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

The Racial and Reproductive Justice of Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall, 1967. Photo: National Archives and Records Administration

On January 21, 2017, the day after the inauguration of Donald Trump as America’s 45th president, almost half a million people descended on Washington, D.C., in what the Washington Post called “likely the largest single-day demonstration in recorded U.S. history.” The Women’s March was held to protest the election of a highly unpopular president, who had been exposed in the months leading up to the election as someone who insulted the appearance and intelligence of women, boasted of his aggressive sexual advances toward others, and vowed to nominate a Supreme Court judge who would roll back women’s access to abortion. In D.C., and at solidarity marches around the nation and the world, people arrived for a massive show of support for women’s rights and reproductive justice.


Thurgood Marshall was a “great champion of intersecting struggles against racism and sexism.”


Actor Chadwick Boseman, who was on the set of Marvel Studios’ Black Panther, a movie based on the first black superhero featured in mainstream comics, took a break from filming that morning to tweet, “Shooting Black Panther on a Saturday. But my heart is at the Women’s March.” It was a fitting sentiment for an actor who had also been cast to star in Marshall, the recently released biopic about the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

While Marshall was known foremost for his role in important civil rights cases like Brown v. Board of Education, as well as for becoming the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice some 50 years ago this month, he was also an influential figure in the history of reproductive justice. While the biopic focuses on his early career, when he handled a 1941 case involving a black defendant facing racially charged allegations and a prejudiced criminal justice system, it was not until more than three decades after that case — and more than five years after his swearing in to the Supreme Court — that Marshall became a fixture in the history of abortion rights in the U.S. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • Planned Parenthood Arizona is fighting for DACA! (Buzzfeed)
  • In case you hadn’t heard, Republicans are trying for the umpteenth time to repeal the ACA. Nevertheless, they stupidly persisted. (WaPo)
  • In line with pretty much all other Republican-sponsored legislation, the consequences for women would be grave. (Jezebel)
  • Black women are 3.5 times more likely to die from being pregnant than white women. THIS is why being pro-choice ultimately translates into being “pro-life.” (Tonic)
  • The Arizona Supreme Court has unanimously affirmed the equal rights of same-sex parents! (Slate)
  • In other Arizona news: Two of our worst politicians, Mark Brnovich and Michele Reagan, are, as the Phoenix New Times puts it, on “Emily’s Sh*t List” for being woefully sucktacular on the issue of women’s health-care rights. (Phoenix New Times)
  • Abortion access has gotten easier in Missouri thanks to Planned Parenthood and, uh … other sources. (Double X)
  • One of my personal heroes, Dr. Willie Parker, gave a great interview to The Atlantic to discuss his Christian faith, teen moms, and what’s next for abortion access. (The Atlantic)
  • More than 1 in 5 women in Mexico is married before she turns 18. Unsurprisingly, teen pregnancy is usually a precursor. (Teen Vogue)

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • John McCainJohn McCain, Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins broke from the degenerate cretins of the GOP and helped DEFEAT the repeal of Obamacare. I can’t believe I’m typing this. (CNN)
  • As we’ve all said umpteen times, the GOP succeeding at defunding Planned Parenthood would have overwhelmed other clinics and left women with few options — which is the opposite of what anyone with a heart should want. (WaPo)
  • An interesting new study of 358 gay male couples showed that HIV-positive men who are on treatment that makes the virus undetectable do not transmit HIV to their partners during condomless anal intercourse. (NBC News)
  • ICYMI: No. 45’s administration is cutting funding for teen pregnancy prevention and 148 members of Congress are demanding answers. I doubt they’ll get them, but appreciate the effort. (Rewire)
  • As a black woman, this broke my heart and seared my soul: The No. 1 cause of death among black women under 35 is intimate partner violence. Men are killing us. Frequently. Brutally. (The Root)
  • Proenza Schouler did a video love note to Planned Parenthood. I dig it. (The Cut)
  • Did you know that since since January, 49 states have introduced almost 600 pieces of legislation to protect and advance access to reproductive health care services?! (Elle)
  • The controversy over the effects of Essure (a permanent method of sterilization for women) continues to rage on. (WaPo)
  • When it comes to trying to undercut women’s access to reproductive heath care, Texas will not S T O P. (Guttmacher)
  • They also passed their unconscionable “bathroom bill.” Ugh. (The Daily Beast)
  • Another state choosing to burden women with more abortion restrictions? Missouri. Like Texas, they’re becoming notorious for this crap. (Jezebel)

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • The Washington Post has a nifty graphic explaining what the Senate health care bill changes about the Affordable Care Act. FYI: It’s really just as much an abomination as the House’s crappy version. (WaPo)
  • To be clear, Planned Parenthood would be screwed out of funding if GOP numbskulls have their way. (Newsweek)
  • The Arizona State Senate has more female members, proportionally speaking, than any other state legislative body in the entire country. So why in all hells does this state still pass so much anti-woman legislation? WHY?!? (Phoenix New Times)
  • Apparently, women in many states can’t legally revoke consent if sex with a partner turns violent during the act? The failure to cease the sex when a woman says so isn’t legally “rape” according to the courts if she has already consented. Evidently, men are entitled to “finish” (ejaculate) once consent has been given and it cannot be revoked. WTF?!?! How is this real life? (Broadly)
  • Fusion has a great piece and accompanying documentary about rising maternal mortality rates among black women in the U.S. (Fusion)
  • NY Attorney General Sues Anti-Abortion Groups for Viciously Harassing Patients Outside Queens Clinic. Good. Throw.The.Book.At.These.Fools. Who else is willing to bet rent money that they are in the “so pro-life they’ve never fostered or adopted any children” crowd? A show of hands please. (Jezebel)
  • Missouri is legit taking a page out of The Handmaid’s Tale, y’all. (The Mary Sue)
  • Six experts quit the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS because they feel No. 45 “simply does not care” about the disease. Obviously, this does not bode well for HIV/AIDS treatment or research to eradicate the disease. (CNN)
  • Earlier this week, Karen Handel won the special election in Georgia. Here’s a reminder why she’s literally the absolute worst and will be no champion for women. She’s also so “pro-life” she’s never fostered or adopted any children. That puts her in good company with all the other “pro-lifers” in government. (Cosmopolitan)
  • Most sexually active teenagers in the U.S. are using contraception! Good job, kids! (Time)
  • If you’re sick of Republicans rigging elections in their favor, the possibility of SCOTUS delivering a rebuke over gerrymandering should excite you just a little bit! (WaPo)

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)