Women's perspectives on ultrasound viewing in the abortion care context

Womens Health Issues. 2012 Nov-Dec;22(6):e513-7. doi: 10.1016/j.whi.2012.09.001. Epub 2012 Oct 5.


Purpose: In recent years, states have passed a range of regulations regarding ultrasound procedures in abortion care. Abortion rights opponents have promoted ultrasound viewing, believing that women who view their own ultrasound images are likely to be dissuaded from abortion. Abortion rights advocates, in contrast, routinely oppose these regulations, citing concerns that ultrasound viewing in the abortion context will be emotionally difficult for women. However, no empirical research has examined the effects of ultrasound viewing in unwanted pregnancies.

Methods: We conducted in-depth interviews with 20 respondents who received an ultrasound as part of their abortion care in one of two states in the American heartland. Interview transcripts were analyzed using grounded theory and a matrix technique for discussion of ultrasound viewing and regulations about ultrasound viewing.

Results: Respondents' accounts offer support for anti-abortion claims that ultrasound viewing can dissuade women from abortion, as well as support for abortion rights claims that viewing an ultrasound can cause emotional difficulty for a woman planning to abort. Interviews point to unexpected outcomes of ultrasound viewing, including reports that viewing better enabled respondents to cope with their abortion.

Conclusions: Ultrasound viewing does not have a singular effect. These data suggest that current assumptions about viewing effects are inaccurate, or at the least incomplete. We do not find support for legislating mandatory ultrasound viewing in abortion care. Questions about clinical care practices are best address in the medical context, not the legislative arena.

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Induced / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Abortion, Induced / psychology*
  • Adult
  • Choice Behavior
  • Decision Making
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy, Unwanted / psychology*
  • Pregnant Women / psychology*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Ultrasonography, Prenatal / psychology*
  • Young Adult