WASHINGTON — Sen. Lindsey Graham’s national 15-week abortion ban would likely force many women to undergo invasive transvaginal ultrasounds before having an abortion, doctors say.
Under the bill Graham unveiled last week, doctors could be prosecuted for terminating a pregnancy after 15 weeks except in a few scenarios: to save the mother’s life, or in cases where the pregnant woman or girl ends the pregnancy previously reported as a result of rape or incest.
Physicians would be willing to ask any patient the timing of her pregnancy “and conduct or conduct such medical examinations and tests” as are necessary to “make an accurate determination of gestational age.”
Because violators of Graham’s proposed 15-week ban would be punishable by up to five years in prison, doctors say the legislation would create a strong incentive for transvaginal ultrasounds to be used to determine age.
“Many gynecologists are leaning towards ultrasounds simply because of the liability involved, because they want to protect themselves,” said Karen Tang, a gynecologic surgeon in Pennsylvania. The most accurate medical tests used to assess gestational age are ultrasounds, she added, and they are “almost always done transvaginally” in the early months of pregnancy.
Jennifer Lincoln, an obstetrician in Oregon, said the language used in the age assessment is “vague,” but agreed, “most people will interpret it [that] than ultrasound.”
Even then, said Ben Hamar, a maternal fetal medicine specialist in Massachusetts, the uncertainty surrounding gestational age estimates, which can be as much as a few weeks, means the Graham bill would have a “chilling effect” on doctors , making them less likely to terminate pregnancies within a week or two of the 15-week mark. “The ultrasound has limited accuracy,” Hamar said.
With Democrats controlling the House, Senate and White House, Graham’s bill has no chance of moving forward this year. But it immediately raised the stakes for the November midterm election, the first since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturned federal abortion protections and opened a path for new restrictions on the practice at the national and state levels.
A decade ago, public backlash forced Virginia Republicans to scrap similar transvaginal ultrasound regulations from a state measure designed to ensure more women see images of developing babies before terminating their pregnancy.
Graham’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Before he introduced his bill, it was expected by some in the GOP that Graham’s efforts would help Republicans reset abortion policy. Democrats gained traction with voters following the June Supreme Court decision, and Republicans have been looking for ways to counter that dynamic. But Graham’s move ended up highlighting rifts in the GOP, with Republican strategists questioning the wisdom of his timing and some candidates keeping their distance.
In New Hampshire, Republican Senate candidate Don Bolduc, who opposes federal abortion legislation, raised eyebrows Sunday when he said in a local interview that Sen. Maggie Hassan, DN.H., is not keeping pace with state voters, because she supports abortion rights and that she should “get over it”. Polls show that most of the state’s voters describe themselves as “pro-choice.”
Graham’s abortion ban has won the support of Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who is running for re-election; Rep. Ted Budd, RN.C., who is seeking a Senate seat in his state; and GOP Senate nominees Herschel Walker in Georgia and Blake Masters in Arizona.
But for some Republicans in contested congressional elections, the idea of a federal law contradicts the party’s decades-long insistence that the issue should be decided at the state level. For others, the details of Graham’s ban are politically sensitive, especially in states that have enacted differing abortion restrictions in recent years.
Currently, it is not uncommon for doctors to prescribe pro-abortion drugs during telemedicine appointments. The age assessment requirement of the Graham Act could put an end to this method of early termination of pregnancy as well.
The Mississippi law under consideration in the Dobbs case prohibits abortions in the state after 15 weeks except in cases of severe fetal abnormalities — which often cannot be detected until the later stages of pregnancy — or a medical emergency that means the woman’s life would endanger health or in the long term. It has a gestational age provision similar to Graham’s.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com