Abortion harassment on wheels

"Mobile clinics" offer ultrasounds in the hopes of deterring women -- "on the doorstep" of abortion providers.

Published February 28, 2007 2:17PM (EST)

Women entering Dr. Emily, one of seven abortion clinics in the Bronx, N.Y., might do well to heed this childhood advice: Don't get into a van with a stranger. In what the New York Daily News called a "provocative campaign," the antiabortion group EMC -- Expectant Mother Care has, as of Tuesday, begun to "stake out" the South Bronx abortion provider (with whom EMC has tangled before) with an ultrasound-equipped 32-foot R.V. to "offer sonograms to women looking to end their pregnancies." According to EMC president Chris Slattery, such "mobile clinics" already operate in rural areas, but this is the first to hit the big city.

"We want [these women] to see the baby, hear the heartbeat and think seriously about what they're doing," Slattery told the Daily News, which reports today that the three women who visited the R.V. yesterday had "already decided to continue their pregnancies." The Daily News described the group as present "at the doorstep" of the clinic; it's not clear to what degree this was meant metaphorically.

EMC does at least appear to be honest about its intentions, both at its (curiously out of date) Web site and on its premises, mobile and otherwise. (EMC operates 15 "pregnancy resource centers" citywide.) In an earlier article, the Daily News reported that the state, following an investigation for deceptive advertising and allegedly practicing medicine without authorization, has negotiated an agreement with EMC that requires it to state clearly that it does not provide abortions or referrals. And according to its Web site, "EMC's goals are to encourage expectant moms to choose motherhood, and either marriage, adoption, or self-sufficiency, and to turn toward chaste lifestyles."

As both Time magazine and Broadsheet reported earlier this month -- here, resulting in lively discussion -- ultrasound wands are, you might say, the latest weapon in the fight against abortion rights. Focus on the Family's "Option Ultrasound" program is also endeavoring to equip 650 "pregnancy resource centers" with ultrasound machines by 2010. According to Focus on the Family's research, 79 percent of "abortion-minded" clients "decide to carry their babies to term after viewing an ultrasound."

Of course, sonograms -- as a means of determining fetal age -- are routine in abortion clinics to begin with; there, the patient can choose whether or not to look. To the degree that it matters, what's actually visible on an ultrasound can also vary greatly from pregnancy to pregnancy, depending on gestational age and other factors. But whatever the effects of viewing such ultrasounds, EMC's campaign strikes me, in a way, as a stroke of evil genius. Ultrasound -- unlike hellish crazies exercising their "free speech" (sic) -- is silent, a way to not frighten women away before you've got them supine. Offering real support and viable alternatives to abortion for those women who seek such options is one thing; when gone about honestly, it actually has some integrity. It would also be another thing to, let's say, set up shop outside McDonald's with a blood pressure kit and a scale; one value meal either way is not going to change anyone's life. But lying in wait outside an abortion clinic -- warm drink and sonogram at the ready -- to me, that borders on ultrasonic stalking. At least we can assume that Dr. Emily's, whose spokesperson told the Daily News that EMC's campaign will "hurt women," will provide ample warning to patients when they make their appointments.

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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