31 January 2014

Viewing ultrasound doesn't change abortion plans

According to a large new US study, nearly 99% of women went ahead with an abortion after voluntarily viewing an ultrasound image of the foetus.

Nearly 99% of women went ahead with an abortion after voluntarily viewing an ultrasound image of the foetus beforehand, according to a large new US study.

Based on medical records for more than 15 000 women seeking abortion at Los Angeles Planned Parenthood clinics, researchers found that only a small fraction of the women changed their minds after seeing the image.

"This study was motivated in large part by the current political and popular interest in what role ultrasound viewing plays in women's decisions about abortion," said one of the authors, Katrina Kimport at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine.

Ultrasound law

Ten states have enacted laws that require doctors to perform ultrasounds before abortions, and three of those require the woman to view the image during the ultrasound. The others require doctors to offer women the option of viewing it.

A 2011 North Carolina ultrasound law, considered one of the strictest in the nation, was struck down by a federal judge earlier this month because it forced doctors to explain the image while showing it to the patient. The US District Court held that forced speech to be unconstitutional.

Read: Seeing with sound

Advocates for ultrasound laws base the requirement on the idea that showing a woman the image of her foetus might cause her to have a change of heart about terminating the pregnancy.

Kimport said there's been a lot of discussion about what effects viewing would have on women who are seeking or considering abortions, but there was very little research on what actually happens. "We were interested in bringing in an empirical perspective to these conversations," she told Reuters Health.

The researchers reviewed medical records from 15 575 visits at 19 Planned Parenthood clinics in Los Angeles during 2011. These facilities routinely perform ultrasounds before abortion procedures and regularly ask the patients if they want to see the images. It's also standard practice to ask each patient how confident she is about her decision to terminate the pregnancy.

The right decision

Responses to both of these questions are noted in the patient's electronic medical record, according to the researchers.

Kimport and her colleagues analysed those records and found that most women (85.4%) said they were certain they had made the right decision to have the abortion. A smaller number (7.4%) were classified as having medium or low levels of certainty about getting the procedure.

Although all of the women included in the study had ultrasounds, less than half (42.5%) chose to see the image. A total of 98.8% of the planned abortions took place. Among women who did not view their ultrasounds, 99% went through with the procedure. Among those who did view the images, 98.4% of the women had abortions.

Read more:

Having an abortion

Unsafe abortions common

Why medical abortions are safe


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