Amber, 17, sits on a chair in an ultrasound room swinging sneaker-clad feet back and forth. Nearby, an embroidered pink quilt hangs on the wall proclaiming: "God's love always forgives." A door swings open and ultrasound nurse Kay Morton strides in, white lab coat fluttering.
"How are you doing?" asks Mrs. Morton, 50, smiling over multicolored reading glasses as she pages through the girl's medical file. The answer is sad: "My fiancé just passed away," says Amber, her hands trembling. Amber's boyfriend hanged himself two weeks before, and Amber found the body, dangling. Now she is faced with a crisis pregnancy, and is in the process of choosing whether to carry or abort her child. The Dallas Pregnancy Resource Center is offering a free sonogram to help Amber decide.
"OK, just lie back," Mrs. Morton says in a soothing voice, laying a white blanket across Amber's legs. Amber holds her cotton T-shirt in place and pulls down black overalls to reveal a slightly rounded belly. Mrs. Morton squeezes a bottle that spits clear, blue gel on Amber's stomach. "Oh!" laughs Amber: "That's cold!" The room grows dim, and the jittery high-school senior freezes as Mrs. Morton presses a handheld transducer into her abdomen. A few feet from Amber's wide eyes, an image jumps on a small computer screen.
"See that flickering spot?" Mrs. Morton asks, using a mouse to point a virtual arrow at a light that pulsates on-screen. "That's your baby's heartbeat." A huge grin spreads across Amber's face. Mrs. Morton clicks the mouse again and an electronic line appears that she uses to measure the tiny image from head to toe. "It looks like your baby's about seven weeks," she tells Amber. The girl nods slowly, eyes glued on the black-and-white monitor, her body stone-still. Mrs. Morton points out the baby's legs, arms, and the head; Amber clutches the top of her T-shirt, motionless.
Mrs. Morton types and two words appear on the screen: "HI, MOM!" The image shakes as Amber giggles. "Isn't it incredible that your baby already has developed brain waves, a heartbeat, and individual fingers?" Mrs. Morton asks. "When I was in college studying to be a nurse, I didn't believe in God. But when I studied the development of the embryo, that's when I said there must be a God. Isn't your baby amazing?" Amber nods, still staring at her sleeping child. Mrs. Morton prints a still shot from the sonogram while Amber wipes tears from her eyes. "I can't wait for my Mom to see this," she murmurs, fingering the photo. "Now it is real."
Amber chose to keep her unborn baby alive, and many more moms are making similar decisions as crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) and support organizations nationwide discover the power of ultrasound to affect hearts and minds. Heartbeat International, one of the largest national CPC organizations, recently surveyed 114 CPCs that use ultrasound. CPC directors reported that 60 to 90 percent of abortion-minded clients decide to keep their babies after seeing live pictures of them.
"Ultrasound connects a woman with reality-what she's actually carrying in the womb," said Tom Glessner, president of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates. "It's no longer a 'condition' when the mother sees her moving child. A bonding takes place."
Ultrasound also helps other people in a pregnant woman's life see a problem pregnancy as a person. Often, women choose abortion because of unsupportive boyfriends or parents. So centers strongly encourage clients to return with doubting friends and family. Technicians nationwide relate stories of bored boyfriends who shuffle in with arms crossed, but later break down in tears or exclaim something like, "My son! That's my son!" Grandparents, too, point at the screen in shock, demanding, "Are you kidding me? Is that what's going on in her? Is that my granddaughter?"
The military first used ultrasound to locate submarines. But it wasn't until the early 1980s-at least a decade after Roe vs. Wade opened the abortion floodgates in 1973-that CPCs began using ultrasound in their clinics. At least 200 CPCs nationwide now provide the service, and others among the estimated 3,000 CPCs across the country are converting themselves into medical clinics that offer ultrasound and other diagnostic pregnancy-related services. CPC directors say medical clinics draw more clients-especially abortion-minded ones-than nonmedical counseling centers.
Too bad ultrasound is so expensive: A machine costs about $30,000. But some manufacturers offer discounts for pro-life organizations, cutting the price tag to around $18,000. Support supplies like gloves, gel, and film run around $1,000 annually, but medical professionals are the major cost. Some CPCs that can't afford to buy a machine or employ a technician are networking with other ultrasound clinics. Such links save lives: When a counselor at a non-CPC clinic senses that her client will choose abortion, she can call a local ultrasound-CPC for an emergency visit.
To broaden the reach of ultrasound, some sonographers independently contract services with local CPCs, toting their own machines from center to center. Some OB/GYN doctors also offer ultrasound services in their offices. Dr. Wendell Ashby has offered sonography in his Amarillo, Texas, office for the past nine years. "We are a visual society," he said. "[Mothers] can't handle their conscience saying, 'You're killing your baby.' When they see little arms and legs kicking and moving, a heart beating, a brain, stomach, bladder, spine, and babies sucking their thumbs, it's no longer just tissue. [These women] say they had no idea-they thought it was just a little tadpole in there."
Shari Richards believes it's never too early to detonate the tadpole myth. The founder of Sound Wave Images, an international ultrasound education group in West Bloomfield, Mich., has turned her attention to the next generation by developing an ultrasound video shown in over 5,000 classrooms worldwide. Schools using the ultrasound video as part of abstinence curricula report declines in teen pregnancy of up to 25 percent, Ms. Richards said.
After seeing the Sound Wave video, one student wrote, "I've always thought abortion was a choice each woman should make. But after seeing the babies, I know that abortion is wrong."