To accompany Virginia’s new anti-abortion law, which requires women to get an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion, the Virginia Department of Health released a list of businesses that offer “free” ultrasounds. All sixteen businesses on the list are anti-abortion Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs).
Currently, there are an estimated 3,500 CPCs nationwide, most of which are affiliated with one or more national umbrella organizations. CPCs pose as legitimate health centers and offer “free” pregnancy tests. CPCs often coerce and intimidate women out of considering abortion as an option, and prevent women from receiving neutral and comprehensive medical advice. These clinics are typically run by anti-abortion volunteers who are not licensed medical professionals.
There are many problems with the Department of Health’s list. First, the law states that “a licensed physician or a qualified medical professional working under the direct supervision of a licensed physician shall perform a limited ultrasound examination on the patient undergoing the abortion to confirm the presence of a viable intrauterine pregnancy.” Two of the centers on the list are labeled “not a clinic.” Therefore, women who attempt to undergo an ultrasound at these businesses will not receive the legally required ultrasound. This mistake could further delay an abortion and cause women unnecessary stress.
Second, sending women to a business that explicitly rejects abortions for the purpose of going through the legal hoops for an abortion is obviously flawed. Many of the organizations’ websites claim they “do not perform or refer for abortions.” If they do not refer for abortions, will they even agree to provide the necessary ultrasound for abortions? Others provide the disclaimer, “Our services are not intended to be a substitute for professional counseling, medical or pre-natal care.” If they do not provide professional medical care, how can the Department of Health refer women to them? This list is just another way to “make abortion disappear from Virginia,” as Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli stated in the past.
Third, advertising “free” ultrasounds will target young or lower income pregnant women, some of the most likely women to experience unplanned pregnancies. With their list, the Board of Health is putting the most vulnerable women at risk for false information or medically unsupervised ultrasounds. In their attempt to combat the outrage over the high cost of medically unnecessary ultrasounds, the Virginia Board of Health has created a hostile environment for Virginia women.
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