Saving More Babies with Ultrasound

Crisis Pregnancy Centers Have Success Using Pictures

By Amy Contrada
February 2002


Before ultrasound was available at “A Woman’s Concern,” about 40-50% of the clients decided to keep the baby and not abort, Rev. John Ensor estimates. Recently at their Revere center, 77% of those receiving an ultrasound decided to keep the baby.

The same results are being reported throughout the country.

Nationwide, about 200 of the estimated 3,000 crisis pregnancy centers offer ultrasounds to their clients.

In Massachusetts, two centers provide this service. One is “A Woman’s Concern” (AWC), with four locations in greater Boston, and “Problem Pregnancy” of Worcester. Some other centers in Massachusetts help arrange ultrasound exams for their clients, but don’t have the equipment on site.

Ultrasounds are especially helpful to those who are still considering an abortion after the initial counseling. The “abortion-vulnerable” woman is commonly defined as one who faces obstacles that she may feel incapable of handling or unwilling to experience, but who has not yet decided with certainty to abort. There is disagreement among centers over terminology, however, making statistics and comparisons problematic.

Results in Mass. Are Positive

Dr. Eric Keroack, medical director of AWC, gave MassNews the results of his preliminary survey on ultrasound effectiveness.

From October 2000 through December 2001, a total of 371 new clients were seen in the Revere center. A total of 238 or 74% did not abort. (As noted above, 77% of all the ultrasound clients during this period decided not to abort, but this number also included those women who were not considered abortion-vulnerable.)

Of the total 371 clients, 320 were abortion-vulnerable at the time of the ultrasound appointment. Fifty-five percent of the abortion-vulnerable clients who delivered a baby kept it and did not adopt it out.

The number of women who definitely intended to abort but changed their minds after the ultrasound was 198, or 62%.

Keroack gives the cost of each ultrasound exam as $160, and the cost per new client $216. The cost to prevent an abortion with an abortion-vulnerable client was $336. Each ultrasound machine costs about $25,000. About 30-40 ultrasounds were performed each month during the period of the study.

Keroack believes every single woman entering a pregnancy center is “at risk” for deciding to abort. He has chosen to use the term “abortion-vulnerable” to imply a very strong risk. (Some centers would use the term “abortion-minded”.) Even as he tried to be most careful in his record keeping, his own understanding of a client’s actual state of mind grew during the period of his study. He suspects that the actual turnaround rate approached 75%. This compares with a nationally reported turnaround rate of 75%-80%, he said.

In May 2000, MassNews reported that “over 95% of women who are considering abortion choose life after seeing an ultrasound image of her child. That is the experience of [AWC] in Dorchester. It began showing ultrasounds of unborn babies to mothers in August [1999].” This higher success rate did not hold up over time.

Three of AWC’s centers (in Dorchester, Revere and Brookline) have their own ultrasound on site.

Same in Worcester

Rod Murphy, director of Problem Pregnancy center in Worcester, told MassNews that they acquired their ultrasound machine very recently. He said, “Everything we thought is true. It works.” In December, five abortion-vulnerable mothers out of seven who received ultrasound exams decided to continue the pregnancy.

“There is a real change when a woman sees her baby. Even some of the guys have tears well up,” Murphy said.

Many might wonder how any woman can see her baby moving on the screen, and in some cases feel the baby moving inside her at the same time, yet still choose to abort. Teresa Donovan, director of AWC’s new Brookline center, told MassNews that this illustrates the power of the “end-justifies-the-means” morality, or amorality, that has such a foothold in our culture.

“The fact that the ultrasounds don’t necessarily create 100% turnaround speaks to the power of utilitarian ethics or moral relativism. For many years, the abortion industry denied the humanity of the fetus,” said Donovan. “Now, with this irrefutable image of a living human baby, those who are pro-abortion say, ‘We know they’re human, but …’ “ The emphasis of the pro-abortion forces is now almost totally on a woman’s “right to choose.”

AWC’s recent newsletter describes the circumstances of some of their abortion-vulnerable clients. One 29-year-old single mother of several children did not want to face severe morning sickness and could not afford to miss work. A 27-year-old mother with children, a miscarriage and an abortion a year earlier was not sure who the baby’s father was. She lived a life “full of broken relationships and stress.” A 14-year-old mother and her boyfriend wanted to continue her pregnancy, but the girl was being pressured by her drug-addicted mother to abort.

It is not hard to see why women in such circumstances would succumb to today’s relativistic ethics, says Donovan. It attests to the effectiveness of the ultrasound that they were convinced to keep the baby, despite overwhelming difficulties.

Rev. Ensor says, “A woman’s health and well-being is connected to her baby not just by a physical umbilical cord. The ultrasound helps her find the courage to choose life. Then it is the responsibility of the community to come alongside her and offer support.”

Tracking the effectiveness of counseling at centers is notoriously difficult. Often, women who come in for help don’t come back or even telephone, so it’s hard for the center to know how successful the counseling was in preventing an abortion. New studies will need to standardize category definitions (“abortion-vulnerable” vs. “abortion-minded” for example) and counting methods, and offer comparisons to past outcomes (e.g., pre- vs. post-ultrasound services).

Different from Rest of Country?

How do the Massachusetts results compare to reports from around the country? Thomas Glessner, president of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, told MassNews that while there really are no reliable national figures, he would estimate that between 25-50% of “abortion-minded” clients receiving counseling, but no ultrasounds, at centers would choose to keep the pregnancy. He added that most Centers would probably see life choices by about 25-30% of clients, with 50% a very high-end outcome.

Glessner told of a center in Columbus that has seen a huge positive impact in offering ultrasound. Without ultrasound, only 20% of their abortion-minded clients chose life. But that figure increased to 95% with ultrasound. A center in Dallas saw a threefold increase in the number of abortion-minded clients coming to the clinic, and a threefold increase in clients choosing life. A Baton Rouge center reported that 95% of its clients now choose life, thanks to the new technology.

According to National Right to Life, at a San Francisco center offering ultrasound, 60% of the women they worked with who were seriously contemplating abortion decided to carry to term, after seeing the baby’s ultrasound. The director of Heartbeat International said that as many as 60-90% of clients will change their mind and decide not to abort.

Keroack is skeptical of the nationally reported turnaround rates of 90-95%. He suspects these centers are not keeping careful enough records, for instance counting follow-up clients two or three times. He also gives the example of women who come into a center to get a free ultrasound just for Medicaid certification, but who were never abortion-vulnerable. His prediction is that when more careful statistics are kept, turnarounds at centers using ultrasound will come out to 60-75% for abortion-vulnerable women.

Careless or inflated figures do a disservice to the cause, Keroack says. Many in the pro-abortion community are waiting to discredit centers in any way they can. Further, centers just initiating ultrasound services may be discouraged when they compare their lower success rates with the inflated figures.

Glessner said it would not surprise him if there were a higher number of abortions in Massachusetts than elsewhere in the country, even among those women seeing the baby’s ultrasound images. In this liberal state, the attitude described by Donovan is probably more common. Keroack said this liberal mindset might explain a small percentage difference, but not a 20-30-point difference.

Lynn Bizbee of CareNet, a national network of about 600 centers, told MassNews that the availability of ultrasound exams has greatly increased the number of abortion-vulnerable women visiting centers. She said it is too early to have a good handle on the success of ultrasound programs, but that CareNet has a study underway which may provide reliable numbers in a year or so.

MassNews reported in May 2000 that Planned Parenthood claimed that 50% of women going to their abortion clinics have received ultrasound exams, yet of these women (obviously “abortion-minded” if they are at PP), only 5% decided to keep the pregnancy. Dr. Keroack explained this strange phenomenon: Abortion clinics prohibit the patient from viewing her own ultrasound.

Centers that decide to “go medical,” offering ultrasound or other medical services (such as a medical diagnosis of pregnancy), must be very careful to comply with all state, federal, and OSHA regulations. Glessner has estimated the cost of converting to a medical clinic to be $50,000. His organization helps centers wishing to convert with legal advice and, in some cases, acquisition of ultrasound equipment. Massachusetts is among the handful of states with very complicated requirements, he says. Dr. Keroack said that AWC does have medical clinic status.

If compliance could possibly be seen as lacking in the smallest detail, the pro-abortion forces are ready to strike.

They understand the impact to a mother of seeing the baby in the womb. These pictures have a powerful effect on anyone who sees them. In one well-known case, the “silent scream” of a baby meeting its death during an abortion is credited with transforming a veteran abortion doctor, Bernard Nathanson, into a pro-life crusader. His documentary film has become a pro-life classic.

The director of a small center in Massachusetts told MassNews that she was wary of making the conversion. Her concern is not just the expense, but a fear of the powerful pro-abortion activists.

In early January 2002, the New York attorney general launched an attack on Expectant Mother Care, which runs five centers in the New York City area. Subpoenas were served stating that the “A-G has a good faith belief that the entities named … may have violated one or more … statutes by misrepresenting the services they provide, diagnosing pregnancy and advising persons on medical options without being licensed to do so, and/or providing deceptive and inaccurate medical information.”

Centers in Massachusetts may be targeted soon, both those with and without ultrasound.

This development seems to be part of a nationwide campaign by NARAL (National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League) to close down what they term “fake clinics.” (NARAL has published a guide, “Unmasking Fake Clinics.”) This may be the best evidence yet that centers, especially those using ultrasound, are having a significant effect in discouraging abortions.



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