Womens Health

Ultrasounds Before First-Trimester Abortions: Unnecessary

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Forcing mandatory ultrasounds on women prior to allowing them to obtain an abortion is a new favorite tactic of the anti-choice state legislators and activists.

For the activists, it's a roadblock to slow the women down or hope that they will change their minds. For the women, it's another attempt to be told that their own choices are invalid and they need to second guess themselves. Either way, it is a delay tactic and a financial punishment rolled into one.

And now, according to a new study, it's utterly unnecessary in most first trimester abortions.

Via Reuters:

The study, published in the obstetrics journal BJOG, included 4,484 women seeking the abortion pill at any of 10 U.S. family planning clinics, including eight Planned Parenthood clinics.

Providers at the study sites -- most often nurse-midwives, nurse practitioners or physician assistants -- asked the women to give, or estimate, the date of their last menstrual period and performed physical exams. The women then underwent ultrasound.

Overall, only 1.6 percent of the women would have been given the abortion pill beyond the standard nine weeks if their providers had relied on their estimates and a physical exam alone.

And even in those cases, all of the women except for one were within the 11th week of their last menstrual period -- a point at which, studies show, the effectiveness of medical abortion is still high, without an increased risk of complications.

Overall, medical abortion is effective 97 percent of the time, with failed attempts followed up with a surgical abortion. After the ninth week of pregnancy, that effectiveness may begin to wane, "but it is not a steep drop-off," Bracken said in an interview. "Any reduction in efficacy would be gradual."

The findings, she said, indicate that doctors and other providers who lack ultrasound equipment can still "feel safe" in offering medical abortion. And that could help broaden access to medical abortion in rural parts of the U.S., as well as developing countries where ultrasound would be largely unavailable.


Sadly, despite the study's results, we can expect even more states to continue to enact legislation demanding that women have an ultrasound before the procedure. Because it was never about a woman's health, but only about obstructing her right to choose.

This post was originally published at RH Reality Check, a site of news, community and commentary for reproductive health and justice