Media misleads on recent ultrasound study
Earlier this month, the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology published a study which has the media swooning. It analyzed over 15,000 abortion-minded women in California in 2011 — some of whom decided to view an ultrasound image of their unborn child. The study purportedly found that these ultrasound images did very little to dissuade women from obtaining an abortion. This study has received significant attention from a number of media outlets including Slate, Time magazine’s Health and Family blog, and RhRealityCheck. The spin is that this study debunks pro-life claims that ultrasound images are effective in persuading abortion-minded women to choose life for their unborn child.
However, a closer look at this study reveals some important limitations with the research. Most important, these ultrasounds were performed by a Planned Parenthood who had a vested financial interest in seeing that the women chose abortion. So there is a good chance the ultrasound images seen by these women were not particularly clear or vivid. Furthermore, the study did show that among women who were conflicted about how to proceed with their pregnancy, the ultrasound image made them statistically less likely to submit to an abortion. This finding held even when a variety of demographic and economic variables were held constant. As such, this study provides good evidence that for a significant subset of abortion-minded women, ultrasound images steer them toward life-affirming choices.
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The coverage of this study provides yet another example of the mainstream media doing its best to portray pro-life efforts as ineffective. For instance, when reporting on declining abortion numbers, most media outlets give increased contraception use most of the credit. However, they fail to report that the unintended pregnancy rate has held constant over the years and that contraception use started to increase well before the abortion rate started to fall. Declines in teen sexual activity typically get little coverage. Similarly, the substantial body of academic research demonstrating the effectiveness of both public-funding restrictions on abortion and pro-life parental-involvement laws receives scant attention from the mainstream media.
Reprinted with permission from National Review Online