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Can an ultrasound image sway women looking to get an abortion?

Published On: Jul 09 2013 05:52:15 PM CDT   Updated On: Jul 09 2013 07:08:57 PM CDT

One part of Wisconsin’s abortion law that remains unchallenged is the requirement that all women looking to get an abortion need to have an ultrasound.

Research shows about one out of every three in the U.S. will have an abortion by age 45, but would seeing the fetus and knowing its features really make a difference?

Most women already get at least one ultrasound during their pregnancy. Some have more than one if they have medical concerns that would be considered high risk.

Dr. Dana Benden, chair of the OB/GYN department at Gundersen Health System, said an ultrasound contains a lot of information.

“It depends on when you're doing it and what you're doing it for,” said Benden.

Aside from being able to determine the gender, anatomy and a due date, Benden said doctors are also looking for any abnormalities with ultrasounds.

“If we detect an abnormality with the ovary, if there's a mass on the ovary, some women might have to have surgery during their pregnancy,” said Benden.

“Sometimes if it’s a fetal abnormality, then that may affect how the baby grows, which then may lead us to do more testing down the line.”

Melissa Hellwig is a psychotherapist at Gundersen. She said there’s research to backs arguments for and against any psychological impact an ultrasound image has on a woman.

“It's kind of like comparing apples to oranges because you've got two very different situations there,” said Hellwig.

She said there's research that suggests ultrasounds are considered a milestone for women with a desired pregnancy. For those women it may also increase a sense of attachment.

For women with an undesired pregnancy, Hellwig said there's research that says the image could do nothing at all.

“There's a lot of antidotal evidence,” said Hellwig. “So you can find stories about women who have an ultrasound before a termination who say, ‘Yes, it did change my mind,’ there are just as many women who say, ‘It made no difference at all,’ and there are probably just as many women who say, ‘It solidify my decision to proceed with the termination.’”

A representative from Planned Parenthood said performing ultrasounds is a part of its medical practice.

However, before this law went into effect, Planned Parenthood always offered ultrasound characteristics to the mother looking to have an abortion. The mother could choose not to hear the information.

By law, women can no longer receive an abortion after about 23 weeks of pregnancy.

Planned Parenthood only performs abortions up to 19 weeks of pregnancy.