Canadian CPCs don’t offer them because of costs, regulatory obstacles

Ultrasound2Ultrasounds have changed the abortion debate, and more importantly, outreach to women considering abortion. Images of the child in the womb are conveying the humanity of the unborn in ways that words could not.

American crisis pregnancy centres are investing in ultrasound machines. The Woman’s Choice Network, a CPC chain, states that in 2011, 123 out of 172 women who were considering having an abortion, but who saw an ultrasound image of their child at their facilities, chose life. The Options Pregnancy Resource Center from Oregon reports that among its clients at “high risk” for abortion, at least 75 per cent without ultrasounds had the child killed, while only 30 per cent still had the abortion after an ultrasound.

Some activists have come up with innovative ways to deliver ultrasounds. An example is Save the Storks, an organization that parks mobile units outside of abortion facilities to offer free ultrasounds to incoming patients. A licensed sonographer operates the machine and the work is reviewed by an obstetrician-gynecologist. Mothers receive counseling, assistance, and referrals to crisis pregnancy centres. Save the Storks started its work in Dallas and intends to give stork buses to CPCs in other locations. Chicago already has its own stork bus.

Focus on the Family developed the Option Ultrasound Program that provides grants to CPCs covering 80 per cent of the costs of an ultrasound machine or sonography training in areas with high abortion rates.

The success of ultrasound in saving unborn lives has led pro-life legislators in some states to pass laws making it mandatory for abortion facilities to provide women the option of viewing the sonogram before having the abortion. These efforts, in turn, have been resisted by some lawmakers and abortion advocates.

In Idaho, an ultrasound law failed to pass in 2012 after Rep. Tom Loertscher (R) announced he would not schedule a hearing that would permit it to be heard during the legislative session. The Senate had already passed it after an in-house live ultrasound demonstration conducted by Stanton Healthcare, a CPC. About a dozen pro-abortion hecklers had to be forced out of the room during the presentation.

In March 2012, Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia signed a law mandating that abortion mills do ultrasounds before abortions and offer the mother the chance to see the image as well as hear the fetal heartbeat. An amendment had been filed clarifying that only an external transabdominal ultrasound was required, as opposed to the more invasive transvaginal method. Transvaginal ultrasounds are necessary in the early stages of pregnancy to accurately determine the gestational age of the child. The amendment was triggered by the hysterical reaction on the part of abortion supporters comparing the use of vaginal probes to rape.

There are similar laws on the books in Texas, Louisiana, and Florida. All of these states require a verbal explanation of the ultrasound even if the woman declines to see it, but there are exceptions for cases of rape, incest, fetal disability, or the mother’s health that vary according to each law. 

Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, stated that transvaginal ultrasounds are “state-sponsored rape” and claimed “ultrasounds are rarely medically necessary prior to an abortion.” Democrat delegate Charniele Herring of the Virginia House of Representatives also called it “akin to rape.” According to NARAL, “forced ultrasounds” are “meant to shame and harass women, and to allow politicians to interfere in the doctor-patient relationship.”

A 2003 study in Contraception journal, however, shows that transvaginal ultrasounds are common procedure in abortion facilities. 83 per cent of the Planned Parenthood facilities committing early surgical abortions surveyed reported that they always performed transvaginal ultrasounds; 92 per cent of sites performing medical abortions always did them before the procedure and 87 per cent performed them afterwards.

Adrienne Schreiber, an official from Planned Parenthood’s Washington, D.C. regional office admitted that transvaginal ultrasounds are the “medical standard.” Schreiber explained, “to confirm the gestational age of the pregnancy, before any procedure is done, you do an ultrasound.” The abortion giant’s national standards dictate that it will not provide an abortion unless an ultrasound takes place.

As well, failing to have an ultrasound done beforehand could endanger the woman’s life if she has an ectopic pregnancy. Invasive ultrasounds are also crucial after abortions to ensure that all of the remains of the baby have been removed.

Journals report different findings regarding the efficacy of ultrasounds. A 2009 study in the European Journal of Contraception and Reproductive Health led by Ellen Wiebe, an abortionist at Everywoman’s Health Centre in Vancouver, B.C., reported that none of the 254 women who saw the ultrasound at two urban abortion facilities changed their minds about having the abortion and 86.3 per cent found it to be a “positive experience.” A 2011 study by Mark Gius for the Journal of Applied Business and Economics found a significant decrease in abortion rates after ultrasound laws were passed. A 2012 report in Women’s Health Issues journal by K. Kimport et al that interviewed 20 women who got an ultrasound before abortion and found that their reactions varied: some were dissuaded or faced “emotional difficulty,” but others found that it helped them “to cope” with the abortion.

Regulations for operating ultrasounds vary across the states. There is no need for a licensed sonographer in most states. The U.S has seen a surge of unregulated businesses selling ultrasound scans for purpose of entertainment. Malls house 3D ultrasound retail outfits (many of which only do the test with a prescription and with licensed sonographers) that provide customers with disks or even videos of the ultrasound once it is completed.

Ultrasound devices are considered by Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as being safe with no proven instances of harm, but both still require that they be used for medical purposes so that the benefits outweigh all potential risks. The FDA warns that ultrasound radiation can slightly heat tissue and produce gas bubbles, the long-term effects of which remain unknown. Both agencies require prescriptions from health professionals.

Crisis pregnancy centers in Canada looking to use ultrasounds to convince women to keep their babies face regulatory obstacles that their American counterparts often do not.

Regulations regarding ultrasound facilities differ throughout Canada. In Ontario, diagnostic clinics must acquire an Independent Health Facilities License, which will be granted, according to the 2005 guide, to clinics operating in “under-serviced” areas. The nature and cost of the service will also be considered. Under the Independent Health Facilities Act, each clinic must have a quality advisor and an advisory committee to advise the quality advisor. The Healing Arts Radiation Protection Act of Ontario requires each diagnostic facility to have a radiation protection officer (a role that may be assumed by the quality advisor). British Columbia has a temporary moratorium on diagnostic services and will license private office obstetric/gynecologic ultrasounds with accredited radiologists that have proven there is a need for their services. 

Ultrasound facilities are also monitored by the provincial colleges of physicians and surgeons. In general, ultrasound exams in Manitoba, Ontario, and Alberta must be conducted by certified sonographers and there must be a sonologist or a physician accredited in diagnostic imaging available for consultation, supervision, or review of exams during operating hours. In Alberta, there must be a medical director, who is also a physician, as well as a consult physician. Manitoba has ergonomic standards, requiring “properly designed” scanning chairs, support cushions, as well as adjustable stretchers and footrests.

Canada’s CPCs do not have in-house ultrasounds like their counterparts in the U.S. Linda Baartse, director of the Pregnancy Care Centre in Toronto, told The Interim that financing ultrasounds is “not the area of first priority” for her organization. She said that there are better ways for her group to spend the money that would otherwise be involved in the high cost of starting up and running ultrasound services. The PCC prefers, instead, to provide mothers with material support, opening new locations, and raising awareness. Rather, the Pregnancy Care Centre has a referral list of physicians that could help the woman access medical services such as ultrasounds.

Juergen Severloh, executive director of the Crisis Pregnancy Centre of Winnipeg, told The Interim in an email interview that the centre unsuccessfully tried to buy a used ultrasound machine from the hospital in 1997. Currently, CPC of Winnipeg provides clients with cards that entitle them to a free ultrasound and DVD at Babymoon, a third-party ultrasound business. Severloh believes that a “pregnancy centre should become linked to the ultrasound services of local pro-life physician’s offices,” it may pay for the set up costs and supplies in exchange for medical expertise, avoiding liability, and immediate service for clients.