Mandatory Ultrasounds Don't Prevent Abortions, Study Finds

If there was ever a medical study with huge political ramifications, it'd be this one: researchers have concluded that ultrasounds may not convince women against having abortions anywhere near as much as some pro-life activists might like to think. Published this month in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, the study's results are based on data that researchers collected and examined from 15,575 medical records from a Los Angeles abortion care provider.

Right now, 10 states have mandatory ultrasound laws on the books for women seeking abortions, and conservative pundit Rachel Campos-Duffy recently claimed that "upwards of 90 percent" of women were put off abortions after having an ultrasound. This isn't true: of all the women in the study, 42.5 percent opted to see an ultrasound of their unborn baby when they given the choice. Results? Out of those 42.5 percent, a massive 98.4 percent still went ahead with the abortion.

However, that's not to say that ultrasounds are ineffective means to stop women from having abortions. Doctors in the study also asked each patient how she felt about her decision to abort, and responses were rated on a scale of "high decision certainty" (so the woman replied decisively) to medium or low decision certainty (so the woman's reply was sad, angry, or unsure.)

Of all the patients, only 7.4 percent of the women were rated as having medium or low decision certainties — the rest felt certain it was the right choice. And the 1.6 percent of the women who viewed the ultrasounds, but did not go ahead with the abortion, all had medium or low decision certainties. This means that for a minority of women, the ultrasounds were helpful — and that's a piece of the data we shouldn't neglect.

As Slate's Katy Waldman eloquently pointed out:

I don’t buy the patronizing notion that patients seeking abortion “know not what they do”—that they have some false idea about the contents of their uteruses to be toppled by an “adorable,” “precious” or “lifelike” sonogram. I also doubt all women even have the maternal instinct right-wingers hope these images will fan to life. But I do trust that unsure women who voluntarily look at ultrasounds and then decide against abortion are acting as rationally as the ones who decide to go through with it.

Waldman adds that, given that over 50 percent of the women declined to see the ultrasounds, it's clear that women shouldn't be forced to see them to qualify for an abortion.

To conclude: C'mon, U.S. states,, stop forcing women to view ultrasounds against their will. But give them the option to have one.

Want to know which states need to be shamed into changing laws and which states get bonus points for not forcing women to view ultrasounds? Here's the general breakdown of ultrasound laws via the Guttmacher Institute. But each law or policy comes with exceptions.

  • Provider required to perform ultrasound and show and describe it to mother: Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, Wisconsin.
  • Provider required to perform ultrasound and to offer to show it: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Virginia
  • If provider performs ultrasound before abortion as procedure, provider is required to offer woman opportunity to view it: Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia
  • Provider required to give woman opportunity to view ultrasound: Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah

Image: Getty