Abortion advocates object fiercely to the use of ultrasound machines by crisis pregnancy centres. The centres have been accused of emotionally manipulating women by showing them images of their unborn children, causing them greater suffering when they decide to continue with the abortion.
A 2003 survey by Focus on the Family’s Pregnancy Resource Ministry, however, found an average of 79 per cent of of abortion-minded pregnant women (and a median of 90 per cent) decided to carry their baby to term once they had seen the child on the screen.
Allison Herwitt, director of government relations for NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in response to images of pre-born children smiling in the womb, “They don’t want [women] to go to Planned Parenthood, where they’ll get their full range of options. They just want them to go to crisis pregnancy centres, where women will be exposed to this weapon at taxpayer’s expense.”
Referring to those same pictures, Anne Karpf, a commentator for the British Guardian who refers to herself as a “medical sociologist,” said the photos were “deeply disquieting” and mocked pro-life advocates for being “intoxicated with evidence of a fetus’s humanity.’
Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, told the New York Times that ultrasounds “shouldn’t be misused to badger or coerce women by these so-called crisis pregnancy centres. With or without ultrasound, women understand the moral dimensions of their choices.”
If it is true that women clearly understand the “moral dimension” of choosing to abort their babies, why do so many women, by far the majority, decide against abortion once they see the baby during an ultrasound?
For decades, abortion advocates have relied on the statement that the unborn child is “just so much tissue” to justify abortion. Scientific advances no longer permit that comforting dismissal of the child. The unmistakeable evidence of the complex development undergone by the child in the earliest weeks of existence destroy the power of the argument, let alone the advancements in care for premature infants.
If the humanity of the unborn can no longer be questioned, what are the grounds for defending abortion?
For many of those who promote the “right” to abortion seemingly at all costs the humanity of the child, in fact, makes no difference to the argument.
“Pregnant women who have abortions (and those of us who unreservedly support their right to do so) do know that fetuses are human,” wrote Ellie Lee, Professor of Sociology at Kent University, for Pro-Choice Forum.
“We also understand, however, that it is still perfectly acceptable for a pregnancy to be ended by an abortion. This is because, while we know that a fetus is human (in a genetic and biological sense), we also appreciate that it is not a person. And the failure to make this distinction is the major flaw in the arguments of anti-abortionists.”
Faced with undeniable evidence that unborn babies are fully human beings, abortion advocates have swung to another point of criterion in defending their position.
This defence of abortion relies on a more profound argument than the simple dismissal of the child as undifferentiated tissue. The argument says that “humanity” is only the biological designation of species-hood, but that “personhood” is bestowed by the recognition of society. Yes, the child is human, but it is not a person, and therefore its humanity does not matter.
Under this new philosophy of personhood, the fundamental rights of every human person are not granted to every human being. Instead, those rights are handed over by society at a selected point in time. In Canada and the U.S., the rights of personhood are “granted” when a child has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother. Before the child has entirely exited the birth canal, it is not a legal “person” and has no right of protection under law.
Therefore, the argument goes, it is possible to justify abortion despite the visible humanity of these small children that is seen through the ultrasound images.
For the mothers of the children, however, the vision of their unborn baby can have a profound impact, cutting through the social and emotional reasons that have led them to seek an abortion. For women who have not encountered the science of pre-natal development, ultrasound images clearly show the full human presence of the developing child- hands, feet and face, body in motion.The reality of that small person is suddenly before the mother and the image joins forces with the profound instincts of motherhood to craft a poignant weapon of defence for the child.
In the face of the evident impact that ultrasound images have on women seeking abortions, it is difficult to argue, as abortion advocates attempt, that it is an unfair manipulation of the woman to present her with the ultrasound of her child. If women making the decision to abort were as conscious and accepting of their unborn child’s humanity as abortion advocates claim, seeing that humanity on the screen in front of them would not sway them from abortion.
The true manipulation of women takes place when the personhood of their unborn child is denied recognition by society, and permission is given for the destruction of the child in the name of freedom, independence, and choice.
Published in Action Life News, Summer 2006