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Will Looking at an Ultrasound Before an Abortion Change Your Mind?

4 minute read

Deciding to get an abortion is never easy, and pro-life advocates have recently tried to make that choice more difficult. Pro-life legislators have succeeded in passing mandatory ultrasound laws for women considering abortions in ten states. They argue ultrasounds give women as much information as possible before they make their decision. Implicitly, the right-wing logic goes that if a woman sees her sonogram, she will want to carry her pregnancy to term.

But a new study published this month in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology debunks that theory. Women who were already certain that they wanted to get an abortion went through with the procedure even after seeing an ultrasound.

In one of the largest studies on the topic to date, researchers analyzed 15,575 medical records from an abortion care provider in Los Angeles. Each patient was asked about her choice for an abortion and answers were divided into high, medium and low decision certainty about the procedure, with only 7.4 percent of women falling in the latter two categories. All patients underwent an ultrasound, and 42.5 percent of them opted to see images. Of those who saw the pictures, 98.4 percent went on to terminate the pregnancies.

Here’s the most important part, as highlighted in Slate: the 1.6 percent women who viewed the sonograms and decided to carry their pregnancy to term all had medium or low certainty about the procedure when interviewed before the ultrasound.

In short: Women who were certain about having an abortion before coming to the clinic did not change their minds because of the sonogram; but some of the women who were uncertain about the procedure to begin with were dissuaded by the sonogram picture.

The study contradicts earlier (pro-life abortion crisis center funded) studies that said fetal bonding could occur with women who did not want to give birth. The studies have become so pervasive that last year, pro-life pundit Rachel Campos-Duffy claimed that more than 90 percent of women change their minds about abortion after seeing their ultrasound.

These new results showing that women rarely change their minds about this difficult choice aren’t all that surprising. The decision to have an abortion is based on a number of personal factors: money, age, stability, who the father is, life plans, etc. Seeing a sonogram picture does not change those factors.

However, for the very small percentage of women who are doubtful about having an abortion when they visit a clinic, the ultrasound can sway their decision. So what’s the harm in a law that requires an ultrasound if it will not change the minds of women who are certain but will give more information to women who are on the fence?

Pro-choice advocates would argue that offering the option of an ultrasound and requiring an ultrasound are very different. Choice is after all their guiding principle. And it follows that they are against this requirement and believe that making a woman have a sonogram is both an invasion of privacy and a tactic used to shame women out of having abortions.

And then there’s the issue of whether these mandatory ultrasounds violate women’s constitutional rights. In November, the Supreme Court rejected the state of Oklahoma’s efforts to reinstate a law that would require women to undergo an ultrasound of their fetus before proceeding with an abortion, ruling that such a law conflicted with Roe v. Wade: ultrasounds impose an “undue burden” on the women’s right to a procedure.

This study lends more credence to the idea that women who are certain that an abortion is the right choice for them are not going to change their mind, and putting these women through the process of an ultrasound is an undue physical and emotional burden as The Supreme Court has indicated in its rulings so far. But with a renewed focus on abortion in the House this year, the debate is far from over.

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Write to Eliana Dockterman at eliana.dockterman@time.com