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The Moral Case for Ultrasound Laws
Joe Kral, M.A. | 03 December 2020
For many years now, several states have passed laws that amend current pro-life informed consent statutes to include mandates that require abortionists to show pregnant women seeking an abortion an ultrasound of their unborn child. While opponents of ultrasound laws and legislation have tried to argue this places an emotional trauma on the pregnant mother, the reality is, in actuality, it does something that is not harmful but rather extraordinary in terms of making metaphysical truth become an authentic experience. Something that no other piece of pro-life legislation can lay claim to.
Before the metaphysical revelation, the reader should get to know at least some of the moral basics as to why this law ought to be pursued by the states that do not have it. As with all pro-life incremental legislation, one must see how the harm created by the existing evil law is being limited. As it is commonly known, many states fight to pass simple, informed consent laws that seek to inform women of fetal development's basic scientific facts, risks to the abortion procedure, and alternatives available to her. As was mentioned above, some of those states have moved beyond those standards and have implemented the ultrasound requirement. The legal harm, initially created by both the Roe v. Wade[i] and Doe v. Bolton[ii] decisions paved the way for women to be misinformed by the abortion industry for decades about abortion risks and facts about the stages of development of their unborn children. Of course, this harm leads to the very real fact that the abortion industry used to tell women that the unborn child growing within her womb was merely a "clump of cells." As a result, the pro-life movement began to pass informed consent legislation and with the Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey[iii] decision, the US Supreme Court affirmed the ability of the states to pass such legislation.
Now specifically, if one were to look at the portion of the informed consent law that describes fetal development, one should see how the information and pictures presented in the information brochure help show the child's humanity. This information helps show the pregnant mother that the unborn child within her womb is not a mere clump of cells that somehow miraculously changes into a baby at some other magical time. Instead, it shows a continual growth and development; the child's life can be seen as a continuous flow from conception onward. This scientifically accurate information helps women better understand that the unborn child she is carrying is biologically human. In effect, the information helps dispel the myth that the child is a mere mass of tissue. She is shown the biological reality of the humanness of her prodigy. The clear goal of this type of legislation was to give the pregnant mother her due; to give her justice. The US Supreme Court certainly agreed that it was within the state's authority to ensure that the woman receives scientifically accurate information about fetal development.
With the advent of ultrasound technology, was the state requiring enough information to be given to the mother? It is clear that the abortion industry was using this technology already; in fact, one particular study indicated that ultrasound technology was used 99% of the time by the abortion industry to help date the pregnancy and help the abortionist determine which abortion procedure to use.[iv] Yet interestingly, these clinics were not offering these women real-time information about their unborn children. This is why the abortion industry fights this sort of legislation. As the old adage goes, information is power, and a more informed woman may be less likely to choose abortion. So, in many ways, while informed consent legislation did lessen the harm created by Roe and Doe, it did not quite go far enough when it came to the advent of ultrasound technology.
Here is where things get more interesting from a metaphysical point of view. Unlike scientific biological information, such as fetal developmental photographs, the ultrasound provides something much more. It cements the knowledge of the reality of the pregnant mother's own child's humanity in real-time, literally at that moment. The child's very being is made known to the mother at the moment she views and hears the ultrasound. The child is not just a mere metaphysical concept anymore but rather is made by law present by experiential knowledge in addition to the intellectual information she was given. The child had already actually existed since conception, but, in many cases, the mother is in denial of this reality. She now faces the actual reality of her child's being made apparent through ultrasound technology. This is what is due to her. This is why it is just that these laws pass; otherwise, she affects her moral character by deliberate ignorance, or vincible ignorance (ignorance that can be reasonably overcome), by not facing the reality of the beingness of her unborn child.
Naturally, as a result of limiting this harm of the existing evil law, one must now look into how this helps move society away from accepting the evil law. So, the question now becomes for the pro-life incrementalist how does an ultrasound law do this? One could answer this in several ways. One particular answer could be that it further debunks the myth that the unborn child is a "clump of cells" when pregnant mothers receive sonograms of their unborn babies. This law would help reinforce this reality in the mind of the public.
Furthermore, it also reinforces the idea that abortion needs to be regulated; that is to say, it is not as safe as the abortion industry makes it out to be. With these two factors in play, it certainly would help move society away from the acceptance of unfettered abortion since it helps show the humanity of the child and helps show the dangers of abortion itself. Combined, the law can help show the destruction that abortion commits on the unborn child to the society at large. In turn, this knowledge can help society face the fact that abortion is not a good and, thus, begin to reject the scourge of abortion.
However, the ultimate victory of ultrasound laws is how it shows the unborn's humanity in real-time for the mother. She will be able to visually see her child. And she may even possibly see her child move around within her womb. Or she may even hear her child's heartbeat. These are the things that pictures and scientifically accurate information cannot do, but an ultrasound can. She senses the child in a way she has not before. And with this law in place, more women are likely to choose the morally just decision and choose life.[v]
[i] See 410 U.S. 113.
[ii] See 410 U.S. 179.
[iii] See 505 U.S. 833.
[v] You may view a recent 2019 study on the effectiveness of ultrasound viewing here: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30531512/.
Joe Kral, M.A.
President of the Society of St. Sebastian and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Law & Culture Quarterly