‘Seeing An Ultrasound Of My Unborn Baby Wasn’t Going To Change My Mind About Having An Abortion’

We speak to some of the American girls who’ve been forced – by law – to do just that. Grim (but important) reading


by Sophie Cullinane |
Published on

‘I lay down on my back on the doctor’s table and fiddled with my top as he prepared the ultrasound wand for my scan. I remember getting goosebumps but I couldn’t really tell if it was because his table was freezing or because I was so nervous about what I was about to see on the ultrasound screen. As he started to apply the jelly and push the wand onto my stomach I briefly let myself think about what was inside of me. “You look to be about eight weeks along,” said the doctor, instantly answering any lingering questions I had about which night I’d gotten pregnant. So there it was – it had happened at the weekend we’d spent in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, in my boyfriend’s family’s home when I’d messed up taking my contraceptive pill – not the night a week later when he didn’t put a condom on properly. The pregnancy, in a way, was down to me. The doctor turned the ultrasound screen and pointed to the “foetus’s extremities” and told me to have a look for myself. I glanced at the strange picture on the screen and, like many pregnant women seeing their ultrasound for the first time, I felt relief – only probably not for the reason that many of them did. I was relieved this bit was almost over – because it meant I could finally go through with the abortion I’d wanted for weeks.’

Lauren Cook is 23 years old and lives in Texas and she’s one of hundreds of women in America who’ve been forced by doctors and nurses to view a ultrasound of the baby they’re trying to abort. This ultrasound isn’t medically necessary. But since 2011, states up and down America have adopted the controversial practice – as a way to make women come (literally) face to face with their decision to not carry a pregnancy out into term. Subtle, hey?

When the doctor described the foetus I felt so sad. I cried a little and felt very, very alone

Currently, five states in the US require that ultrasounds are offered to the woman by the abortion provider before they go through with the operation: Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah. Nine states require that, if an ultrasound is given before an abortion the doctors must at least offer to show the woman the image: Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia. Six states require an ultrasound before any abortion and state the provider must offer to show the woman the image: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. And one state – Texas – requires an ultrasound before any abortion and that the doctor not only displays but describes the image to you. Think you can get away with just looking up and pretending to look at the (let’s be honest, pretty disturbing) image of the child you’re about to abort? Not in Texas – because they’re going to describe the whole thing to you in detail anyway.


‘It was just harrowing,’ Lauren tells The Debrief of her experience. ‘Me and my boyfriend have been serious for ages and probably will have kids one day but there’s no chance that we’d be able to have one right now. I’m in the process of moving to New York to get a job in the music industry and he’s a DJ who pretty much lives on his friend’s sofas. Keeping the kid was never an option and wouldn’t be fair to the child – but that doesn’t make it any nicer to see a baby that is half you and half the guy you love just before you abort it. I just went by myself to get it done and told my boyfriend to wait for me in the car park. I worried if I saw his face I wouldn’t be able to go through with it.’

And Lauren isn’t alone. ‘When the doctor described the foetus I felt so sad. I cried a little and felt very, very alone,’ says Anna Handell, a 21-year-old student from Oregon who moved to Texas to ironically to complete an internship with Naral Pro-Choice Texas, a pressure group campaigning for a woman’s right to choose. Whilst on the first day of her placement, Emily discovered she was pregnant and decided to go for an abortion. As is required by state law she was shown an ultrasound and found the whole process both terrifying and violating. ‘Regardless of my security in my decision, I am such a sucker for babies and I can’t wait to have one of my own when I’m ready. Hearing the doctor describe the foetus was incredibly painful. I just kept thinking, I can’t believe they are making me do this. I prayed that they would see an image clearly enough so that I would not be forced be penetrated against my will—also known as rape—with a transvaginal ultrasound.’

What Anna’s referring to is a controversial practise that occurs when a foetus is too underdeveloped to be seen on a normal ultrasound screen and a ‘transvaginal’ ultrasound probe must be used. Because the vast majority of abortions occur during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, many women are forced to have the probe inserted into their vaginas, and then moved around until an ultrasound image is produced. Since this practise is legal with or without the women’s seeking the abortion’s consent – and involves forceful penetration for no medical reason – lots of people have equated the practice to rape.

‘It just added another layer of distress to the whole thing,’ says Lauren. ‘I’m not an idiot – I know what an abortion entails – they didn’t need to show me that stuff. All they were doing was making me angry and sad. They were never going to change my mind.’

But not everyone sees it that way, and lots of people have accredited these draconian abortion laws as the reason that abortion rates have dropped dramatically in recent years. Last week, it was announced that the abortion rate in the United States has dropped to its lowest point since the Supreme Court legalized the procedure. There were fewer than 17 abortions for every 1,000 women in 2011, the latest year for which figures were available, down 13 percent from 2008. Is it down to this new process? Has it made women change their mind about abortion?

Not according to Anna. ‘I didn’t want to have a baby, so I wasn’t going to have one. Simple as that. You can’t force a woman to be a mother. She will find a way – she will endure hell before she gives birth unwillingly. The whole thing was a pile of political bullshit. It made me offended, angry, upset, sad, but hesitant? Hell no. It’s just offensive, mean-spirited, and most certainly a waste of time.’

Names have been changed

**Follow Sophie on Twitter @sophiecullinane

Pictures: Getty

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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