Do Ultrasounds Discourage Abortion?

Do Ultrasounds Discourage Abortion?

There's been a debate raging on that topic for a decade or so now. In the mid-2000s, some research by the Heritage Foundation's Michael J. New suggested that "informed consent" laws -- including laws requiring doctors to offer ultrasound images to women having abortions -- reduce the abortion rate by anywhere from 0.86 to 1.57 abortions per 1,000 women age 15-44.

The overall rate during the '90s (the period New studied) was about 23, suggesting that informed consent makes a difference in maybe 4 to 7 percent of abortions -- not a huge deal in proportional terms, but a rather large number in a sea of 1 million abortions per year nationwide. However, a new study suggests the number could be quite a bit smaller, at least for ultrasound laws in particular. From Tara Culp-Ressler of ThinkProgress:

Researchers analyzed over 15,575 visits to a large, urban abortion provider in 2011. All of the patients received an ultrasound before continuing with the abortion procedure, and all of them were given the opportunity to look at the image. Most patients chose not to look at it. Women did opt to view the ultrasound about 42 percent of the time -- and among those women, about 98 percent of them went on to have an abortion anyway. Looking [at] the ultrasound only had an impact among the seven percent of women who reported they didn't feel very certain about ending the pregnancy.

The new study estimates, then, that fewer than 1 percent of abortions (42 percent times 2 percent) are stopped by an ultrasound. As Culp-Ressler notes (and as I once argued for National Review, albeit with a different spin), most women who choose to have abortions are not particularly conflicted about it.

Even if the true number is 1 percent rather than 4 to 7 percent, though, I'm not sure we can conclude that ultrasound laws aren't a worthwhile goal for the pro-life movement. One million times 1 percent is 10,000 abortions per year -- meaning, for abortion opponents, 10,000 lives per year.

Robert VerBruggen is editor of RealClearPolicy. Twitter: @RAVerBruggen

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