John Jalsevac

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Do ultrasounds save lives? New study claims ‘no.’ Pro-life experts says ‘yes…but it’s complicated’

John Jalsevac
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January 9, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Abortion supporters are pointing to a new study as evidence that laws mandating that abortionists show abortion-minded mothers ultrasound images of their babies do not sway their final decision to keep the child. 

However, pro-life experts on the ultrasound legislation and the use of sonograms to steer women towards life-affirming alternatives told LifeSiteNews.com that while the results of the study are not particularly surprising, they also only tell less than half the story about the life-saving power of ultrasounds.

The study, which was authored by a group of researchers with the pro-abortion ANSIRH think tank, was published this month in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology. It bases its findings on records from more than 15,000 women who sought abortions at Planned Parenthood Los Angeles in 2011. 

According to the study authors, each of the women was given the opportunity by a Planned Parenthood staff member to view an ultrasound of her baby. But while 42.5 percent of the women took advantage of the opportunity, only a small minority of these (1.6 percent) changed their minds about aborting their babies. This was marginally more than the one percent of women who did not view the ultrasound who decided to continue their pregnancies. 

“Voluntarily viewing the ultrasound image may contribute to a small proportion of women with medium or low decision certainty deciding to continue the pregnancy,” the study's authors concluded, adding that “such viewing does not alter decisions of the large majority of women who are certain that abortion is the right decision.” 

The authors recommend that “mandatory viewing should be avoided,” speculating that it could “have negative psychological and physical effects even on women who wish to view.” 

Pro-life activists: experience shows ultrasounds work

But Brian Fisher, the founder of Online for Life, a pro-life organization that specializes in connecting abortion-bound women with ultrasound-providing crisis pregnancy centers, says that, at best, the study proves only that the ultrasounds provided at abortion clinics have a limited effect, not that sonograms are an inherently weak tool.

“We've always maintained that the key to changing hearts and minds isn't the ultrasound in a vacuum,” Fisher told LifeSiteNews.com  “It is an ultrasound given within a caring, compassionate environment where explanation and counsel can be given.” 

Online for Life prides itself on its data-driven approach to pro-life work, and Fisher says their data shows that about 43 percent of at-risk women who visit one of their partner crisis pregnancy centers, all of which are equipped with ultrasounds, will choose life. The ultrasound plays a large role in convincing these women to keep their babies, he said.

Other pro-life organizations report similarly dramatic results when sonograms are combined with pro-life counseling and are provided even to the most abortion-determined women. 

Joe Baker, the founder of Save the Storks, a group that is developing a fleet of state-of-the-art “Stork Buses” equipped with sonogram machines, told LifeSiteNews.com that on one of their test buses in New York, three out of every five abortion-determined women ultimately chose life. 

ICU Mobile, another, more-established organization that also provides sonograms to abortion-bound women via mobile ultrasound units, reports on their website that in 2010 their fleet met with 613 “abortion-minded or abortion-vulnerable” women, 533 (86.9 percent) of whom “made a decision for life.”  

Abortion clinics are unlikely to provide life-affirming ultrasounds

But if the experience of pro-life organizations with ultrasound is so overwhelmingly positive, why the dramatically different results of the ANSIRH study? According to Michael New, assistant professor of political science at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and one of the country’s leading experts on pro-life legislation, researchers need look no further than who was providing the sonogram in the study. 

"The situation where these women viewed the ultrasounds of their unborn children was far from ideal,” he said. "These ultrasounds were performed by abortion providers who had a vested financial interest in seeing that women choose abortion.”   

Brian Fisher pointed out that study provides little detail on how women at the Planned Parenthood clinic were asked whether they wanted to see the sonogram, and what the viewing procedure was like - things that can make all the difference.

It’s “poor science,” he said, to base a study on “one channel only in an environment where the lab reaps financial benefit.” A better study, he suggested, would have compared and contrasted how an abortion clinic and a crisis pregnancy center introduce and explain a sonogram, and how the results differ.

Baker agreed, telling LifeSiteNews.com that while, in the right hands, sonograms can be a “powerful, powerful tool” that can lead to "the magic of a woman beginning to bond with her baby," it is also possible to perform an ultrasound in a way that seems to confirm the pro-abortion worldview. 

“The sonogram is a big part of what we do on the Stork Bus, but it needs a counselor who’s pointing out: 'look at these little toes, look at how big it is'…who are articulating different parts of the body, etc,” he said. “That’s the magic. It’s not, let’s buzz this thing up for two minutes, flash around, and then get to it, which is what you’re going to get at an abortion clinic. You’re not going to get a great, wonderful sonogram. They’re not interested in that. They feel forced to do it.” 

In some cases, suggested New, the problem could be as basic as the fact that a sonographer at a Planned Parenthood clinic could easily show women an image that is too blurry to provide any meaningful detail. Pro-life legislators have raised concerns in the past that abortion clinics may be adhering to the letter of ultrasound laws by deliberately showing women images that are incomplete or out of focus.

Health and safety inspections of abortion clinics often find that abortion clinics are using outdated ultrasound machines.

Despite limitations, ultrasound laws are still valuable, says New

But if sonograms performed by abortion clinics are, comparatively, so ineffectual, that raises the question of whether it is even worth the trouble trying to pass and enforce mandated-ultrasound laws. 

According to the Guttmacher Institute, nearly two dozen states currently regulate ultrasounds prior to abortions. Three of those states require abortionists to perform an ultrasound and show the image to the woman while describing what she is seeing. In another 20 states the abortionist only has to offer the woman the opportunity to view the ultrasound if she so wishes, although in nine of those states this only applies if the abortionist is already performing the ultrasound as preparation for the abortion. 

For New, the answer to the question is easy enough: even the ANSIRH study, with its limitations, shows that the ultrasounds did in fact change some women’s minds - and that’s a result that shouldn’t be dismissed lightly. 

“The study did show that among women who were conflicted about their decision to seek an abortion, the ultrasound image made them statistically less likely to submit to an abortion,” he said. “As such, this study provides good statistical evidence that for a significant subset of abortion minded women - ultrasounds images steer them toward life affirming choices.”

However, Baker says the study may highlight some of the weaknesses of ultrasound laws, and highlights the importance of Save the Stork’s approach to reaching at-risk women by bypassing the abortion clinics altogether.

“We think the solution is let’s innovate and find ways to get to abortion-determined women in front of the sonogram with a trained counselor who can show them what’s going on,” he said. “That’s the mission. It’s not get Planned Parethood staff to give our sonograms.

“I think money and time should be invested with, how do we just get to that girl with our presentation, our sonogram?”



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