Abortion and the politics of ultrasound

Posted: Mar 26, 2007 12:00 AM
Abortion and the politics of ultrasound

South Carolina appears close to becoming the first state in the country to require that women considering an abortion view an ultrasound image of their fetus before deciding to undergo the procedure.

The state House has passed the legislation 91-23, prospects that the Senate will pass it look good and Gov. Mark Sanford has stated his support for the initiative.

Opponents call it "intimidation" and "emotional blackmail" of women seeking to abort.

According to NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan, "The women of South Carolina are fully capable of asking their doctor for information they need to make private, personal medical decisions. Politicians don't belong in the examining room."

Seventeen states already have or are considering legislation that would ensure that ultrasound viewing is available to women considering abortion. But South Carolina would be the first to make the viewing mandatory.

Those advancing the legislation feel that the state must guarantee that women considering abortion have all available relevant information before making this life-changing decision. The powerful images that ultrasound makes possible are surely relevant. I support this view and support the legislation.

Anyone who follows me and my work knows that I am staunchly "pro-life." I aggressively support and work with the nationwide crisis-pregnancy-center movement that counsels women considering abortion, encourages them to have their children and helps them with their lives after they give birth.

From the vantage point of we who deeply care about the abortion debate, there isn't much in the way of shades of gray. It's black and white _ a clashing of fundamentally different worldviews. Which is why the emotions run so deep.

An increasing number of crisis-pregnancy centers now have ultrasound equipment that allows clients to see the child developing within them. Their experience shows that there is little question that this materially impacts the decision that women make. Centers report that anywhere from 62 percent up to 95 percent of women who had intended to abort changed their minds after seeing the images.

Assuming that these statistics are accurate, the question remains whether these young women changed their minds because their perceptions of the reality with which they were dealing changed, or because they were intimidated or emotionally blackmailed.

Intimidation or blackmail implies some kind of threat. What exactly might that threat be?

You might say that a young woman with a pregnancy she did not intend is emotionally vulnerable. I would agree with that.

It's exactly why statements from the NARAL universe that portray these young women ("fully capable of asking their doctor for information they need") as cool, sober and rational, calculating the equivalent of whether or not to have a wart removed, or to get a Botox injection, are so ludicrous.

As any woman can tell you, instincts and intuition are powerful. These women are stressed because they know that suddenly the decision they have to make is not casual. That it is deeply meaningful and gravely important. Chances are, if they had the tools at their disposal to make a proper decision, they would not be in the situation they are in to begin with.

In South Carolina, as in the nation as a whole, about half the abortions that are performed are on women under 24. Around 17 percent are on women under age 19.

What kind of sense can it possibly make to suggest that a young woman, who we don't think is old enough to vote or go into a liquor store and buy beer, has the resources on her own to understand the implications of aborting a child? Is there some absence of proportion here?

A woman in her 40s may not remember who taught her math in high school, but she'll never forget the abortion she had. Why?

Knowledge comes to us through different paths. We hear and read words. But visual images are something else. Why, when we realize something we had been indifferent to or unaware of, do we say our "eyes were opened"?

More eyes are opening in our country today and realizing that freedom is not tantamount to meaninglessness.

When these young women see fingers, toes and a beating heart, they understand the emerging life within them. This is a profound moment of personal growth. It's what causes their change and opens the door to their own rebirth and a life with new possibilities.

As in the words of the great hymn, "Amazing Grace": "Was blind, but now I see."

Sanford and the South Carolina legislature provide a model of leadership and human responsibility toward which the rest of the nation should take a long, careful and hard look.