Is this the ultrasound generation? That’s the question Mattie Kahn asked in her recent piece for Lenny Letters. “Is it true that more millennials believe abortion should be outlawed compared to previous generations?” she asks. “If they do, how did social media influence them? And how many “likes” would it take to make, say, me a convert?”
Since the ultrasound became common practice in the 80’s, pro-lifers have been excited about the potential power it has to persuade people that life begins at conception and to stir convictions. And not without reason – as Kahn admits, the “moral valence” of abortion is more important to this generation of liberals, and the percentage of those that believe abortion should be legal in all or some cases has gone from 59% among gen-exers to 55% among millennials.
But Kahn challenges this, suggesting that 4% is hardly worth noting, and that perhaps the ultrasound isn’t as big of a pro-life boon as many once thought it would be. She points to the work of Dr. Katrina Kimport, who has done research on the effects of the ultrasound on women seeking abortion. She says that for women who are already very sure of their decision to abort, an ultrasound won’t affect their feelings or change their minds.
“…Kimport adds that she thinks it would be a mistake to use that data to conclude that ultrasounds have the power to make women suddenly want children. The women who see an ultrasound and decide to carry pregnancies to term haven’t recanted some previous conviction. They haven’t changed their minds, even, because their minds were never made up to begin with.”
Kahn deliberately ignores the fact that the small decrease in support for abortion among millennials is of particular interest precisely because on many other liberal issues millennials lean even further left than the previous generation – but not abortion. Even so, Kahn probably has a point about women who are secure in their decision to abort being unphased by prenatal scans – but I’d venture to say it’s not an important one.
Our experience with Stork Buses has shown that 4 out of 5 women who step inside for an ultrasound will choose life. Do women who have already decided they absolutely want an abortion step inside? Maybe not. They might just walk past the Stork Bus and into the abortion clinic. But what these statistics tell me are that there must be a lot of women going to get abortions who aren’t sure that they want one – who don’t like their options.
Maybe ultrasounds don’t change minds. That doesn’t make their impact any less important. There are vast numbers of women for whom the ultrasound is helping them make up their minds in the first place. The ultrasound is changing the way we make up our minds about abortion at all.
And that is precisely why I believe it’s fair to say this is the ultrasound generation – not because it is “converting” people in swarths, but because it has completely changed the terms of the conversation. We used to debate about the personhood of the fetus. That’s not even a question anymore. Nobody can look at an ultrasound and deny that they are looking at a person. Nobody can watch an ultrasound of an abortion and deny that a person is dying.
No wonder this generation cares more about the “moral valence” of abortion.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, because Wilberforce put it so well, “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” That’s what the ultrasound has done for this generation – taken away our excuse.
No matter what women are choosing, this generation has a stronger relationship with the unborn than previous generations. We see them in our social media feeds; we see them on our friends refrigerators. Does this convert people? Maybe not – but it forces them to live with the reality of their decision.