Lawmaker Plans Ultrasound Option in Miss. to Avert Abortions

A Mississippi legislator is considering introducing a bill in the state house that would give pregnant women the option of seeing an ultrasound image of the developing child before obtaining an abortion.

Rep. Carmel Well-Smith (R-Pascgoula) says the bill is currently being drafted, and will present the finished version to the legislature within several weeks.

“As Christians, we know that every birth is a gift from the Lord. While we may not convince some women that that is the case, if they don’t see it as a gift, maybe they will see it as a life, a true human being, and their decision will be different,” she says.

The state currently has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. Among them are a 24 hour waiting period, mandatory counseling about the risks of the procedure, alternatives to abortion, and a requirement that both parents give their consent for minors.

States with laws that either require or give ultrasound viewing as an option include Alabama, Arkanssas, Indiana, Utah, and Wisconsin.

Wells-Smith believes that if the bill makes it to the floor of the legislature, it has a very good chance of being accepted.

While an ultrasound (sonogram), which provides a grainy black and white view, may not reveal much of the fetus in the early stages of pregnancy because it is so small, in later stages it may provide the mother-to-be with familiar images.

“If the woman has been thinking that it was a blob or tissue [in the image], she’ll see hands, and eye buds that may help her to recognize that it’s not just that,” Wells-Smith says.

Susan Hill, President of the National Women’s Health Organization, which runs the only clinic in the state that provides abortions says that legislating the option would be redundant since the clinic already requires ultrasounds for women who will undergo a procedure.

She also says women have the option of seeing it, adding that providing ultrasounds has not affected women’s decision either way.

Meanwhile, Carrie Gordon Earll, director of Research Analysis at Focus on the Family says that while clinics may already have ultrasound machines, they are mainly used for medical purposes, including determining how long the woman has been pregnant for legal purposes.

She added that telling women that they are legally entitled to see a sonogram may give them a different perspective.

In addition, newer ultrasound technologies, such as three-dimensional ultrasounds, are starting to become available. They provide women with a much clearer view of what is taking place in their wombs.

The newer machines also use sound waves that don’t harm the child but create three-dimensional static images, which give fine details and contours of the developing fetus. In contrast, older ultrasounds only provide a two-dimensional black and white image. The advantage of the older technology is that it provides moving images rather than static ones.

With the older machines still a pricey $20,000-to-$30,000 investment, conservative Christian group Focus on the Family is trying to mitigate the cost factor for Pregnancy Resource Centers (PRCs) by providing up to 80 percent of the cost of the simpler versions of the machine through a program called “Option Ultrasound."

The group aims to give out 650 of the two-dimensional machines to PRCs, which are often run by churches. They don't provide abortions but they do provide counseling and information to pregnant women, some who are considering it.

A survey by the Heidi Group, a Christian evangelical non-profit group that advises and helps PRC with administration and fundraising says that 70 percent of women considering abortion turned from it through counseling. That number climbed to 90 percent when the ultrasound was seen, said Chief Executive Carol Everett to the New York Times.

A survey by the Focus on the Family at PRCs noted that for women considering abortions who saw the ultrasounds the number of those who wanted to carry the pregnancy to term was 79 percent.

Both surveys could not be independently verified.

The goal of the Focus program is to have all the proposed ultrasounds in place by 2010. In 2004, the group helped 70 centers obtain sonograms.