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Pro-life photography

Culture | Ultrasound technology is coming to shopping malls, and it could radically change the abortion debate

Issue: "The GOP's Latino outreach," Sept. 28, 2002

The most eloquent and unanswerable argument against abortion is surely an ultrasound picture of the baby in the womb.

This technology, using high-frequency sound waves that create a visual scan of the developing child, shows the unborn baby sucking his thumb, moving around, sneezing, making faces, and doing other things identical to what babies out of the womb do. No one who sees an ultrasound picture can deny in good faith that what she is seeing is not just a "fetus," but a baby.

The first ultrasounds were primitive, producing a flat, grainy, black-and-white image. These were persuasive enough of the unborn baby's humanity. But now a new generation of ultrasound scanners is giving highly realistic, photograph-quality images.

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The new "3-D" machines give a three-dimensional image that can be rotated 360 degrees, letting doctors and parents see the baby from every angle. General Electric has just come out with a "4-D" ultrasound, showing the baby in motion, as in a home movie.

General Electric, in what The Wall Street Journal described as one of its largest ever marketing investments, went so far as to advertise the 4-D ultrasound in magazine ads and cable TV commercials. Highly technical medical devices seldom get this treatment, but G.E. realized that it had an invention with a distinct popular appeal.

Now, the new ultrasounds have moved outside of the doctor's office and inside the shopping malls, as WORLD noted Sept. 14. This development is a persuasive new tool in the cultural battle, and it should help on the political side as well.

Fetal Fotos, Inc., a Salt Lake City company that has expanded into 10 locations across the country, has set up actual photo studios in shopping malls, where pregnant women can purchase early baby portraits. For $120, a new mom can receive two ultrasound sessions, a portrait of the baby's face, and a video of the baby moving, set to the music of a lullaby.

Another company, Before the Stork, in Bloomington, Ind., offers a "trimester package," allowing parents to watch the baby grow. Ultrasound movies have become popular gifts for grandparents and the entertainment-of-choice at baby showers.

The medical profession is huff-huffing at the nonmedical use of ultrasounds. Journal reporter Amy Dockser Marcus quotes Lawrence Platt, past president of the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine: "Ultrasounds are a medical procedure and shouldn't be used for entertainment purposes."

In 1994, the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates medical products, issued a ruling that warned that using ultrasound equipment for "keepsake" videos is "an unapproved use of a medical device." The FDA shut down some of the early studios and, according to Ms. Marcus, is investigating those that "appear to be cropping up again."

Ironically, the initial use of ultrasound technology was to identify "birth defects," such as Down syndrome and other physical problems. Often, this meant that the new technology was used as a pretext for abortion.

Many medical professionals still seem to be thinking in these terms, complaining that the commercial studios are not qualified to recognize medically pertinent information. But this misses the point.

Other doctors are realizing the benefits of letting parents see via ultrasound their developing baby. British physician Stuart Campbell, editor of the journal Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology, did a study showing that the photos encourage an early bonding of parents with their child. He also showed that a woman who can see her baby in her womb takes better care of herself during pregnancy and expresses a stronger attachment to her unborn child.

This latter point, of course, is the key. Ultrasound shows the humanity of someone easily dismissed as a "fetal growth" or as an abstraction whose status as a living being is said to be in doubt. The dehumanization of the developing child is a staple of the pro-abortion forces. But all of their arguments become meaningless when a mother can look her unborn baby in the face.

Pro-lifers would do well to encourage this new baby-portrait industry. This may include working for legislation, if necessary, to protect the industry from FDA restrictions.

Stopping the abortion holocaust will require both political action and cultural persuasion. With the Democratic-controlled Senate blocking the appointment of pro-life judges, and with even many conservative political candidates trying not to be identified as opposing abortion, political victories are hard to come by.

As pro-lifers fight the political battles, they must also work in the culture, persuading women to choose life, convincing society that pre-born children are human beings, and making the case that abortion is child abuse. Politicians will eventually fall into line if pro-lifers can win over the culture.

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