by Marvin Olasky
As we mourn the 27th anniversary of the Supreme Court's robed Roe vs. Wade coup, good news arrives in both public-opinion polls and technological developments.
New polls are interesting. One, in The American Enterprise, asked Americans whether 17 specific changes made things better or worse. Concerning the invention of radio, 96 percent said better, 1 percent said worse. The vote for computers was 87 to 8, for airline travel 77 to 8, for television 73 to 21. Four developments received more negative than positive votes: development of nuclear weapons, wide use of credit cards, greater acceptance of divorce, and -- the legalization of abortion, which was panned 42 percent to 34 percent.
But new technology is even more significant. Just as God made the printing press available half a millennium ago to spread theological reformation, as Martin Luther said, so God has now provided an instrument, the ultrasound machine, that can take one more bite out of abortion. Ultrasound works by safely bouncing sound waves off the developing unborn child. The sound waves are usually sent by a transducer, a handheld device rubbed back and forth across a pregnant woman's belly. Echoes from the waves are converted into a sonogram, a TV monitor image viewable by physicians and parents.
Why is this important concerning abortion? Several dozen crisis pregnancy centers have found that when a woman thinking about abortion sees a sonogram of her unborn child, the image frequently creates a bond that gives a troubled woman new courage. When men are involved, they also are affected. The Dallas Pregnancy Resource Center reports that "many women and their partners change their minds about aborting their child when they see their child's image on the sonogram screen. Offering a pamphlet displaying fetal development promotes truth, but offering a sonogram displaying the beating heart of a woman's own child displays personal reality."
The Alternatives Pregnancy Center of Denver reports that a woman 12 weeks pregnant, leaning toward abortion, and "under the impression that this baby didn't do anything . . . was just amazed" by what she saw on the ultrasound screen. The father of the baby, who came in for the next visit, also changed his mind.
Cathy Sones, executive director of AngelCare Pregnancy Rescue in Waco, Texas, tells of a father who stopped demanding an abortion as he gazed at the ultrasound screen. He had seen brochures before, but "It was so much more meaningful for him to see a picture of his own baby."
When asked whether more ultrasound use means fewer abortions, Danni Short, administrative director at Eastside Women's Pregnancy Center in Tucson, Ariz., said, "There is no question there's a correlation, none."
Carol Pitman, executive director at Emergency Pregnancy Services of Jacksonville, Fla., said 12 women there receive ultrasounds in an average month, and the personalization makes a huge difference.
Today's ultrasound machines give clearer pictures than those that helped Dr. Bernard Nathanson, after performing some 60,000 abortions, to perceive an unborn child's silent scream and join the pro-life side. But even the CBS Morning News two years ago - Jan. 22, 1998 - showed a mother, Heather Stuckey, telling interviewer Eric Engberg how she changed "when I had the ultrasound and actually saw the baby -- that was when I bought into the idea that this was my child."
What if 1,000 crisis pregnancy centers, instead of the few dozen at present who have them could afford ultrasound machines and use them well? What if 100 clients each year at each center were to make a different choice when they took into account ultrasound evidence? Some 100,000 unborn lives could be saved.
The cost, alas, is a big factor. A high-quality ultrasound machine costs at least $20 000 but the expense does not end there. The salary for a nurse manager/ultrasound technician runs $20,000 to $60,000 per year, depending on whether the individual is part-time or full-time. Supplies and supporting equipment typically cost $10,000 per year.
Centers with ultrasounds have typically found volunteer doctors to supervise the entire operation, but it's still tough going. Crisis pregnancy centers tend to be volunteer-driven, low-budget non-profits. They typically have a professional director and assistant, and at the most several other salaried people; the director generally trains several dozen volunteers.
For years many generous pro-life contributors have poured money into political campaigns and legal battles. That has helped enormously, but the greater opportunity now lies with the compassionate alternatives wing of the pro-life movement. We need to contain the negative but push along the positive -- and ultrasound machines are a way to at least turn the "choice" that already exists into informed choice. For some crisis pregnancy centers the cost is a killer, figuratively -- but not having them is a killer, literally.
[Marvin Olasky is editor, World magazine, from which the above is reprinted by permission. World is an excellent, Christian-perspective, weekly news magazine. You can subscribe by calling 800-951-6397.]