Saturday, January 21, 2006

Option Ultrasound?

I was listening to a radio interview by the infamous Dr. Dobson with a woman involved in creating and promoting Focus on the Family's "Option Ultrasound" program, which is increasingly employed by pregnancy resource centers to discourage women from choosing abortion. The idea is that if women see the fetus, they'll be less inclined to terminate the pregnancy. According to the program's website, 79% of PRC clients decide to carry their pregnancy to term after viewing the ultrasound. I have more questions than answers about this, and would like to hear what my readers have to say.

On one hand, abortion is a serious decision, and perhaps ultrasounds help women more fully understand their pregnancy while making their choice. On the other hand, is this a form of emotional blackmail? A woman may feel warm and fuzzy at the point of the ultrasound, but that feeling is not going to support her through the pregnancy, is not going to erase poverty, abuse, rape, or health concerns that may cause a woman to choose abortion. It's not going to help her finish high school. It's not going to be accompanied by information on all of her options, but is going to be used as part of a campaign to get her to have a baby. Is coercion with no intent to fully inform an ethical use of medical technology?

I only found two articles in medical journals on this topic. One is an editorial in the Journal of Medical Ethics titled "The Role of Medical Imaging in the Abortion Debate" [30(5): 426] - the full text of this is available for free online. In this editorial, the author takes on the notion that a fetus viewed through ultrasound can be seen to smile. The second piece, from the Journal of Medical Humanities, is titled, "Ultrasound: A Window to the Womb?: Obstetric Ultrasound and the Abortion Rights Debate" [25(1): 7-19, abstract only].

So, what say you?

Technorati Tags: ; ;
MeSH Tags: Abortion, Induced; Ethics; Ultrasonography/ethics


Blogger Kat Coble said...

Having worked in a Crisis Pregnancy Center and Early Childhood counselling service, (same thing as a PRC, more or less...) I can definitely say that the 79% number, while interesting, is somewhat skewed.

Most women who enter a CPC environment are strongly leaning away from abortion in the first place. It maybe wasn't that way 25 years ago, but the lines are now so clearly drawn societally that you pretty much know which flavour of argument is being sold by whom. In other words, how many of those 79% were seriously considering abortion in the first place and were swayed from a definitive position on termination by the ultrasound?

My personal experience is that I would like to see EVERY pregnancy carried to term. I would like to see EVERY pregnancy supported fully, and every child supported fully. I'd like to see tax credits put in place to make raising children easier. I'd like to see greater tax credits in place to incentivise the adoption process. My ideal PRC would be one that offers support for young women who want to have their baby and finish high school. For job training. TRUE support.

I'd rather those of us who are pro-life (and pro-choice---long story...) contribute our dollars to such an environment. We need to stop funding Operation Rescue and start funding Family Development Support, etc.

Ultimately a woman's choice should be her own. But I'd like to see her choose to give birth to the baby, and I'd like to those who share my position put their time and money where their mouths are.

Is use of the ultrasound ethical? I think so. I think it's more ethical and life affirming than the old flip books of aborted fetuses that some CPCs used in the 80s. I think it's more information toward making a choice--and I'm all in favour of more information of any type.

8:48 PM  
Blogger Rachel said...

Thank you for your comment - I was hoping to hear from you based on your mention elsewhere of work at a CPC. Your last line, "I'm all in favour of more information of any type," is, I think, where my inner librarian wrestles my feminist politics, and why I thought this was an interesting dilemma. I can certainly see the offer of an ultrasound as a bit of information for a woman to help her make a fully informed decision. On the other hand, I would be concerned if that information was being used solely for the coercion of women.

"Most women who enter a CPC environment are strongly leaning away from abortion in the first place." This is something I was also curious about, whether women are generally informed at this point that they go to CPC's when abortion is not really one of the options they're considering in the first place.

Also, I think the issue of fully supporting pregnancy, parents, and children is something where pro-choice and pro-life women should really be able to get together, but I so seldom seem to hear about it happening.

9:44 PM  
Blogger Kat Coble said...

at this point that they go to CPC's when abortion is not really one of the options they're considering in the first place.

My experience is that there are two tiers of women coming into a CPC

1. Free pregnancy test.

99% of CPC/PRCs offer these to anyone without question. EPTs are so expensive that we've had women who are trying to get pregnant, want to be pregnant and are in no position of crisis come in solely for the test. That's fine with me on one level, but it does eat up a lot of budgetary resources.

2. Pregnancy counseling and support

These women come in because they're in a crisis pregnancy situation of one type or another, and they view abortion as the absolute last resort--one they don't want to pursue unless absolutely necessary. I've personally never seen a woman come to a CPC/PRC who was on the fence. There's this romantic ideal that you've got a blank slate young woman who hasn't a clue which way to go and is just waiting for pearls of wisdom from your lips to make her decision. Not even once in my experience was that the case.

They want:

--Someone to be with them when they tell their parents/boyfriend.

--Someone to help them find an OB they can afford and/or someone to pay for their OB visits. Many CPCs have a network of OBs who work pro bono for CPC referrals.

--Someone to provide rides to the doctor, babysitters for older children during doctor visits

--Baby clothes, furniture or other items.

--Someone to talk them out of having an abortion. This is the touchiest one from a pro-choice standpoint. It makes it sound as though the CPC counsellor is coercive. But when the conversation starts with "I really don't want an abortion cause I think it's wrong to kill my baby but I don't know what else I can do..."

This is the one that I had problems with, and complained to various CPC head counsellors about. Back in the 80s/early 90s this is when some of them would whip out the flipbooks. I hate those flipbooks with every fibre of my being. It's page after page of spiral bound glossy photos of fetus in the trash, dismembered fetuses, bloody heads arms and limbs. I don't know anyone who uses them now, thank God. What senseless cruelty. I don't want to see that graphic stuff and I'm not hormonal with pregnancy, scared about my options and in unfamiliar territory surrounded by strangers.

sorry. End rant. Anyway, That's usually how the dialog starts with 90% of the people that a CPC will label "undecided." To me, they're not at all undecided. They have pretty much made their choice, and are coming to you to affirm the choice they've made and help them over the roughest of the consequences. When you hear them out, they are only entertaining the idea of an abortion as a last resort because they don't want to tell mom and dad or they don't have an OB or they don't know how to have the baby and finish high school. A good, well-funded CPC helps with the hurdles.

I think it's funny because from what I hear the Planned Parenthood folk assume that women come into a CPC as blank slates and are coerced into keeping their babies. The CPC folk assume that women come into Planned Parenthood as blank slates and are coerced into having an abortion.

My experience of the reality--and of the realities my Planned Parenthood counselor friend has told me--is that it's just not so. Most of the time the woman knows which option she's going to exercise when she crosses the threshold of whichever building she's already made the trip to. And in the cases of my Planned Parenthood friends, they ARE sensitive enough to suss out the few who come to them and don't really want to abort. They've even referred the girls to CPCs. And I've heard tell of CPC workers who've driven girls to their abortion appointments. Fundamentally, you can't work on the frontlines of this issue without ending up with compassion for sisters in a struggle.

Protesters outside clinics are a different story, and I have no patience for them. They are doing nothing to help the situation.

10:38 PM  
Blogger Exador said...

Allow me to send you around the bend.

Georgia has a bill currently working through the legislature that will require that any place that provides abortions has an ultrasound machine on premises and offers to show their prospective clients the ultrasound.

I'm not a huge pro or anti on this topic, but it pisses me off when they pull such an obvious scam to

A) Make it that much harder for anybody to provide an abortion. What d'ya think an ultrasound machine costs? 100 grand? More?

B) Try and sway a woman who's already going through hell, by showing her "a picture of the baby she's about to kill."

That's just shitty. Conservative assholes trying to control peoples' lives with their self rightous bullshit.

God I hate them. If they spent half their time getting their own yards in order before trying to control other peoples lives..Fuckheads.

11:04 PM  

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