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Virginia ultrasound law is the image of a few others

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Source: Guttmacher Institute

Updated March 7, 4;22 p.m.

The bill Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell signed Wednesday requiring women in his state to undergo ultrasound screening before they can proceed with an abortion represents the latest victory for anti-abortion activists pushing to get similar legislation enacted nationwide.  

Seven states already have laws on the books requiring pre-abortion ultrasound screening, according to Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager for the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights group that focuses on reproductive health policy. At least 18 more states are considering similar bills. 

Above is a map showing states that either have or are considering ultrasound legislation, including states that have legislation but are considering further changes. Light purple states are those that have already enacted legislation; medium purple are states where legislation is under consideration. Dark purple states have laws on the books but are considering changes.

Among the states that have already passed ultrasound legislation, some are attempting to expand the provisions. The Oklahoma state legislature, for example, is considering a bill that will mandate the woman considering an abortion listen to the sound of the fetus' heartbeat as well as look at images of it. 

Kristi Hamrick, a spokesman for the anti-abortion Americans United for Life, confirmed that the group authored a model bill, titled “The Woman’s Ultrasound Right to Know Act” that appears to have been the inspiration for a number of the bills currently under consideration. A Sunlight Foundation analysis that uses technology called SuperFastMatch shows the AUL bill has instances of text matching with all 13 bills to which we compared it. Of course, some bills show much more overlap than others. Matching instances run from a low of one to a high of 29. 

Given that ultrasound bills enacted by two states -- Oklahoma and Louisiana -- are on hold while they are challenged in court, an even more popular model may turn out to be a Texas ultrasound law that was upheld in January by the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Sunlight's analysis using SuperFastMatch shows that the Texas bill shares multiple instances of identical text with 12 of the 13 bills to which it was compared, including Virginia. Our analysis also showed text overlaps between the Texas bill and the model bill written by Americans United for Life. 

SuperFastMatch, an automated textual analysis, identified overlaps in text in multiple ultrasound bills, but also found cases where entire passages were replicated.  In some cases an entire passage was replicated across bills with exception of one word, such as the use of “that” instead of “which,” causing the technology to overlook those instances and not count them as matches.  When that occurs, it takes the work of a human to point out that that passage is in indeed the same. An example of this is below, with the single distinguishing word in each passage boldfaced:

Alabama SB12:

MEDICAL EMERGENCY. A condition which, in reasonable medical judgment, so complicates the medical condition of the pregnant woman as to necessitate the immediate abortion of her pregnancy to avert her death or for which a delay will create serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function, not including psychological or emotional conditions. No condition shall be deemed a medical emergency if based on a claim or diagnosis that the woman will engage in conduct which she intends to result in her death or in substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.

Oklahoma SB1274

"Medical emergency" means a condition that, in reasonable medical judgment, so complicates the medical condition of the pregnant woman that it necessitates the immediate abortion of her pregnancy to avert her death or for which the delay will create serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function, not including psychological or emotional conditions. No condition shall be deemed a medical emergency if based on a claim or diagnosis that the woman will engage in conduct which she intends to result in her death or in substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.

Sometimes the similarities between bills are immediately obvious, like the case of AUL’s model bill and the bills being considered in Alabama and Pennsylvania. All three have a similar title: The model bill is titled “The Woman’s Ultrasound Right to Know Act”, while the Alabama and Pennsylvania bills are titled, “The Right to Know and See Act” and the “Women’s Right to Know Act, respectively.

The 13 bills that Sunlight ran through SuperFastMatch are:

  • Alabama SB12
  • Alaska SB191
  • Illinois HB4085
  • Iowa HF2033
  • Kentucky SB103
  • Michigan SB150
  • Mississippi HB1107
  • New Jersey  S231
  • Ohio HB125
  • Oklahoma SB1274
  • Pennsylvania HB1077
  • South Carolina H3026
  • Virginia HB462

Model legislation appeared on the country’s radar last year after the work of two left-wing organizations revealed the entire catalog of model bills curated by the conservative group American Legislative Exchange Counsel (ALEC). According to the AUL website, members of the anti-abortion organization attended the 2010 ALEC conference to network with state legislators and promote their model bills.   

Embed the map on your site using the following code:

<iframe height="300px" scrolling="no" src="https://www.google.com/fusiontables/embedviz?viz=MAP&amp;q=select+col7+from+3139881+&amp;h=false&amp;lat=40.751575187434796&amp;lng=-98.13995462499997&amp;z=3&amp;t=1&amp;l=col7" width="590px"></iframe><p><i>Source: Sunlight Foundation; Guttmacher Institute</i></p>

(Drew Vogel and Joshua Hatch contributed to this post)