Politics & Policy

Why the Left Fears Ultrasound Technology

A patient with her ultrasound images at a clinic in Phoenix, Ariz., 2009. (Reuters photo: Joshua Lott)
A bizarre article in The Atlantic attacking ultrasound exposes the anti-science bent of many abortion-rights supporters.

On Tuesday, The Atlantic published a piece originally titled “How the Ultrasound Pushed the Idea That a Fetus Is a Person,” and, in so doing, raised the possibility that the pro-abortion movement is at long last running out of arguments.

With impressive creativity, the piece attempts both to dismiss the clear evidence that is presented by ultrasound images and to imply that inanimate medical tools are motivated by a subversive pro-life agenda. Though the Democratic party and its vast pro-abortion wing cling fiercely to Science!, The Atlantic’s bizarre offering reveals the truth: that being pro-abortion requires the resolute denial of science in order to facilitate a rejection of the unborn child’s humanity.

The piece’s author, Moira Weigel, seems confused about a number of things relevant to the topic of her article, including U.S. abortion law. She managed to make at least two embarrassing errors in her attack on “heartbeat bills,” legislation that would prohibit abortions in cases where a fetal heartbeat has been detected, usually around the fifth week of pregnancy. Weigel dismissed a heartbeat as an arbitrary mark of fetal life, going so far as to argue that it’s not really a heartbeat if it’s visible but not audible. An editor’s note was later added to the piece, addressing her initial assertion on this point: “This article originally stated that there is ‘no heart to speak of’ in a six-week-old fetus. By that point in a pregnancy, a heart has already begun to form. We regret the error.”

The initial version of the piece also incorrectly said that Governor John Kasich refused to sign Indiana’s “heartbeat bill,” after it passed his state’s legislature. The bill in question, of course, came out of Ohio’s legislature, where Kasich is governor. The piece was updated (without an editor’s note) to say that in fact Indiana governor Mike Pence had been the culprit. Except that was also incorrect. As we went to press, the Atlantic piece had been changed yet again (and again without an editor’s note), finally getting it right.

The author then spends the bulk of the piece attempting to show the ways in which  ultrasound technology is somehow suspect. She suggests that it is a device for male dominance over women: “Ultrasound made it possible for the male doctor to evaluate the fetus without female interference.” She dedicates a section to explaining how ultrasound was invented as a stealth-warfare tool, tracking its use and evolution as a piece of military technology. This history lesson, while true, is beside the point. She seems to imply that such technology can’t now properly be used for displaying images of unborn babies. But regardless of the reasons for its invention or its early use, ultrasound is now widely used to give expectant mothers a window into the development of their child, and that imagery is not repudiated by exhaustive analysis of the technology’s original use.

Weigel also contends that the pro-life movement’s focus on mandating or offering ultrasounds for pregnant women is somehow demeaning to those women, because it assumes that they can’t make their own decisions about their pregnancy. But if Weigel and those who agree with her are so set on empowering women to make decisions about “their bodies,” shouldn’t they be heartened by the effort to provide women with the most accurate, scientific information leading up to that decision?

Most of the time, progressives are totally on board with the effort to provide extensive medical and scientific information about anything relating to sexual reproduction. Think, for example, of the hysterical push from many on the left — including big players in the abortion industry such as Planned Parenthood — for expanded access to in-depth sex education. But this obsessive focus on detailed education about STDs, contraception, and abortion options suddenly disappears when it comes to informing women about the being that’s growing inside them. If pro-abortion advocates truly respected women’s ability to make their own decisions about pregnancy and abortion, they should support the effort to provide women with complete and accurate information about their pregnancies. A plausible explanation for their recalcitrance is a desire to prevent mothers from seeing the evidence of humanity within their wombs.

If pro-abortion advocates truly respected women’s ability to make their own decisions about pregnancy and abortion, they should support the effort to provide women with complete and accurate information.

Weigel says that each woman will have a different reaction to an ultrasound of her child, and she points out that many still choose to have an abortion. Though Weigel’s assertion is undoubtedly correct, it’s beside the point. Ultrasound technology isn’t valuable because it will, with 100 percent certainty, convince every pregnant woman to carry her child to term. Its value lies in its ability to display the humanity and life of the unborn child; this value is not diminished by the fact that some mothers will see that life and choose to end it anyway.

The reason that progressives such as Weigel denounce ultrasound technology is not that they care about female autonomy. They reject it because they want to continue denying the humanity of the unborn child, a humanity that is undeniable whether or not the mother wants the child. Unborn children were human before ultrasounds, of course, but modern technology has made it increasingly possible to see that humanity and thus has made it increasingly more difficult to deny that humanity.

Whether or not it’s ever captured by ultrasound imaging, whether or not its mother and father ever catch a glimpse of its face, that “clump of cells,” that unborn fetus is a human. Pro-life activists and parents who want to keep their unborn children will acknowledge this humanity. We all know it. Abortionists know it. Mothers aborting their babies know it. Planned Parenthood executives know it. Perhaps many are able to dull their consciences and convince themselves that it’s “just a clump of cells.” But deep down, they must know. We all do. And that’s why the Left has to work so hard to deny it.

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