According to study, NARAL is right to fear ultrasounds


By now, just about everyone’s heard about how NARAL Pro-Choice America let lose in  a twitter rant over a Doritos commercial – one which showed a preborn baby on ultrasound reaching for a Dorito – that ran during the Superbowl. Though most people thought the commercial was cute, the proabortion activists of NARAL were angry, and attacked the commercial for “humanizing” preborn babies (i.e. human fetuses). Obviously, the person who runs NARAL’s twitter account wasn’t paying much attention in elementary school when they were teaching science.

But it’s not surprising that NARAL got upset over the sonogram image. They have hated sonograms for a very long time.

In an article in Newsweek, NARAL’s president at the time, Kate Michelman,  said the following about sonogram images:

The technology has clearly helped to define how people think about a fetus as a full, breathing human being… The other side has been able to use the technology to its own end.

It’s hard to convince people that preborn babies are just “tissue” or “clusters of cells” when they’re looking at a kicking, moving, detailed image of a preborn child showing arms and legs.

Pro-lifers have been using ultrasound images to show the beauty of preborn life for a long time now.  In a previous article, I shared stories about women who have changed their minds about having abortions after seeing ultrasounds of their babies.

For example, in this story from 40 Days for Life, a woman walked out of her abortion appointment and told the pro-life demonstrators:

“I couldn’t do it,” the woman said. “They were doing an ultrasound, so I asked if I could see it. At first they refused, telling me ‘you don’t really want to see it.’ But I insisted ‘yeah, I do want to see it, because if I can see it … maybe I won’t do it.’”

She was right. Once she saw her nine week baby on the ultrasound screen, she knew that she couldn’t go through with the abortion.

Sonogram images are even credited with changing the minds of abortionists such as Bernard Nathanson and abortion center workers such as Abby Johnson and Joan Appleton.

Appleton once talked about her pro-abortion to pro-life conversion:

It was, we did first trimester, this was late first trimester, probably early second trimester, really … 13.7 weeks. Give or take. I can’t remember offhand what the specific problem was, but we wanted to do the abortion by ultrasound… I handled the ultrasound while the doctor performed the procedure, and I directed him while I was watching the screen. I saw the baby pull away. I saw the baby open his mouth. I had seen The Silent Scream a number of times, but it didn’t affect me – to me it was just more pro-life propaganda. But I couldn’t deny what I saw on the screen. After that procedure, I was shaking, literally…

“The Silent Scream” she refers to is a video recorded in the 1980s by the late Dr. Bernard Nathanson. It shows a baby being aborted on ultrasound. Though dated and a bit sensationalized, it is a deeply disturbing film that had a big impact on abortion in its day. You can see it here.  As I mentioned above, Nathanson was himself a former abortionist turned pro-lifer who credited ultrasound imagery with his conversion. He was also a co-founder of NARAL.

With all these conversions, Nanette Falkenberg, then executive director of NARAL, knew what she was talking about when she said, “We had always failed in the visual war.” (1)

There is a great deal of anecdotal evidence that ultrasounds change hearts and minds. Now, however, there is other evidence.

In 2011, a series of surveys and opinion polls (2) were released by the Public Religion Research Institute, Inc. The polls evaluated American’s views on abortion at length. The surveys – which focused on millennials but were not limited to them – calculated the factors that swayed opinions for or against abortion. When controlling for all other factors, it found that seeing an ultrasound image corresponded to higher levels of pro-life support.

The survey asked participants whether or not they had recently seen an ultrasound image. The majority said that they had seen such an image, either through email, in printed form, or on Facebook. Younger people were most likely to have seen an ultrasound recently (64%) compared to the general public (58%).

The survey then asked those who had recently seen the ultrasound whether they thought abortion should be legal. It compared their answers to those of a group of people who had not recently seen an ultrasound photo. According to the study, there was a “modest but significant” difference between the two groups. People who had recently seen a sonogram were less likely to feel that abortion should be legal in “all or most” cases. Those who saw ultrasounds, then, were more likely to be pro-life. This data backs up what most pro-lifers already believe – that seeing an ultrasound photo makes a person more likely to oppose killing preborn children.

NARAL has good reason to be afraid. As ultrasounds become more and more widely used, more people are likely to see them. Not only that, but ultrasound technology is always improving. The gray and fuzzy images that most of us in our 30s and 40s grew up with have been replaced by crystal-clear 3-D and 4D ultrasounds that show every expression on a preborn baby’s face.

So next time you’re on Facebook and you have the opportunity to share an ultrasound picture, please do, because this study shows that people who see such photos on Facebook are more likely to oppose abortion. We have confirmation of what common sense tells us, what pro-lifers have always known and pro-choicers have always feared and acknowledged – ultrasound images change hearts and minds.

  1. Cynthia Gorney Articles of Faith: a Frontline History of the Abortion Wars (New York: Touchstone Simon & Schuster, 1998) 399
  2. Robert P Jones, Daniel Cox, Rachel Laser Committed to Availability, Conflicted about Morality: What the Millennial Generation Tells Us about the Future of the Abortion Debate and the Culture Wars(Public Religion Research Institute, Inc., 2011)
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