New Study Says Requiring Ultrasounds Doesn’t Actually Prevent Abortions

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More and more states are requiring women seeking abortions to undergo transvaginal ultrasounds in advance of the procedure, but new research shows that the forced ultrasounds aren’t changing women’s minds. Of the women studied, more than 98 percent went through with the procedure. Required ultrasounds, it seems, are not only physically painful, potentially degrading and possibly traumatizing — they also don’t actually prevent abortions. The Guttmacher Institute, a sexual and reproductive health think tank, suggests the point of the laws are to “attempt to personify the fetus and dissuade a woman from obtaining an abortion.” If that’s true then the laws aren’t working.

The study, published this month in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, followed more than 15,000 women, all of whom were seeking abortion care at Planned Parenthood in Los Angeles. All of them received “a preprocedure ultrasound scan,” and all were offered the opportunity to view the image before making any decisions. But while 42.5 percent of women opted to view the scans, almost all of them went on to terminate their pregnancies — 98.4 percent of women who looked at the images had abortions, compared to 99 percent of women who chose not to view the scans. Researchers found that looking at the images was “significantly associated with deciding to continue the pregnancy only among 7.4 percent of women” — all of whom reported “medium to low decision certainty” to begin with. For women who are certain, the sonogram doesn’t make a difference. And based on their self-assessments, a “large majority” of the women studied were pretty certain before they’d reached the clinic.

Importantly, California isn’t one of the states that legally mandates pre-abortion ultrasounds, which means that the results “cannot be generalized to women’s experience of ultrasound viewing in settings where it is mandatory” — settings like Louisiana, Wisconsin, and Florida, among others (a complete list of state policies is here). “But while  it’s unlikely that requiring the ultrasounds would actually affect the number of abortions performed,” says the study, mandatory viewing could absolutely have “negative psychological and physical effects” — even on women who would elect to look at the pictures.