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Does ultrasound viewing change abortion decision?

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An ultrasound exam is a routine part of abortion care; however, it is not always medically necessary. The topic is subject to significant debate. Pro-life advocates claim that a women who has some doubts about the procedure may change her mind after viewing the ultrasound and continue with the pregnancy; she is then faced with the decision of whether to keep the baby or give it up for adoption. Pro-choice advocates claim that the procedure subjects the woman to unnecessary emotional distress. Despite this controversy, the authors of a new study note that scant research has been conducted regarding the effects, if any, of women viewing their pre-abortion ultrasound images. Thus, the researchers who are affiliated with the University of California, San Francisco conducted a study to evaluate the impact of a pre-abortion ultrasound on women. They published their findings in the January 2014 edition of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

The objective of the study was to determine whether viewing ultrasound images would alter a woman’s decision to continue the pregnancy. The investigators reviewed the medical records of 15,575 women who sought an abortion at Planned Parenthood in 2011. All the women underwent a pre-procedure ultrasound exam and were offered the opportunity to view the images. The women were assessed in regard to their decision to continue with the pregnancy after viewing the ultrasound image.

The investigators found that 42.5% of the women chose to view the ultrasound image. Almost all pregnancies (98.8%) were terminated; 98.4% of women who viewed their ultrasound images terminated their pregnancies, while 99.0% of the women who did not view the images terminated their pregnancies. The researchers found that among women who had a strong opinion regarding pregnancy termination, viewing the ultrasound images was not associated with deciding to continue the pregnancy. Viewing was significantly associated with a decision to continue with the pregnancy was found among 7.4% of women who reported medium or low decision certainty regarding an abortion.

The researchers concluded that voluntary viewing of ultrasound images may result in only a small percentage of women with medium or low decision certainty deciding to continue the pregnancy. The authors noted that ultrasound viewing does not alter decisions of the large majority of women who are certain that abortion is the right decision.

Take home message:
Research on wanted pregnancies has found that viewing the ultrasound image improves bonding between the mother and the unborn child. It also facilitates the father’s bonding. This bonding may contribute to a woman changing her decision regarding an abortion, particularly if she has some doubts. These women are the ones more likely to have regrets following the procedure. Some women undergo pressure to have an abortion from a husband or boyfriend. What this study did not evaluate is the emotional impact on a woman following an abortion. Some women become severely depressed, and even suicidal, following an abortion. Others regret having the procedure some years later, when the encounter a difficulty achieving a pregnancy. The decision to undergo an abortion is not a trivial matter; thus, a woman must carefully consider her options. Obviously, using a reliable contraceptive is a far preferable option.

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