Fully formed baby, fully informed mother
A new ultrasound requirement in Arkansas brings babies to life for mothers
In the 1980s, 19-year-old Donna Ezell was walking into an Arkansas abortion facility when she heard a man’s friendly voice coming from the sidewalk. “Don’t do it,” the pro-life sidewalk counselor said, compassionately. “Your baby already has arms and legs.” She stopped in her tracks, shocked that she hadn’t considered how developed the baby inside of her was. But she stood there only for a moment before her family member ushered her into the facility. With such little time to think, she still got the abortion.
Although prenatal ultrasounds were common by that time, Ezell said she never got one during that pregnancy. She was a well-educated teenager, but she knew almost nothing about fetal development, and the only information she got was from that sidewalk counselor. Looking back at that moment, Ezell thinks she probably would have kept the baby had she seen an ultrasound image.
That became a possibility for other Arkansas women starting in 2003, when the state passed a law requiring physicians who perform ultrasounds for abortions to give women the chance to view the image before the procedure. A bill passed by the state legislature last week would make that existing ultrasound requirement more rigorous. It requires physicians to show the ultrasound image to the woman and verbally describe the picture to ensure that she understands the development of the baby inside of her. Abortion proponents intend to challenge the law before it can take effect in the summer, calling it unnecessary interference with a woman’s choice. But pro-lifers in the state have already seen how ultrasound images change lives.
Staff at the Arkansas Pregnancy Resource Center—just a parking lot’s distance away from an abortion facility—said they still see women come to their center wanting more information after their first appointment at Abortion Access Little Rock.
More than 30 years after her own abortion, Ezell is the clinical director at the pregnancy resource center. “I’ve heard many women, too, come to us after having an ultrasound at the abortion clinic, but yet they have not seen their baby yet,” she said. When these women view the ultrasound at the pregnancy center, Ezell said “we often see their eyes fill with tears … you hear a lot of giggles and a lot of exclamations just that they ‘can’t believe it.’”
To Ezell, the sight and description of a baby on an ultrasound is essential to making sure women have all the facts about their pregnancies before making a decision. Rather than being a burden, she said requiring abortion facilities to show the women and describe what appears on the ultrasound machine is standard practice for any medical issue.
One patient Ezell remembers was determined to get an abortion when she went to the facility, but she left feeling unhappy and undecided and came to the pregnancy center. She was entering the second trimester of her pregnancy, so she and the pregnancy center staff got to see a lot of action during the ultrasound: thumb-sucking, arms and legs moving, mouth opening and closing. “She went from crying with me—as she was distraught about the decision she had to make—to laughing and to smiling and to just giggling and talking about the future of this baby,” said Ezell. She even made comments about the similarities the baby bore to her other children.
“When they have had other children … they have an idea of how developed that baby is,” said Ezell. But “there’s still that ability to be in denial or kind of disassociate until they actually experience it, until they lay eyes on that baby and it’s real. There’s that bonding that happens.”
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