Sisterhood Blog

When Ultrasounds Are Used for No Good

By Deborah Kolben

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I’ve thought about ultrasounds a lot throughout my pregnancy. I had my first one at five weeks. The doctor showed me a tiny black circle inside a larger white circle and said it was my baby. At eight weeks, the black and white image morphed into a head and body. I cried when I heard the heartbeat. By 10 weeks, I could see a head, two hands, and two feet. At 12 weeks, I was sent for a special 4D screening. There, I could see a video of the fetus’ whole body squirming around. I could even see it sucking its thumb. And, at the end, I was given the option of taking home a DVD to share with friends and family.

The point of that screening was to determine if there were any major medical problems with the baby, the unsaid point being that it would still be early enough to terminate the pregnancy.

I’ve always been fervently pro-choice. I was dragged to rallies Washington, D.C. before I even understood how babies were made. But here I was confronted with images of my own fetus — my baby! — and I started to wonder if I would ever have been able to go through with an abortion, after all.

So, I was gripped by the news last week that a particular Oklahoma law — one that would have required women seeking abortions to first view an ultrasound before going through the procedure — had been struck down. The law mandated that the doctor or clinician performing the abortion must make the ultrasound monitor visible and point out the fingers, toes, and heartbeat of the fetus in question. The woman isn’t required to look — she could avert her eyes — but after the screening she must sign a consent form saying that the ultrasound and script had been followed.

The law was struck down — not because it treats women as children — but rather because it bundled together a bunch of different abortion laws and therefore violated a clause in the state constitution requiring that bills deal with only one subject.

The bill’s sponsor, State Senator Todd Lamb, a Republican, gave this explanation:

Before that mother goes through the procedure, we believe it is positive public policy to give her as much information as possible about that baby. … She might just change her mind and, who knows, that baby could be a future Nobel Prize winner.

It’s hard to argue that a woman shouldn’t be as informed as possible before making such a life-altering decision as having an abortion. The problem here — regardless of your feelings on abortion — is the assumption that women are making these decisions on a whim without considering the implications. That if she just had a calm doctor step in and explain what she was doing, then the woman would suddenly decide that she could raise that baby.

My own pregnancy and the complex feelings about abortion that emerged from it, rather than turn me anti-choice — mom, I promise I’m not! — made me even angrier with anti-abortion crusaders who taunt women outside abortion clinics. The decision of having an abortion isn’t one that any woman can take lightly. And, as Anita Fream, the head of Planned Parenthood of Central Oklahoma said, forcing a woman who has already made a painful decision to have an abortion then sit down, watch an ultrasound and have a technician point out the details of the fetus, “It almost reaches the stage of seeming cruel to me.”

I’d say!



Comments
Leah Berkenwald Thu. Aug 27, 2009

I could not agree with you more.

This recently hit home for me, as an acquaintance of mine found herself in a doctor's office, looking at the ultrasound picture of her fetus. I am not sure of the details of the Massachusetts law, and neither was she, but she was given the impression that she HAD to view the ultrasound.

Forcing a woman to watch an ultrasound IS cruel, and for those who love to talk about how "damaging" abortion is to a woman's mental and emotional health, I imagine that the shaming and stigma women endure, at what is already a painful and difficult time, is comparably traumatizing.

Tali Thu. Aug 27, 2009

I agree! Not only that it's cruel, but as you pointed out, it treats women as children. Who do these anti-abortionists think they are?!!?

Thanks for a great article.

Judith Fri. Aug 28, 2009

Further, women may choose NOT to have an ultrasound. As with many other medical advances, it is not clear yet that this procedure really is without side effects. Forcing a woman to undergo the procedure, let alone view the results, is a violation of many rights.

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