If you’ve been hearing a lot about ultrasound machines lately, it’s most likely because anti-abortion state legislatures across the country are proposing and passing laws that mandate the provision of ultrasounds on anyone seeking abortion care. These laws regulate who, when and how ultrasounds are performed for abortion care. Many of these laws require clinicians to provide scripted, biased counseling. Some impose unnecessary waiting periods between the ultrasound and the procedure. Others even require that the patient view the ultrasound images. Despite legislators’ claims that these laws are intended to improve patient safety, they are not even remotely based in science, and they aren’t good medicine. Their sole purpose is to stigmatize women and create barriers to abortion care.
When used appropriately, ultrasounds do help clinicians provide high-quality reproductive health care. Many clinicians who provide abortion and prenatal care rely on ultrasounds to date a pregnancy. Ultrasounds are critical in early detection of ectopic pregnancies, helping clinicians expedite treatment and patients avoid surgery. They allow clinicians to diagnose early pregnancy loss and provide miscarriage care. Having access to an ultrasound machine helps primary care clinicians provide comprehensive reproductive health care.
This year, RHAP has been interviewing family physicians to understand how they provide miscarriage care to their patients. All of the clinicians we’ve interviewed as part of our study agree that miscarriage care should be a core part of their clinical practice. But many aren’t providing all miscarriage treatment options to their patients because they do not have access to sonography.
We found that this lack of ultrasound technology disproportionately affects rural communities. If there is no local access to ultrasound, people often have to travel far just to get a sonogram, only to have to turn around and drive miles back to get treatment from their local doctor. Here is how one of the clinicians we interviewed put it:
Without an ultrasound machine in the office, if we have to send them all the way to the hospital to get the ultrasound, then why make them travel all the way back? We might as well have them do the procedure in the hospital instead of having them come back to the clinic.
No local access to ultrasound = no local access to comprehensive reproductive health care.
The issue is that ultrasound technology can be expensive, too expensive for many clinicians and community health centers to afford. Luckily, technological advancements are starting to make these machines smaller, portable and more affordable.
This week the Reproductive Health Access Project is launching a two-week campaign to provide rural community health centers with small, portable, affordable ultrasound machines. Our goal is to raise at least $5,000 so that we can provide a rural health center with an ultrasound machine. We figure if 1,000 of our friends and supporters each donate $5, we can reach our goal. We’ll be reaching out on Facebook and Twitter. Join us there and help us expand reproductive health care in rural communities.