January 24, 2014 — Abortion-rights opponents often promote the idea that abortion patients are likely to change their minds if they view an ultrasound before the procedure. However, previous research suggests that women's certainty about having an abortion is a better predictor of outcomes than the abortion experience itself.
To test if there is an association between ultrasound viewing and continuing a pregnancy, researchers from the University of California-San Francisco analyzed more than 15,000 visits to Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, a large, urban abortion provider, in 2011. All patients received an ultrasound and were given the option to view the images on the screen.
A minority of patients (42.5%) chose to view the screen. Nearly all of those patients (98.4%) went on to have an abortion, a proportion that was nearly identical for women who did not view the images (99%).
Predictors of Visit Outcomes
The researchers also stratified the data by women's level of certainty about their decision to have an abortion.
Among women who were highly certain that they wanted an abortion, there was no difference in abortion rates among those who viewed an ultrasound and those who did not.
Women with low or medium decision certainty who viewed an ultrasound were slightly less likely than likeminded women who did not view it to have an abortion (95.2% versus 98.7%).
However, other factors had a stronger effect on whether women chose to continue their pregnancies, the researchers found. For example, consistent with previous research, the odds of women choosing to continue a pregnancy increased with each category of gestational age greater than nine weeks, compared with women with pregnancies under nine weeks of gestation.
Data source: "Relationship Between Ultrasound Viewing and Proceeding to Abortion," Gatter et al., Obstetrics & Gynecology, January 2014.