- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 28, 2003

At a recent banquet for the Bakersfield Pregnancy Center in California, nurse Carolyn Schaefer triumphantly declared that the clinic had saved eight unborn lives.

Five months ago, Miss Schaefer told the audience, the California center bought a $25,000 ultrasound machine. Of the 41 clients scanned since the purchase, 15 were “abortion-minded,” she says. Of those 15, “eight changed their minds to parent after they viewed the ultrasound image of their baby.”

The experience in Bakersfield highlights the latest trend for Christian-based pregnancy centers — the use of ultrasound machines as tools to discourage abortions.

“When women see the baby, the denial ends. It’s as simple as that,” said Thomas A. Glessner, founder and president of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA), which represents more than 750 centers nationwide.

Pregnancy-center directors say they use ultrasound machines to date pregnancies and ensure the placenta is intact, as well as to give women “all the facts.”

“We always heard from girls, ‘Oh, it’s just a blob of tissue,’” says Terri Maikkula, director of five Colorado pregnancy centers that use ultrasound machines. “We want women to make their decisions based on facts.”

Pro-choice groups deny that the machines and those operating them are simply engaged in truth-telling.

“I think that it would be wonderful if they were giving women all the facts,” says David Seldin, of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “But our evidence is that these centers offer ideologically influenced, biased counseling to women who they lure in by misrepresenting themselves as something they aren’t.”

Mr. Seldin and others have criticized Christian-based pregnancy centers for what they say are misleading tactics. Some centers have advertised free pregnancy tests, and included their phone book listings under abortion services without making mention of their pro-life mission.

In a precedent-setting case, Planned Parenthood of San Diego and Riverside counties in 1992 sued five Southern California pregnancy centers claiming bad business practices and deceptive advertising. Planned Parenthood won, with the judge ruling that the phrase “offering alternatives to abortion” must be prominent in all advertising, phone book listings and signs.

The lawsuit’s outcome prompted Christian-based centers to obtain permission from the state to legally perform medical procedures such as pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, Mr. Glessner says.

NIFLA “took the lead,” he said, and produced a manual on how pro-life pregnancy centers could obtain the proper licenses.

Medically licensed centers began to purchase ultrasound machines, and center officials began to notice that ultrasound technology had effects beyond simply dating pregnancies — women deciding to remain pregnant in higher numbers, Mr. Glessner says.

America’s abortion rate steadily decreased during the 1990s, from 1.6 million abortions performed in 1991 to 1.3 million in 2000, according to Census Bureau statistics. Mr. Glessner predicts the abortion rate will plummet to about 500,000 by 2010 if ultrasound machines are widely used.

Both sides of the abortion debate agree that abortion is declining, though they dispute the cause of that decrease. Pro-choice proponents attribute the decline to a proliferation of “safe-sex” programs in the late 1980s and early 1990s, while pro-life advocates attribute the drop to abstinence education and a renewed respect for sexual morality.

Mr. Glessner says observers cannot discount the role ultrasound machines play in the decline.

Prior to ultrasound technology, he said, pregnancy centers reported that of the “abortion-minded” women who came in for testing and advice, about 20 percent to 30 percent decided to remain pregnant. With pregnancy centers using ultrasound machines, that proportion has jumped to 80 percent or 90 percent, he says.

Linda Hamilton of Planned Parenthood of San Diego and Riverside counties says that women who choose to go to Christian-based crisis-pregnancy centers probably are more inclined to remain pregnant. That’s fine, she said, as long as the centers are clear about their philosophies in advertisements. That’s not always the case, Miss Hamilton said. Mr. Seldin of NARAL agrees.

“I think [pro-life centers] have gotten more sophisticated in their approach to misrepresenting themselves [and] it is a concern,” he says. “If they want to provide counseling to women based on their ideological belief, it’s their right to do so. But they should not continue to pretend they [offer] full and open medical guidance.”

Miss Schaefer, the Bakersfield nurse, says ultrasound is not forced on pregnant women.

“We tell them that we have this capability; it’s a service we provide,” she says. “Some say no, and that tells us right away their mind is made up.”

Those who do say yes view an image that often includes a beating heart, often detectable in the fourth or fifth week of pregnancy.

“What comes up on the image is just a fast light, white and blipping on the machine,” Miss Schaefer says. “It just brings it so much closer to the women when a heartbeat is documented. It just cements the information into the brain that, ‘Hey, I am carrying a life here.’”

Linda Davis, Bakersfield Pregnancy Center director, says her clinic paid $25,000 for ultrasound technology after hearing the machines increase the potential for women to decline abortions.

“We decided to make the investment,” Miss Davis says. “Women who see the embryo on the ultrasound machine have a much higher rate of changing their minds.”

Miss Davis emphasizes that her counselors “keep their emotions in check” and “let women know what their options are and let them make their own choice.”

The Pregnancy Resource Center in Evansville, Ind., also uses ultrasound technology.

“We see more women who are considering abortion come to our center for counseling, and between 70 [percent] to 80 percent change their minds after ultrasound,” says the center’s director, Deena Crandall. “The clients say that seeing the heartbeat and the human features shows them that their baby is human, and it makes it much more difficult to abort.”

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