Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Ultra-Sound and Abortion

Sex, Life, and VideotapeUltrasound and the future of abortion.
By William Saletan

Last week, pro-lifers won their biggest victory in 40 years: a Supreme Court decision upholding the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. This week, they announced their next target. Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, concluded that the court's ruling "should give encouragement to the legislators who are pursuing other types of regulation," particularly bills that "require the abortionist to offer the woman an opportunity to view an ultrasound" of her fetus.

For pro-lifers, this segue is logical. For the court, it means trouble. It threatens to unravel the latest judicial compromise and, with it, Roe v. Wade. In its April 18 ruling, the court treated abortion like an obscenity—something that could be done, but not out in the open. Partial-birth abortions, the court reasoned, could be banned because they occur outside the woman's body. Other abortions need not be outlawed, since the womb conceals them.

Ultrasound dissolves this distinction. It offers to make every fetus and every abortion visible. It forces the court to renounce either the partial-birth ban or the right to abortion.

For 34 years, the court allowed states to regulate but not ban pre-viability abortions. That era ended April 18. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court, ruled that the partial-birth ban was compatible with Roe because abortions other than the partial-birth kind would remain legal.
Kennedy's colleague, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, ridiculed this distinction. The partial-birth ban, she pointed out, "saves not a single fetus," since it allowed the doctor to tear apart the fetus inside the womb instead of pulling it partway out before killing it. "[T]he notion that either of these two equally gruesome procedures … is more akin to infanticide than the other, or that the State furthers any legitimate interest by banning one but not the other, is simply irrational," she wrote.

Kennedy replied that the selective ban was rational because partial-birth abortion, unlike internal dismemberment, "occurs when the fetus is partially outside the mother" and therefore had a "disturbing similarity to the killing of a newborn infant." This similarity, he argued, gave Congress reason to believe that the partial-birth procedure uniquely "undermines the public's perception" of medical ethics and would "coarsen society to the humanity" of innocent life.
In other words, it's rational and constitutional to ban abortions based on how they look, not what they are. Inside the womb, a fetus bears just as much similarity to an infant as it does outside. But killing the fetus inside is OK, because the public won't perceive and be "coarsened" by what's being done.

That's a pretty cynical distinction. It's hard to accept if you see abortion as a woman's right. But it's even harder to accept if you see abortion as the taking of a human life. That's one reason why pro-lifers are turning their attention from partial-birth abortion to ultrasound, from the fetus outside the body to the fetus within. They're trying to open, in their words, a "window to the womb."

Pro-lifers are often caricatured as stupid creationists who just want to put women back in their place. Science and free inquiry are supposed to help them get over their "love affair with the fetus." But science hasn't cooperated. Ultrasound has exposed the life in the womb to those of us who didn't want to see what abortion kills. The fetus is squirming, and so are we.

Around the country, ultrasound bills are all the rage. Most of them require clinics to offer each woman an ultrasound view of her fetus. Mississippi enacted a law on March 22. Idaho followed April 3. Georgia's legislature passed a bill a week ago; South Carolina's is about to do the same.
Critics complain that these bills seek to "bias," "coerce," and "guilt-trip" women. Come on. Women aren't too weak to face the truth. If you don't want to look at the video, you don't have to. But you should look at it, and so should the guy who got you pregnant, because the decision you're about to make is as grave as it gets.

Are ultrasound pushers trying to bias your decision? Of course. But of all the things they do to "inform" your decision, this is the least twisted. Look at the Senate's "Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act." It would order your doctor to deliver a 193-word script full of bogus congressional findings about your "pain-capable unborn child." Ultrasound cuts through that kind of garbage. The image on the monitor may look like a blob, a baby, or neither. It certainly won't follow some senator's script. All it will show you is the truth.

If I were a legislator, I'd offer four amendments to any ultrasound bill. First, the government should pick up the tab. Second, the woman should also be offered a six-hour videotape of a screaming 1-year-old. Third, any juror deliberating whether to issue a death sentence should be offered the chance to view an execution. Fourth, anyone buying meat should be offered the chance to watch video from a slaughterhouse. If my first amendment passed but the others failed, I'd still vote for the bill.

To pro-lifers, ultrasound is a test of pro-choice sincerity. "The same people who scream that women must always be told 'all their options,' including abortion, balk at allowing women to see whom it is whose life they are about to take," says Mary Spaulding Balch, NRLC's state legislative director. "They are petrified that women will change their minds after seeing their babies."

Maybe. But pro-lifers seem equally petrified that women won't change their minds. They rigged Mississippi's ultrasound law with a clause that would ban nearly all abortions if Roe is overturned. Now the Supreme Court has echoed that equivocation, ruling that one way to "inform" women of the evil of partial-birth abortion is to criminalize it. But the clash between ultrasound and the partial-birth ban is ultimately a choice between information and prohibition. To trust the ultrasound, you have to trust the woman.

A version of this article also appears in the Outlook section of the Sunday Washington Post.


Tara said...

I think that women should have to see an ultra- sound before they have an abortion. This helps them to realize that the tiny fetus inside of them is very much alive. It might have an impact on them in terms of whether or not they end up getting an abortion or not. At the same time thought I think that it is the parent’s choice to have and abortion. I know that some people feel that it should only be the women’s choice but I feel that it is just as much the man’s choice too even though the woman is the one who will be ultimately carrying the fetus to term. Both the mother and the father should agree with each other when it comes to the decision of abortion. I also don’t think that they should ban partial birth abortion because that could lead to the ban of abortion all together. I feel that is the parent’s choice. I think that getting rid of abortion all together would cause problems because women who would still want to get an abortion would have nowhere to go and would be force to go to “back alley” abortion clinics that are unsafe.
I also don’t agree with the argument that partial birth abortion is worse then internal abortion because either way you are still killing the baby. I hate the fact that people think that if you kill the fetus while it is still in the uterus it is not the same as if you have a partial birth abortion. I feel that it is the same.
Everyone has different situations in their lives and I think that this is a very individual issue and they should have the right to decide for their own selves.

east_ky said...

I believe that it is a woman’s choice whether or not to keep or abort a child. I do believe that killing a child in the womb is just the same as killing a child in a partial birth abortion. So, I believe that there shouldn't be a ban on partial birth abortions. It’s like saying that there is less shame in killing a child in the womb because no one can see it. That being said, I believe that it is completely up to the mother. I do not believe that a mother should be forced to view an ultrasound if she does not want too. This is just the first step in a long line of legislation that is leading the way to a ban on abortions altogether. This is not a safe prospect because women will then have to turn to more unsafe methods to have abortions. I believe a decision as big as abortion is completely up to the mother. After all she is the one who actually has to carry the child to term. I believe that all women have the right t choose. Every pregnancy situation is different so we should not pass legislation that will affect all of them differently.

DemocratLove said...

I believe every woman should have the right to decide in abortion or not. Every scenario and case is different. This is why Im in favor of pro-choice. I along with east_ky, agree that there should not be a ban on partial birth abortions. There are many groups out there who are in support of reducing teen pregnancy, getting rid of the obstacles of cross-racial adoption, and political leaders providing tax credits for families to adopt. It is necessary in some cases where a woman's life is in trouble, her health is at stake, or possibly even the birth of more children is at risk because of one pregnancy. That's why people should believe in a woman's choice. Legislation shouldn't dictate an individuals rights or thoughts or even actions. Everyone should believe that every woman should ultimatley make the choice with herself, her doctor, and God.

raiden5060 said...

As if women don’t already have enough to worry about. The right to control their reproduction is the single most fundamental right held by women. Without that, women are compelled to be a “mother” first and a woman second. I’ve read about a disturbing trend of pharmacists refusing to fill women’s birth control prescriptions for “moral objections.” Despicable! The Supreme Court really drew the line in the sand by upholding the “partial-birth abortion” ban. They refused to make an exception if the woman’s health was at stake—which is already the only reason late-term abortions are carried out. Their reasoning was that doctors would do it anyway for the woman’s health. Why? The federal government will not back them up if they do so… It was just a blatantly misogynist ruling. I’d heard about mandating ultra-sounds before abortions before, and it too is very sickening. What a cheap shot against women. Imagine a young mother, afraid and ashamed, without any options, no money; the guy who got her pregnant won’t claim it—her parents have disowned her. On top of that, you want to force her to view pictures of her fetus? That’s just a disgusting way to score a cheap political point. Conservatives will not hesitate to play politics with people’s private lives: Gay marriage, abortion, abstinence; they’re just obsessed with other people’s sex lives. They’ll use any method at their disposal to control a person’s sex life.

osubuckeye said...

I don’t believe that a woman getting an abortion should have to look at an ultrasound beforehand. I think every woman should have the right to choose whether or not they want or need and abortion. I agree with both DemocratLove and east_ky that there should not be a ban on partial birth abortions. Whether you kill a fetus on the inside or partially on the outside it is the same. I don’t understand how people can think that a nation’s government has the right to decide for all women, no matter the circumstance, that abortion is wrong. I personally feel that it can be a good think. There are many situations in which a mother would do more harm to herself if she could not have an abortion. I don’t think it is in the best interest of this country for our government to make this decision for us. The decision on abortion should be left up to the woman or couple that is thinking about it. Also, I feel that these “pro-lifers” are just trying to guilt trip women into not have an abortion. I personally believe that if a woman were to see an ultrasound of her baby, she would be swayed not to have an abortion, or maybe would feel guiltier if she did have an abortion.

Anonymous said...

Well i dont know that i completely agree about forcing them to watch an ultrasound but i do understand the reasoning behind it. I am not not a huge supporter of abortion, never have been, but i completely for its ban in almost all cases. I believe its many times a scape goat people use so they dont have to face the responsibility for there actions its somethign we see
time and time again. Many like to point to the case of rape and incest as a reason abortion should be allowed but ironically those cases make up an extremely small
percentage of what is going on. I think when someone is forced to see the ultra sound they are forced with humanization of the death of fetus/baby. Wow such a
strange concept that seeing a picture of a baby/fetus inspires guilt, to the point where one has to question if someone feels guilty about said decisions how right they REALLY believe such actions are. As for the ban
on partial birth abortions, well it is one of the things on the extremely small list that i believe that Bush has done right during his presidency.


Anonymous said...

Well i dont know that i completely agree about forcing them to watch an ultrasound but i do understand the reasoning behind it. I am not not a huge supporter of abortion, never have been, but i completely for its ban in almost all cases. I believe its many times a scape goat people use so they dont have to face the responsibility for there actions its somethign we see
time and time again. Many like to point to the case of rape and incest as a reason abortion should be allowed but ironically those cases make up an extremely small
percentage of what is going on. I think when someone is forced to see the ultra sound they are forced with humanization of the death of fetus/baby. Wow such a
strange concept that seeing a picture of a baby/fetus inspires guilt, to the point where one has to question if someone feels guilty about said decisions how right they REALLY believe such actions are. As for the ban
on partial birth abortions, well it is one of the things on the extremely small list that i believe that Bush has done right during his presidency.


God.Reagan.Rush said...

I completely agree that women should see an ultrasound of her baby before consenting to an abortion. I also agree that women should be educated about the entire process of abortion, as well as all alternatives. The truth of the matter is that many women who receive abortions are not educated in the subject. They got knocked up, feel they have ruined their lives, and see no other option than abortion. Considering the fact that nurses in abortion clinics are prohibited from using the word, “baby” for fear that it may invoke passion from the mother, ultrasounds are a good idea. I support the idea of ultrasounds and education for women not because I am pro-life (though I am a firm believer in the pro-life cause), but because abortion is an extreme procedure and patients should be informed of every aspect.

A woman should be allowed to see what is happening in her body. She should also understand the types and methods of abortions:

During the first trimester, several options are available. During the suction-aspiration procedure, the doctor numbs the cervix, stretches it open, and inserts a hollow tube with a knife at one end into the uterus. The body and placenta are torn apart due to the suction through the tube. The Dilation and Curettage method involves a loop-shaped knife that scrapes the baby and placenta to pieces. The newest form of first-trimester abortion is the drug, Mifepristone, which breaks down the uterus and induces a miscarriage.

One abortion technique is popular during the second trimester: the Dilation and Evacuation method. Once again, the cervix is dilated and the now-larger body is cut to pieces. Some abortion clinics prefer “live birth” abortions. After “birth,” the surviving babies were left to a nurse or to die alone in a dirty closet.

During the third trimester, the “salt poisoning” abortion is popular. A large needle is inserted and saline solution is injected into the baby’s amniotic fluid. The baby ingests this solution and begins to convulse. The baby suffers for almost an hour as its veins rupture and its organs hemorrhage. The mother delivers the dead baby the next day.

The recently outlawed “partial birth” abortion involved the doctor pulling the baby through the birth canal, leaving the head inside. The doctor then inserts a tube and vacuums out the brains, causing the skull to collapse.

These procedures are four times deadlier than childbirth. Not only do nurses refer to the child as a fetus (Latin for “young one”), they are also prohibited from showing the mother the remains or informing inquiring mothers about the sex, in an effort to reaffirm the belief that the procedure they just experienced was right. One nurse stated, “Sometimes we lied. A girl might ask what her baby was like at a certain point in the pregnancy: Was it a baby yet? Even as early as 12 weeks a baby is totally formed, he has fingerprints, turns his head, fans his toes, feels pain. But we say ‘it’s not a baby yet. It’s just tissue, like a clot.’”

Given the risks involved in performing an abortion, the sensitivity of the issue, and the uneducated nature of young women, ultrasounds should be given at no cost to the potential mother. As with any surgical procedure, women should know all facts surrounding the procedure and the future of her child.

Anonymous said...


First off I just want to say I think this article is very well written and I liked reading his stuff. Second, I agree with him all the way! No judge should be able to try to guilt trip me into not having an abortion and nobody needs to enlighten me to tell me I would be aborting a human fetus. What a bogus law! Give one to the pro-lifers there. Since when could the government tell me what I can and cannot do to my body? Isn’t this supposed to be a free country? Hell, we have a ton more important stuff to worry about then this. All any of this is going to do is make women in an already unstable situation do something to hurt or kill themselves because the government thinks they have the right to tell us what we can do with our bodies. Stop treating women like we are idiots… it got old in the 50’s. My feelings about when an abortion should or should not be preformed aside, the majority of those passing these laws are men, who have no idea what the women is going through and how they feel. For once take into consideration how the other sex feels, not the morality of it.

budbud said...

I dont agree with women having to look at an ultrasound before they make a choice or not rather to have an abortion. A woman should have reproduction rights and be able to choose when she wants to be a mother. Not every woman deals with the same situation when she gets pregnant and pro choice is what I believe in. I think that maybe by looking at the ultrasound, and realizing that there is a living human being with the chance to start it's life growing in your womb, then some women might change their mind when understanding how real the situation is and they might reconsider the situation and not have an abortion. I believe some people would get a strange feeling of guilt do to the ending of that fetus’s life. Living in America does give us the choice of women’s reproductive choices and that is a right that I believe that women should have. Some men do argue that it should be their choice as well, but I believe it is the women’s choice at heart and there should not have to be an ultrasound given in order to make that choice of abortion.

Chris Madden said...

I look at this issue in may ways! I am for and against both sides. I know that it seems like a cop out but not really, I hear good points and bad arguments on both sides of this issue, but if you agree with religion then women don't have the right to choose, for this reason God didn't ask Mary's permission when he put Jesus in to her belly! It was not her choice to give birth to Jesus, and what would ahve happened if she would have aboted him? I understand there are so many reasons women want to abort and many are pretty good ones but the fact remains that if they can get an abortion easily then it becomes a means of birth control, and wheather you like it or not it is killing no matter how undeveloped or pre term or any other word people choose to use to down play the life. I don't think it should be out lawed but should come with heavy restrictions, and closly monitered. Kind of like sueing the government, you can do it but it takes alot of time and money and you had better be right in doing so!

Matthew Aaron Bentley said...

The American Way

In the country we all live and breath in many truths are witheld from us. Everyone seems to have this thought that what they see on television is the exact truth and it is not strayed or enhanced at all. I am going to have to say that it is not that way at all. In a country that is ran by the government would it not make sense to think they run the media also. People study propaganda in college and hardly ever think they are being directly affected by such a means of persuasion. We only see what big brother wants us to see. All that shit on General Petraeus is ridiculous. He doesnt make decisions he is told what to do. The people who run things around here do not wear uniforms unless you consider a suit and tie a uniform. Why do we all sit and watch the communist news network or CNN and think that all they show is the truth. I am going to say it is bullshit what the government makes us all think is going on when in all actuality we are not given all the facts. How can anyone make a rational theorization about anything when you do not know everything involved.

Paul Castle said...

Women should be required to watch the ultrasound, they should see what they intend to kill. Moreover partial birth abortion should be banned no matter where it is done either inside or outside the body. I know that abortion is an alternative but I believe it is right in only a few situations not the way it is now. One of which is a victim of rape if they choose to have an abortion is ok to me. Also if the baby is a threat to the mothers and its own self then that is another case as well, all other should be made to keep the child and then place it up for adoption. There are many family’s that can not have kids that truly want on, and the current waiting time to adopt a baby is about 10 years. One problem that contributes to the abortion saga is the strict Victorian values that American society clings onto. There are products and items out there that could help but the government is so uptight it chooses to limit them or to completely ignore them all together. Other countries have this problem as well but somehow they manage it better then we do. Why doesn’t the US look to another country for help, get off our high horse and do what is right for a change.