If abortion is not legal in Texas, why should I get an ultrasound before travelling to another state?
What a great question! Before June 2022, the law in Texas required that an ultrasound be performed the day before an abortion was provided. There was good reason for this: to provide evidence that there was a live fetus* in the uterus and to take measurements to determine the gestational age of that fetus.
Since Roe v. Wade was overturned and abortion was certified illegal in Texas a month later, residents must travel out of state and are then subject to the laws where abortion is still practiced.
But the bottom line is that YOU are the one making the decision. An informed decision focuses on the risks and the benefits of any medical procedure, not just abortion. Fully informed consent is one of the cornerstones of good patient care in the healing professions. We all need to be able to evaluate the risks and to collect objective and verifiable information that we can trust before taking steps that could have negative or life-long consequences.
Obstetrical ultrasound (interchangeable with sonogram) is a non-invasive procedure that sends high-frequency soundwaves through the abdomen to create an image of internal structures within the human body, including an image of a pregnancy within the womb. Licensed medical personnel undergo well over 100 hours of training and preparation to be able to provide this service with integrity.
If an organization provides limited obstetrical ultrasound, it simply means that their medical staff is limited to imaging within certain parameters, such as potential pregnancies up to around 16 weeks gestation. They use the same equipment and technique found at your obstetrician’s office or in the hospital or clinic, but the procedure is limited to answering three simple questions:
My pregnancy test was positive — am I really pregnant with a live baby? In other words, is there a heartbeat? Is the fetus inside my uterus? How far along am I?
Of course, there are many other questions you are asking yourself, but these three are basic to the decisions you must make right now. Limited obstetrical ultrasound provides you with a good foundation. Let’s take them one by one and focus on the things you may need to consider. Remember, this is about making a fully informed choice.
When an egg is fertilized by a sperm and a unique little life is formed, it has all that’s necessary to grow into a fully-functions-outside-the-womb human. The fetus’ heart starts beating at 21 days after conception, which is about 5 weeks after the first day of your last period. Ultrasound technology can often see the heartbeat a few days later and can measure it (how many beats per minute) by around six weeks. An ultrasound during this time may also reveal the presence of more than one fetus.
Sometimes the fertilized egg implants somewhere other than the uterus, such as in the fallopian tube, in the abdominal cavity or on the cervix. This is called an ectopic (“out of place”) pregnancy and is an event that calls for speedy medical treatment for you. Your pregnancy test may confirm as positive, but it cannot show you where the fetus has stopped to implant and grow. Obstetrical ultrasound technicians are trained to determine that a fetus with a beating heart has implanted where it is supposed to. They are your first line of defense against a situation that could be very dangerous to your health.
Taken together, a heartbeat detected in the proper location determines that the pregnancy is viable. This means that, given a safe place and good nutrition, the fetus will continue to develop and grow until he or she is ready to be born (after which, of course, safety and nutrition will still be important, but that is a blog post for another day!).
During the sonogram, the technician takes a series of measurements of the fetus to determine gestational age (gestation means development over a period of time). These measurements also establish a due date. For a woman who is trying to get pregnant, this helps her determine the course of the next 7 or so months. If the pregnancy is unexpected, however, knowing the gestational age can be crucial. Sometimes it helps figure out the paternity of the fetus (who the father is) and it also determines the type of abortion that is appropriate and that is safest for the mother. There are other sections on the website that cover this information – right now we are talking about reasons to get an ultrasound before you decide the course of the next few months.
In the course of all of our lives, whether we are considering something minor like botox injections or something really big like an abortion, being carefully and fully informed about the procedure involved, the inherent risks, and the possible complications is the foundation for making a good decision and avoiding long-term consequences or regret. In the case of an unplanned pregnancy, a limited obstetrical ultrasound is key to making the best decision during what can be a very difficult time. To schedule a free pregnancy test and ultrasound, give us a call or make an appointment online.
*Although the term fetus is consistently used in this blog post, the developing human is technically an embryo between conception and 8 weeks gestation. Distinguishing between the human developmental stages of an embryo and fetus is usually made only in academic discussions; therefore, we use the term fetus, just as obstetricians use with their patients.