Sound Science and Unsound Ideology: Sixty Years of Obstetric Ultrasound

Ultrasound image used in an anti-abortion billboard in Ireland, 2012. Photo: The Vagenda

For decades now, ultrasound technology has been a fixture in the journey from pregnancy to parenthood. It has also become a prized weapon among abortion opponents in the battle over reproductive rights.

Ultrasound, which uses high-frequency sound waves to render images of a developing fetus, had its beginning 60 years ago this week, with the publication of a seminal paper in the British medical journal The Lancet. The development of the technology has a colorful history, one involving flying mammals, German submarines, a desert-dwelling inventor, and countless medical professionals who saw a range of patient care possibilities.


Ultrasound is a powerful tool, which can benefit patients or be used as a cudgel by abortion opponents.


But that colorful history belies the drab and fuzzy appearance of most ultrasounds. That limitation, though, has never stopped it from taking on enormous significance. When the technology was first developed, it gave obstetricians an unprecedented ability to survey fetal development, making it one of the most important advances in their field during the latter half of the 20th century.

By the same token, ultrasound has not only been a valuable medical tool but also a powerful storytelling tool. Today, it is often put to use four or more times before a patient’s due date. While the FDA and other authorities advise against ultrasounds that aren’t medically necessary — recommending just two for a low-risk pregnancy — many patients opt for additional, elective ultrasounds for the sake of having keepsake images. Posting those images online has become a popular way to share their news with family and friends. Continue reading

Brothers in Arms, Part 4: The Gathering Storm of Patriots and Plainclothes Politicians

This article is our final installment in a series that explores the historical and contemporary links between racial intolerance and opposition to abortion. Previously, this series examined the connections that developed in the 1980s between white supremacists and the anti-abortion movement, which bred a growing extremism and led to the first assassination of an abortion provider in 1993. This installment looks at the threats that developed in the aftermath.

1996 Planned Parenthood publication detailing militia movement links to anti-abortion terrorism

On March 11, 1993, Michael Frederick Griffin approached Dr. David Gunn outside his Pensacola clinic and shot him in the back three times, reportedly shouting, “Don’t kill any more babies!” Griffin, who had been radicalized by former Klansman and anti-abortion crusader John Burt, committed the first assassination of an abortion provider in the U.S. The following year, 1994, saw a record four murders and eight attempted murders by anti-abortion extremists, and more than half of the estimated 1,500 abortion clinics in the U.S. were targets of anti-abortion crimes, such as arson or bombings, in the first seven months of 1994. Although the next two years would see decreases in some types of anti-abortion crimes, clinics have never been free of threats in any of the years since.


Since the 1990s, anti-government groups have stirred racial hatred and anti-abortion extremism on the right.


Just weeks after Dr. Gunn’s assassination, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ended a 51-day armed standoff at a compound in Waco, Texas, the home of a religious cult known as the Branch Davidians. The standoff began in response to reports that the cult was abusing children and stockpiling illegal weapons. The siege ended on April 19, 1993 — 25 years ago this month — when the cult’s leader, David Koresh, ordered his followers to ignite fires that soon engulfed the compound in flames. By the end of the standoff, 75 people had lost their lives.

The federal government’s actions in Waco had overwhelming public support — 70 percent according to a poll conducted shortly after the siege — but to many right-wing activists, who held a deep distrust of the federal government, Waco was a gross display of heavy-handed government intrusion; tyrannical, military-style policing; and violent intolerance of religious liberty. Waco thus became a rallying cry for a growing, militant movement in the political right. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • I love to start the rundowns off with happy news, and the departure of an anti-choice zealot from office is always a happy occasion!

    When news broke last week that AZ Rep. Trent Franks was resigning from Congress, it sent shock waves through the state of Arizona. To hear that he had reportedly been hounding female members of his staff to serve as pregnancy surrogates for him and his wife was stunning for many reasons:

    1. Ewwwww, this is your boss asking you to have his baby. ACK! NOT NORMAL! AND GROSS!

    2. Surrogacy contracts are illegal in Arizona.

    3. Trent Franks is “pro-life” and surrogacy is almost surely not in line with “pro-life ideals.”

  • All of that aside, we should mark the demise of this horrible man by reminding you all of just how terrible he truly was. The one instance that sticks out most in my mind? When he said that more black babies are “devastated” by abortion than slavery. What a repulsive, malicious, and sickening thing to suggest. That blacks are better off suffering through a lifetime of brutality, torture, and subjugation than never having been born. Adios, Trent, you will NOT BE MISSED, fella! (Rewire)
  • We think this is great news, but for some reason, the teen abortion rate dropping in Colorado by 64 percent isn’t causing jubilation among the anti-choice crowd. Anyone else find that weird? (HuffPo)
  • I don’t know about you, Dear Readers, but yesterday’s plea from that creepy little GOP weasel, Paul Ryan, for Americans to “have more babies” for economic reasons REALLY ticked me off.

    This rich pipsqueak (who whines incessantly about people sometimes needing to draw upon government “entitlements”) sits in total opposition to EVERY policy that would entice people to have more children: universal health care, free or low-cost access to higher education, better funding for public schools, paid family leave, extended social services, a livable minimum wage for all, subsidized childcare, etc. … He and his Republican cohorts are literally opposed to ALL of that which makes having a family less insurmountable.

    It’s hypocritical and callous to try to shame people into having “more babies” when he and his party go to extreme lengths to ensure people have NO financial safety net or governmental aid to rely on when they need it. Let’s hope the rumors of this jerk leaving the Senate in 2018 are true. Maybe he can find it in his icy heart to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program before he goes. It’s in danger of leaving millions of children without insurance otherwise. I mean, come on. The health of all the babies he wants us to have has to matter to him, right? (Splinter News)
  • There have been a lot of headlines lately about the correlation between birth control pills and cancer. But left out of many of these news stories is the fact that hormonal birth control can also protect against certain cancers. Like everything, have conversations with actual medical professionals to figure out what’s best for you! (NY Times)
  • There may be hope that 45’s attempts to overturn Obamacare’s birth control mandate will fail! (Reuters)
  • As an Ohio native, I must say I’m horrified at how virulently anti-choice the state seems to have become in the 12 years since I left. Currently, a bill is headed to the governor’s desk that would ban abortion in the event a fetus is diagnosed with Down syndrome. Doctors who perform an abortion while aware of the diagnosis would lose their medical licenses in the state and face a fourth-degree felony charge. Is there any chance that maybe the men behind this bill are parents or adoptive parents of children with Down syndrome? I’m guessing no, but it’s nice to know they value the lives of these children. We can only hope that since they are taking families’ choices away, they will somehow provide meaningful support each time one is born rather than adopted. (Scientific American)
  • Remember how all the lying liars in the GOP claimed that they could defund Planned Parenthood and  “community health centers” could easily absorb our clientele and do our work better than us? Welp, the lie detector determined that was a lie. Planned Parenthood will have to start taking on more patients in a suburb near St. Louis because St. Charles County will no longer offer treatment and exams for sexually transmitted diseases through its public health department. And mind you, this is despite increasing STD rates in that county. Unfortunately, the county’s clinic is closing now and re-opening in 2018 with a reorganized clinic model “formulated to reduce expenditures and generate opportunities to increase revenues …” So basically, STD testing and treatment, while a public good, hasn’t been good for their bank account so they’re giving the job to us. Planned Parenthood is here and ready for you STL folks. (STL Today)
  • And lastly, I just want to shout out to my peers and fellow black women in Alabama. They turned OUT in the special election this week and helped Democrat Doug Jones win a seat in the Senate! To quote Cosmo, “White women preferred the accused child molester.” And I have nothing further to add. (Cosmopolitan)

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • It goes without saying that these are uncertain, uneasy times for many of us living in America right now. We have an unstable, habitually dishonest, temperamentally unfit egomaniac in the Oval Office intent on decimating women’s reproductive rights and the American health care system as we know it. The future of Planned Parenthood and our patients, many of whom have no other health care options, is at grave risk right now — more than ever. (Buzzfeed)

  • Thank you to Lisa Patrick, a writer at The Good Men Project, for making the moral case for keeping Planned Parenthood funded. (The Good Men Project)
  • Women across America to Republican dolt Steve King, who recently and ironically lamented government’s role in regulating the bodies of citizens: “Welcome to our world, hypocrite!” (Raw Story)
  • Headline: “California’s “Trust Women” License Plates to Help Pay for Reproductive Care in Trump Era”. Can we get these in Arizona??? (Rewire)
  • Iowa is taking a stab at “personhood,” which has failed in literally every other state that has attempted to legally designate eggs as “persons.” Were this initiative to pass, it would represent a serious danger to women’s access to birth control as almost every method of contraception could be wrongly construed as “abortifacients.” (Iowa Gazette)
  • Birth control failure rates are lower than ever! (NPR)
  • After Texas suffered a major loss in their battle to defund Planned Parenthood, Rewire ponders: “What’s next?” (Rewire)
  • Sadly, women in our military have a very difficult time getting access to birth control. And, ironically, most of them are seeking birth control as a means to control their menstrual cycles during times of deployment — not to prevent pregnancy. (The Atlantic)
  • With birth control being so effective and so very vital to so many women’s lives, it’s incredibly disheartening to know that the Trump Administration could quickly and easily weaken or even eliminate the provision for full coverage of contraception in the Affordable Care Act. (Think Progress)
  • Congratulations, Colorado, on becoming the third state to allow pharmacists to prescribe birth control!! (Pharmacy Times)
  • Missouri House Republican Mike Moon is infamous for trying to pass as much anti-choice, forced-birth legislation as he can. Moon, who is so pro-life he has no history (that I can locate) of adopting or fostering children in need, is now trying to pass HB 1014, aka the “Never Again Act.” Moon wants to make an abortion museum exhibit that would feature abortion tools throughout the ages and their effects on “abortion victims.” Cluelessly, he also conflates abortion with slavery and the Nazi holocaust. Sure, Mike — making choices about one’s own body is exactly the same as forced enslavement, torture, and brutalization of human beings based on race and is also totally equivalent to burning people alive in ovens due to differing religious practices! (Romper)
  • The new president really is a moron of colossal proportions. He actually gave the quote “Nobody Knew Health Care Could Be So Complicated.” Um, excuse me, Stupid, but literally everyone knew that. Literally everyone. PLEASE WALK AWAY FROM THIS JOB! PLEASE! (NY Mag)
  • Republicans have no idea what the hell they’re doing with regard to the Affordable Care Act, but rest assured, it will leave more people uninsured, it will screw the poor, and people with preexisting conditions (including yours truly — I have an incurable autoimmune disease) will suffer. (WaPo)

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • scientist face maskThe GOP debates were last night. Just an FYI: Every single one of those dingbats has deplorable, antiquated views on women’s reproductive rights and health. (Bustle)
  • The foolery surrounding unfounded allegations that Planned Parenthood has been illegally selling fetal tissue has reached ASININE LOWS, people. (NYT)
  • And it’s helped three state governments reach their ultimate goal of defunding us and further chipping away at women’s reproductive rights. Alabama is the latest. (CNN)
  • Speaking of Ass Backward Alabama, these clowns tried to snatch the parental rights of a pregnant prison inmate to stop her from getting an abortion! What in the hell! (Guardian)
  • With regard to fetal tissue, several organizations agreed to speak with The New York Times about their involvement in obtaining fetal tissue for the purpose of medical research on numerous degenerative diseases, such as leukemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Parkinson’s disease, and others. (NYT)
  • Scientific and medical research is already beginning to suffer as a result of this fetal tissue non-scandal. Colorado State University officials have suspended the school from acquiring fetal tissue from entities linked to Planned Parenthood until “Congressional investigations are concluded.” (RH Reality Check)
  • Thank you, Salon, for covering the facts of this debacle in a reasonable manner. And exposing the fact that Planned Parenthood has prevented possibly 3 million abortions in 2013 and 2014 by providing affordable or free birth control to those in need. (Salon)
  • Ebony has a magnificent piece on what you absolutely must know about Planned Parenthood and black women. (Ebony)
  • Warren Buffett has funded a birth control revolution on the down low?!? #WhoKnew (Bloomberg)
  • The Economist has quite the chilling piece on how “exceptionally deadly” childbirth is in the United States. Gee, almost seems like women should have a choice about whether or not they want to risk their lives giving birth to a child rather than having it forced upon them, right? (The Economist)
  • The birth control pill has prevented how many instances of cancer in the last decade?! (Time)
  • In case it slipped your mind, our senator, John McCain, is still The Worst. (Phoenix New Times)

Let’s Talk Contraception: Contraceptive Changes on the Horizon

MicrogestinThe Affordable Care Act has undeniably improved women’s ability to receive preventive care that includes contraception. Insured women are now able to have any FDA-approved birth control provided to them at no cost as part of their preventive health care. Access to contraception has been shown time and again to improve the lives of women, their children, and their families by allowing them to plan and space pregnancies, decreasing maternal and infant mortality and also increasing their economic stability.


Some states are taking steps to make birth control less expensive and more convenient to obtain!


The Affordable Care Act has also undeniably opened up a Pandora’s box of contraception-related issues.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) states that “contraception is an essential part of preventive care and all women should have unhindered and affordable access to any FDA approved contraceptive.” In their yearly report, “Access to Contraception,” they advocate 18 recommendations, which include:

  • over-the-counter access to oral contraceptives that is accompanied by insurance coverage or some other cost support
  • payment coverage for 3- to 13-month supplies of birth control to improve contraceptive continuation

In the United States, statistics show that half of all pregnancies are unintended. A recent study has shown that if women who were at risk for unintended pregnancy were able to easily access effective birth control (such as the Pill) at low cost and without a prescription, their rate of unintended pregnancy would decrease significantly. Continue reading

Post-Election News Rundown

Victories:

  • BIG4DEMNot many good things happened for the progressives, liberals, and Democrats here in AZ, but a few of our strongest reproductive-justice superstars are still standing. Congrats to U.S. representatives Ann Kirkpatrick, Ruben Gallego, Kyrsten Sinema, and Raul Grijalva! (Phoenix New Times)
  • Kyrsten Sinema’s victory in particular is quite a sweet one. Not only for the pro-choice crowd but also for the LGBTQ community. (LGBTQ Nation)
  • The Gilbert Public Schools governing board voted on October 28 to remove pages from an honors biology textbook because it does not give preference to childbirth or adoption over abortion. This is a prime reason why voting in school board elections is so important. (AZ Central)
  • Gilbert did just that on Tuesday when voters elected two school board members who will shift its balance in January — for the better! (AZ Central)

Counting Ballots:

  • The Ron Barber/Martha McSally race has taken an odd turn. Now that her lead over Barber has shrunk to 341 votes, Republican Martha McSally is attempting to get ballots in Pima County tossed out. Obviously we’re #TeamBarber. (Tucson Weekly)
  • Another Pima County nail-biter: It looks like Rep. Victoria Steele (D-Tucson) will continue to represent her constituents, but will she be joined by Dr. Randall Friese (also D-Tucson) or Republican incumbent Ethan Orr, who, as of this weekend, trails Friese by 199 votes? (Tucson Weekly)
  • Pima County spent the weekend counting ballots. (Tucson.com)
  • Yuma County, on the other hand, took a break over the weekend and will resume counting ballots today. At last count, Charlene Fernandez (D-Yuma) was a mere 65 votes ahead of her Republican challenger. (Tucson Sentinel)
  • Democrat Demion Clinco (the House’s only openly gay representative) appears to have been ousted by his Republican opponent, Chris Ackerley, in the Legislative District 2 House race — a surprise upset in this heavily Democratic district. As of Friday evening, Ackerley was 2,304 votes ahead of incumbent Clinco. The district’s newly reelected senator, women’s health champion Andrea Dalessandro, doesn’t predict the GOP newcomer will last long. (Green Valley News and Sun)

Beyond Arizona:

  • Personhood has failed to pass the sniff test with Colorado voters for the third time. The law, which would grant legal “personhood” rights to zygotes, has failed to pass in every state that has been ridiculous enough to put it on the ballot. Next stop? Georgia. (Slate Double XX)
  • Tennessee women are about to suffer grave consequences due to an extreme anti-abortion measure voted into law Tuesday. (Salon)
  • Old white guys are the main reason the election went GOP. (Slate)
  • White women basically cost Wendy Davis in Texas. (RH Reality Check)
  • Women of color are among the major losers now that the Senate is under GOP control. (RH Reality Check)