I’ll never forget the sonogram I had of my now 2-year-old daughter at around 10 weeks pregnant. From the moment I found out I was pregnant, I was ambivalent. Part of me felt certain that I wanted to have the baby. On the other hand, I struggled with the reality of rearranging my life in order to take on motherhood at age 25. I questioned every day whether I was making the right choice.
Then I saw my 8-week-old fetus arching her back, rolling around, and extending her arms and legs in the womb. Although no one was pressuring me to “keep it,” I decided on my own that I had passed the point of no return. I was continuing the pregnancy. After seeing the sonogram, I finally felt confident that it was what I wanted.
Since then, I’ve listened to pro-lifers and feminists bicker back and forth about whether viewing an ultrasound has any effect on a pregnant woman’s decision-making. Pro-lifers have published their own studies arguing that up to 78% of women seeking abortion change their mind when they view these images. Feminists say that’s bunk, and argue that women know exactly what they’re doing when they enter an abortion clinic.
Therefore, I was surprised to see a headline on the left-leaning Slate.com that declares, “A new study finds that for a small percentage of women, sonograms change minds.”
Slate’s Katy Waldman reports on a new study in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, which examined patient records from an urban abortion clinic in Los Angeles. Waldman emphasizes that of the women who opted to see the sonogram (and most didn’t), the vast majority still had their abortions. But for a small minority, the images seemed to confirm that they never wanted an abortion to begin with.
Each patient seeking an abortion was asked how she felt about her choice: Those who made “clear and confident” replies were rated as having “high decision certainty,” while those who seemed sad, angry, or ambivalent were said to show “medium” or “low” decision certainty. (Only 7.4 percent of the women fell into the latter categories)… The women who viewed the sonograms and then backed out were all part of that 7.4 percent of women with low or medium decision certainty. For the 1.6 percent who decided not to go through with it, other factors, such as gestational age, were more salient in swaying them. (“It is the information the ultrasound scan renders … rather than the image that influences women’s decision-making,” the researchers write.)
In other words, an ultrasound can provide crucial information for the woman who’s still on the fence about whether to have an abortion. She might discover that she’s farther along than she thought, or that her “fetus” is more baby-like than she imagined. Isn’t it best to offer the ambivalent patient this information first, rather than go ahead and perform an abortion?
Even Waldman says yes, although she opposes making it mandatory: “Few pro-choicers would dream of denying a woman considering abortion the opportunity to peruse her ultrasound, if she wanted to.” The researchers at Obstetrics & Gynecology agree: “patient satisfaction and health outcomes … are enhanced when patients feel control over decisions related to their care.”
For some, an ultrasound image can provide the information they need to “take control” and continue their pregnancies. Even where they’re not required by law, clinics should at least offer women the chance to view their sonogram before making an irreversible choice.