told HuffPost. "Women are completely aware that their embryos can develop into babies. They know what it takes to be a good mother and they know when they're ready. Showing a woman the heartbeat doesn't change the situation that caused her to choose abortion in the first place."
Bachmann's ultrasound bill will likely earn the support of the strong pro-life contingency in the Republican-controlled House, but it has little to no chance of passing in the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats.
Even if the Senate were to support Bachmann's legislation, it would likely be struck down in federal court. A federal judge recently blocked certain parts of a mandatory ultrasound bill in Texas that state lawmakers passed in the spring, ruling that doctors cannot be penalized for refusing to describe a sonogram to a pregnant woman who doesn't want to hear it.
"The Act compels physicians to advance an ideological agenda with which they may not agree, regardless of any medical necessity, and irrespective of whether the pregnant women wish to listen," Judge Sam Sparks told the court.
Regardless of whether or not her legislation is feasible or likely to be passed, Bachmann seems intent upon reminding voters of her commitment to ending abortions.
"In the midst of the number one issue, which is jobs and the economy, we don't want to forget the issue of life," Bachmann said at a media event in Iowa on Tuesday. "Because you can get a lot of things wrong, but you can't get life wrong."