Ultrasound images have become a powerful tool in saving the lives of those still in the womb. Ultrasound exams use ultrasound waves to scan a women's abdomen, creating a picture or "sonogram" of the baby in uterus.
The new generation of three- and four-dimensional ultrasound imagery provides striking views of the infant inside the womb. Four-dimensional imagery shows objects in 3-D moving in something close to real time. The earliest movements can be detected at eight weeks.
By 12 weeks or so the pre-born are seen yawning and performing individual finger movements that are often more complex than seen in a newborn. The images reveal facial expressions, like smiling, at 20 weeks. Beyond 24 weeks pre-born may suck their thumbs, stick their tongues out and make expressive faces.
Images of the child in the womb are conveying the humanity of the unborn in ways that words could not. These images refute what women are told in abortion clinics; that their baby is no more than "a collection of cells" or "the product of conception." When expectant mothers-to-be see a face, a tiny fist, or a thumb being sucked their hearts most often open to the possibility of welcoming a new life into the world. A pregnant teen in Tennessee gives witness to the power of ultrasound: "I went to an abortion clinic in Knoxville, just to talk to them to ask questions to make sure I was pregnant. They did an ultrasound. I think I was three weeks when I went. As soon as I saw her heartbeat I knew then that wasn't an option. I knew I couldn't do it."
Pro-life groups are optimistic about the effectiveness of ultrasound technology in persuading pregnant women to choose giving birth over having an abortion. Some pregnancy centers are investing in ultrasound machines.
For centers who cannot afford ultrasound machines, many pro-life organizations are stepping up to assist. The Knights of Columbus have helped purchase over 540 ultrasound machines for pregnancy centers across the United States at a cost of $16 million dollars.
We in the Diocese of Buffalo are currently undergoing feasibility studies to do work with Catholic Health, and the Knights of Columbus to present a sonogram initiative that will benefit all in a similar way.
Some pro-life activists have come up with innovative ways to deliver ultrasounds. One example is Save the Storks, an organization that parks mobile units outside of abortion facilities to offer free ultrasounds to incoming patients. A licensed sonographer operates the machine and the work is reviewed by an obstetrician-gynecologist. Mothers receive counseling, assistance and referrals to pregnancy centers. Estimates on how many women reject abortion after seeing ultrasound images of unborn children vary.
According to the Family Research Council, between 80-90 percent of women who see an ultrasound will choose life.
Those who serve in pregnancy centers hoping to save innocent lives bear witness to the power of ultrasound. Locally, Cheryl Calire, diocesan director for Pro-Life Activities and the St. Gianna Pregnancy Outreach Centers in Western New York agrees.
"We have been fortunate with our partners at Catholic Health to arrange sonograms for those clients who may be on the fence in regards to termination of their pregnancy. We have seen this statistic hold true at a 90 percent success rate, when the mom has time to see the sonogram and have a consultation with the doctor."
Calire has personally witnessed those hearts and minds change, and feels blessed to have been able to be a part of serving as the connection for that opportunity to take place. "The Holy Spirit and ultrasound are a powerful combination."
Deacon Edward Zablocki serves at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Tonawanda and with the diocesan Office of Pro-Life Activities.