Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Can an Ultrasound Change a Woman's Mind?

Abortion: it’s an issue that has been with us for more years than I’ve been alive. Even before I was born there were illegal abortions taking place in various parts of the United States. In 1973, the Supreme Court decided that women should be legally allowed to make the choice to end the life of their child before he or she had been born. Recent technology however, has given us a window to the womb.

Just as God gave man the idea for making the printing press available to spread theological reformation, as Martin Luther said, so God has now given men an idea that can take a big bite out of the abortion industry. For almost three decades, ultrasound technology has provided parents with a miraculous window to the womb. This common diagnostic technique uses harmless sound waves, sent by a hand-held transducer rubbed over the mother’s belly, which bounce off the developing unborn child. Echoes from the waves are converted into sonograms, which can be seen on video and captured in print. The latest advances produce amazing three-dimensional views. Ultrasound is an innovation that not only affirms life, but also saves lives. Those who believe in protecting the unborn can do more good, more immediately by helping spread this technology across the country than by counting on fair-weather politicians in Washington D.C. Crisis pregnancy centers, armed with ultrasound machines have convinced an untold number of parents to say no to abortion.

Why is this important concerning abortion? Crisis pregnancy centers have found that when a woman thinking about abortion sees a sonogram of her unborn child, the image frequently creates a bond that gives a troubled woman new courage.

In a 2005 article in World Magazine, Lynn Vincent wrote about three women in crisis situations and how the ultrasound technology helped change their hearts and minds towards life.
Raised in a Bible-teaching church, Andrea Brown knew right from wrong. But a personal struggle triggered a spiritual one: “I was doubting God, questioning my faith,” said the 25-year-old medical assistant. “I was still putting on this façade at church that I was still serious about God. But I was living a double life.”

That life included party-girl nights and a sexual relationship that Andrea knew was going nowhere. Then in September 2003, something weird happened: Eating carrots started making her really sick. Someone joked that she should take a pregnancy test. Though Andrea scoffed at the very idea, she secretly bought a home test and took it in a Taco Bell restroom. “I didn’t want to go do it at home,” where she lives with her mother and her father, a teaching elder at Jericho City of Praise in Landover, Md.

The test showed Andrea was pregnant; two more tests yielded the same result. “I was in shock,” Andrea said. “I thought, I can’t have this child. My parents will be disappointed. People at church will think I’m a hypocrite.”

Andrea called around looking for clinics that performed sedated or “twilight” abortions. “I had had girlfriends who told me how an abortion felt and I knew I couldn’t be awake through knowing they were taking the baby out of my body.”

Andrea scheduled one appointment for Sept. 19. But she continued paging through the phone book, randomly dialing numbers through eyes bleary with tears. One call connected her with the Bowie Crofton Pregnancy Clinic. “Do you do abortions?” Andrea asked.

No, the voice on the phone replied, but a counselor could talk to her about alternatives. That piqued Andrea’s curiosity. She also liked Bowie’s offer of a free sonogram.

Other clinics “were short with me, not polite or nice at all,” she said. “A few places I called were emotionless about the fact that I was whimpering and crying on the phone. Their attitude was ‘Do you want to make an appointment or not?’ . . . I was reaching out and asking for help and [the Bowie Crofton people] were the only ones offering it.”

Two days after calling the pregnancy center, Andrea showed up for her appointment and spoke with a counselor. When the counselor asked Andrea why she was considering abortion, Andrea confided what she saw was her failure in her relationship with God. The two talked and prayed together, and scheduled a sonogram for a few days later.

Though Andrea told Sharon that day she had changed her mind about the abortion, the truth was she was still flip-flopping. And she didn’t cancel the Sept. 19 abortion appointment. “I was so distraught and so humiliated,” Andrea said. She prayed, knowing the abortion was wrong, but asking God to let her know He cared about her struggle.

Then, on the day she was supposed to have the abortion, Hurricane Isabel savaged the East Coast, knocking out power—including power to abortion clinic.

A series of further “coincidences” kept her in confusion, but Andrea remained undecided. That is, until she returned to Bowie Crofton for a sonogram and the nurse pointed out her baby’s heartbeat. At that moment, she said, she knew she wasn’t going through with the abortion. “The beating heart is the very essence of life itself,” she said. “The sonogram showed me that if I had had an abortion, I would’ve been murdering my child.”

Today Elora Patricia lives with her mom and proud grandparents. Andrea said her parents are disappointed that she had made unwise sexual choices but are enchanted with their new granddaughter. She also plans to tell Elora the story someday. “I plan to be open with her and tell the truth, that it wasn’t about her. Sometimes we try to cover up one bad thing with another bad thing to make things right. But that’s not how it’s supposed to work.”

In the second story, Megan and Sal had been together for four years. Megan, 25, was a part-time elementary education student and full-time grants assistant at the University of Pittsburgh. Sal, 25, a long-term-care nurse, was studying nursing.

Then, two things happened at roughly the same time: First, they decided to break up. Then, they learned Megan was pregnant. Surprised and panicked, the couple felt they had no choice but abortion, Megan said. “He was going to school. I figured my parents would kill me. We automatically decided to have an abortion. We didn’t even talk about anything else.”

Megan didn’t consider it a moral decision: She had long considered herself “pro-choice.” Fearing the pain of a surgical abortion, she booked an appointment for a medical abortion using RU-486. “I thought with a medical abortion all I would have to do is take a pill, like taking a Tylenol to make a headache go away.”

After Megan made the appointment, “I got really freaked out and started second-guessing myself,” she said. Thinking about the abortion “literally made me feel sick.”

For one thing, she’d been reading more about RU-486—and all the potential complications. She had also read stories of women who gravely regretted their abortions. Meanwhile the clock was ticking: As her appointment neared, so did her pregnancy’s seventh week. RU-486 is only an abortion option up to week nine.

Panic set in. “I felt like I had no time to think through my decision,” she said. Megan went to work, worried, went to class, worried, came home, worried. Soon, her RU-486 appointment was only a day away. That day she took a bus to another part of the campus to deliver some paperwork. At a bus stop, she saw a sign that said simply, “Pregnant and scared?”

“I thought, well, that’s me,” Megan said. “I thought it wouldn’t hurt to talk to someone.” Megan dialed the number and connected with the Pregnancy Resource Center (PRC), a network of Pittsburgh-area crisis pregnancy facilities.

After learning that the center offered abortion alternatives and free ultrasounds, but not abortion, she agreed to come in that afternoon. Then she called Sal and he agreed to go with her. It would later turn out that he was having doubts about the abortion, too. But since they were on the verge of breaking up, neither had wanted to upset the other by appearing unsure.

At the PRC, counselors explained to the couple the pros and cons of keeping the baby, and literature on the often hidden consequences of having an abortion. After initial counseling, Megan had the ultrasound. Megan said she felt the test would probably confirm her choice to have an abortion. “I didn’t think it would touch me in any way.”

She was wrong. Though it took some time for a recognizable image to appear, what the couple saw moved the pregnancy from the abstract idea of “problem” to the concrete reality of “baby.” It was a little circle that “floated and bounced around,” Megan said. “You could see that it was real and growing and alive! . . . I could picture what that little circle was going to become. I could see my baby when I was four months pregnant, then eight months pregnant. I thought, ‘That thing everyone wants to call “tissue” will eventually turn into a baby that I can hold and who will look like me.’ I had never thought about that before.”

Sal was shocked and moved by the baby’s on-screen antics. Megan remembers that they didn’t have a long conversation about whether to keep the baby. After the ultrasound, they just knew. “Abortion would be wrong—wrong for us.” Sal and Megan stayed together, and on Sept. 23, 2004, Ava Isabel made her entrance into the world.

The third story is about Michelle who in February 2004, at age 21, delivered her fourth child. In October of the next year she learned she was pregnant with her fifth.

“I had a mixed reaction,” said Michelle. “I wanted to keep the baby, but I also wanted to get into school and finish my degree so I could become an R.N. And the father wasn’t ready for another child.”

The father, who is also dad to two of Michelle’s other children, didn’t think the couple was financially ready for another baby. So he and Michelle agreed that she would call some abortion clinics and check out rates. She did, but made no appointments.

“I was waiting, postponing, I think because I really didn’t want to do it,” Michelle said. Weeks passed until the couple agreed that Michelle should make a few more calls. In the phone book under the heading “Abortion Alternatives” she found the Crisis Pregnancy Center of Metropolitan Richmond and dialed. The voice on the other end of the phone told her immediately that the CPC did not offer abortions, but that she could come in and have an ultrasound done for free. Michelle made an appointment.

When the day arrived, she first talked with a CPC counselor as expected—but then something happened that Michelle didn’t expect: The nurse performing the ultrasound put a portable screen on Michelle’s belly so she could see the baby. That’s because Michelle had had an ultrasound six years earlier. When she was 15 years old and pregnant for the first time, her mother took her to get an abortion. “They did an ultrasound,” she said, “but they hid the screen from me so I couldn’t see what the baby looked like.”

As it turned out, Michelle was six months along with that child, a son, now seven. When the Richmond CPC nurse propped the sonogram screen on her tummy for a close-up view of Baby Five, “the first thought I had was, how is she able to let me see my baby, but when I went to the abortion clinic, they wouldn’t?”

After seeing the CPC ultrasound, Michelle knew there would be no aborting her fifth child. “When I saw it, I was pretty much in tears. I didn’t know that at 12 weeks it was a full baby. Seeing it on the screen, realizing it was an actual person with fingers, toes, everything, I couldn’t do it. . . . I knew I would be killing a human being.”

After she told him what she saw on the ultrasound, the baby’s father agreed that the time had come to get ready to welcome their newest child, due in late May, into the world.

Through her encounter with the CPC, Michelle said she’s felt called to seek a closer relationship with God. Through the CPC’s “Earn While You Learn” program—where expectant moms attend parenting, birthing, and other classes while earning “mommy dollars” to spend on baby supplies—she has been reading The Purpose Driven Life. But Michelle emphasizes that CPC volunteers didn’t coerce her into taking the classes, or somehow hold their services hostage, awaiting signs of spiritual growth. “It was my choice,” she said.

These are real people in real crisis situations who had a counselor come along side of them and speak truth into their lives. They were able, through the ultrasound, to get through to them and save their unborn children.

One of the hurdles that the majority of centers that provide abortion alternatives are running into is the high cost of the machines and putting trained people in place so that the technology can be utilized for the lives of many babies to be saved. According to Focus on the Family, the average cost of an ultrasound machine is in the range of $21,000 – $33,000 per machine, with sonography training costs ranging from $13,000 - $17,000. Yes, the cost is high for a center to bring in an ultrasound, but the rewards are priceless.

Focus on the Family has started a ministry called the Operation Ultrasound. Focus on the Family has long been committed to life issues as well as family issues. Operation Ultrasound is the outgrowth of that commitment made to support all families. This program trains and equips pregnancy centers to provide ultrasound services and to operate according to standards of excellence. Their goal is to protect women’s health and help save the lives of their preborn babies.

In communities with high abortion rates, Operation Ultrasound offers grants for 100% of the cost, and up to 80% of the cost for communities with lower abortion rates. They offer step by step assistance with getting pregnancy centers equipped to do ultrasounds. As of March 1, 2010 Operation Ultrasound has funded 472 grants for either ultrasound machines or sonography training. The number of placements of the ultrasound equipment is in 49 of the 50 States, and one international placement in Romania. Since the beginning of Operation Ultrasound in 2004, the number of babies saved is in the neighborhood of 72,000. According to the same source, the data suggests that among at risk women the combined provision of counseling and ultrasound results in nearly 80% more stated decisions for life than with counseling alone (the definition of an at risk woman is the combination of a positive pregnancy test and are assessed by the pregnancy center as abortion minded or abortion vulnerable).

Many Christians will never have to face the issue of abortion personally. But that doesn’t mean the topic is not important. Rather than confidently engaging the culture on the issue in a way we can be proud of, Christians simply neglect the issue too often in hopes that it will go away. Unfortunately, this issue will not. Instead of withdrawing from dialogue on abortion, we need to engage people when the opportunity arises. If we don’t, we’re missing out on an opportunity to help people discover the freedom of the Christian worldview.

Think about it,


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