FDA Targets Ultrasound Photo Shops, Pro-Life Groups Concerned
by Maria Gallagher
LifeNews.com Staff Writer
April 2, 2004
Washington, DC (LifeNews.com) — The Food and Drug Administration is threatening to crack down on what it calls non-medical use of ultrasound during pregnancy. The move could cause new confusion about the appropriate use of ultrasound, which is considered one of the most effective tools in dissuading women from seeking abortions.
FDA Deputy Director Kimber Richter told the Associated Press that the agency is considering regulatory action against ultrasound studios which offer portraits of unborn babies through ultrasound technology.
Richter indicated the regulatory action could come in the form of letters, injunctions, fines, or seizures.
"Fetal photo shops" have been popping up in around the country. The unregulated businesses go by names such as "Fetal Fotos," "Prenatal Peek," and "Womb with a View."
Promoters of the fetal portrait industry say they’re offering parents a unique opportunity to bond with their children and that the ultrasound images do not harm a pregnant woman’s health.
Pro-life advocates have long seen the benefit of ultrasound in helping pregnant women make informed choices about abortion. Research shows that women who see ultrasound pictures are much less likely to abort their unborn children.
An increasing number of pregnancy resource centers around the country are offering women ultrasounds in an effort to give them an inside look at the world of the unborn child.
Care Net, which promotes pregnancy resource centers throughout the U.S., notes that the advancement of ultrasound technology has helped to cultivate a culture of life in the U.S.
"Greater access to ultrasound services is a good thing, especially for women who are considering their pregnancy options," said Kurt Entsminger, President of Care Net.
"Of course these services need to be rendered by qualified personnel. Currently, approximately 150 Care Net pregnancy centers across the U.S. offer free ultrasound services. Care Net requires that its affiliates provide these services by qualified personnel under proper medical supervision," Entsminger told LifeNews.com.
In fact, there is a risk that news media coverage of the FDA warning could cause some women to bypass pregnancy help centers that offer ultrasound. One San Diego television news station announced that "the FDA is warning pregnant women to think twice before getting ultrasounds anywhere other than their doctor’s office."
However, according to a poll released last summer, female voters support legislation that would increase the ability of women facing unplanned pregnancies to obtain sonograms.
An astounding 81 percent of the women surveyed support the Informed Choice Act, which would grant federal funds to non-profit women’s health centers for the purchase of ultrasound equipment to provide free sonograms.
"Regardless of women’s views on choice, the vast majority agree that providing additional ultrasound services is worthwhile," Entsminger said.
Entsminger noted that women calling themselves "pro-life" and those who identified themselves as "pro-choice" were equally supportive of the legislation. The effort also had the backing of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.
However, pro-abortion groups such as NARAL and Planned Parenthood strongly oppose the Informed Choice Act, saying that having to see a baby on an ultrasound screen would confuse women.
"It is disturbing that groups like NARAL and Planned Parenthood, which call themselves pro-woman and pro-choice, oppose services that almost all women recognize as beneficial," Entsminger said.
The FDA actually shut down ultrasound picture studios about ten years ago, citing regulatory concerns.
However, supporters of the studios note that millions of ultrasounds are performed each year and that more than three decades of research have proven them to be safe.
Ultrasound technology has also become increasingly sophisticated in recent years. The 3D ultrasound can determine the volume of the unborn child and reconstruct the child’s image in three dimensions. The 4D ultrasound turns the 3D pictures into moving images.
Still, in a written statement, the FDA said, "Ultrasound is a form of energy, and even at low levels, laboratory studies have shown it can produce physical effects in tissue, such as jarring vibrations and a rise in temperature."
Because of that, the FDA said, "Prenatal ultrasounds can’t be considered completely innocuous." A few limited studies have linked ultrasounds to speech delays in children.
However, a number of medical professionals praise ultrasounds, noting that they can help doctors detect everything from cleft palates to life-threatening maladies. Still, some doctors question whether portrait studio owners can deal appropriately with ultrasound images that reveal fetal health problems.
For her part, Valerie Christensen, owner of four Fetal Foto studios in southern California, says she can. Christensen told the AP that her operators have discovered unborn children who had handicaps or who had died in the womb.
"At that point, we stop the session, switch off the machine, and advise them that they need to see their doctor immediately," Christensen told the AP.
And, while questions have been raised about the frequency and use of ultrasounds, pro-life leaders say they recognize that ultrasound is a tool, not a toy. Still, they note that the picture of the baby in the womb offers a powerful statement on behalf of the sanctity of human life.
"The landscape of the abortion debate in America is changing as developments in science, medicine and technology alter the way Americans look at pregnancy," Entsminger said.