Focus on Family adopts ultrasound in abortion fight

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Focus on the Family is helping push legislation across the country requiring women to undergo an ultrasound and, if they choose, to view the images before they get an abortion.

The effort represents a different kind of battle against abortion: one that focuses on changing minds, rather than pushing for an outright ban on abortion.

The Colorado Springs-based organization is one of the largest evangelical groups in the nation, and plays a role in the city’s business and political climate. When Focus on the Family receives national attention — so does Colorado Springs.

Focus on the Family has for years funded what it calls Operation Ultrasound, paying to place the machines in pro-life clinics across the nation.

In its legislative campaign, the group is engaged in a different kind of fight than the ones it waged under the leadership of James Dobson, whose role at Focus on the Family had been shrinking before he left earlier this year.

The group has grown more cautious. No more fiery rhetoric or vehement speeches. Instead, it waits until the bills it favors are out of legislative committee — a show of support that indicates a better chance of passage — and then rallies its members and others to spring into action.

It’s been an effective campaign. More than 20 states have introduced ultrasound-related bills this year alone, and 21 already have such laws on the books. Focus hasn’t been involved in each case, though its influence has played a role in many instances.

Though largely succesful, the push has also run into a few legal roadblocks.

Most recently, Florida Gov. Bill Crist, a Republican, vetoed an ultrasound bill and a federal judge in Oklahoma blocked a similar bill passed by that state’s legislature.

The Oklahoma law required women to hear a doctor’s description of their fetus. Most of other such bills merely require an ultrasound be preformed.

Women who want an abortion in states with mandated ultrasounds must lie on an examining table while a technician runs a gelled transducer across their abdomen. They have a choice — they can close their eyes or turn their head as the image appears on the screen.

For the most part, the laws do not exempt women who are pregnant from rape or incest — though some states waive the requirement if the woman’s life is in danger.

The work by Focus’ political policy arm, Citizens Link, involves financial help and the organization of grassroots campaigns to help pass legislation.

Carrie Earll, public policy director for Citizens Link, said Focus encourages its members and others to send e-mails and post blogs.

“We also provide letters and phone calls — to get people to call their legislator and support the bill,” she said.

It’s a more subtle approach, though the message from Focus, long a foe of abortion rights, remains the same.

“We’re still the same people, with the same mission,” Earll said. “We haven’t backed off. But we (Citizens Link) have made an effort to distinguish ourselves from the family work at Focus.”

In part, that means less direct lobbying by Focus on the Family.

“We don’t actively lobby in the states,” Earrl said. “We do have a federal lobbyist, but we leave the lobbying up to the associate groups, ones that have ties in the states themselves. We believe that’s the best way — those are the people who know the legislators best.”

Not surprisingly, the move toward mandated ultrasounds for pregnant women doesn’t sit well with privacy or pro-choice advocates.

“These bills don’t let the doctor do what the doctor is supposed to do — perform medicine” in the way they see fit, said Monica McCafferty, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.

Planned Parenthood doesn’t oppose ultrasounds before an abortion, she said. In fact, in most cases, an ultrasound is performed in order to determine the stage of a pregnancy.

“But these bills go beyond that,” she said. “We perform (ultrasounds) as part of a medical procedure, and women have always had the option of viewing the ultrasound. But this is more invasive.”

The laws, she said, corrupt the doctor-patient relationship.

“There has to be trust there,” she said. “And these laws legislate medical practice — it can be a real hindrance.”

Earll doesn’t agree.

“Women have to go through a certain amount of mental gymnastics to have an abortion,” she said. “But if you can see what’s in your womb, then the ultrasounds put a face on your pregnancy.”

She also doesn’t see them as mandates.

“The laws simply say that the ultrasound has to be performed,” she said. “The state can’t force the woman to watch.”

A handful of states, however, require women to be informed that their fetuses might feel pain, while others require that doctors give the women an opportunity to hear the fetus’s heartbeat.

Colorado at the moment doesn’t have any legislation mandating ultrasounds. Earll classified the legislative environment as “hostile” to the idea, referring to the Democrats’ hold on both chambers and the governor’s office.

“But after the November elections — then maybe we’ll see,” she said.

Focus on the Family’s war on abortion has another front: Operation Ultrasound.

The organization has, since 2004, spent about $10 million on ultrasound machines and training for pro-life clinics across the country. The organization has its machines in nearly 500 locations in 49 states.

Women who seek counseling about their pregnancy in these clinics are given the chance to see an ultrasound. Earll claimed that the combination of the two — counseling and ultrasound — keep women from going forward with abortions about 60 percent of the time.
State Ultrasound Laws


Ultrasound required. Women must be offered the opportunity to view image.

Ultrasound required after 1st trimester. Women must request to view image.

If ultrasound is performed as part of preparation, women must be offered the opportunity to view image.

Women must be informed about ultrasound services and how to obtain these services.

Women are responsible for requesting to view ultrasound image.

Women must be informed of opportunity to hear fetal heart beat.

Women must be informed of possible fetal pain.



































North Dakota








South Carolina


South Dakota








West Virginia


Data includes information from American’s United For Life’s “Changing Law to Protect Human Life, State by State” (2008), National Right to Life’s “Woman’s Right to Know: States that Offer Ultrasound Option” (16 May 2008), and state codes. For more information see: or

3 Responses to Focus on Family adopts ultrasound in abortion fight

  1. “Whenever Focus gets national attention, so does Colorado Springs.” You got that right. The WRONG KIND OF ATTENTION. Because of Focus Colorado Springs has a national reputation as being backwards and ignorant. Keep it up Focus.

    June 26, 2010 at 8:10 am

  2. “The Colorado Springs-based organization is one of the largest evangelical groups in the nation, and plays a role in the city’s business and political climate. When Focus on the Family receives national attention — so does Colorado Springs.”

    One has to ask: With Colorado often referred to as the Hate State with many still remembering that Colorado Springs was home to those sponsoring Amendment 2, is it good for the region to continue to be known as a region harboring such a large population that will attempt to have Federal Law invade personal privacy?

    With a region sorely in need of companies who can bring decent paying jobs to the region — and a large company was down to a ‘short list’ of just two locations: Colorado Springs and Albuquerque, and one was known to be intolerant in matters of sexual orientation and the individual privacy of carrying a child, and other matters the local government (or the Federal Govt) have no business becoming involved in —

    Would the company move to Colorado Springs?

    Being known as a rather backwater area known to be inhabited by a small, but powerful cabal of those who continually attempt to legislate “morality for the masses” must play a part in the decision making process of companies with tolerant, accepting, and sophisticated management.

    Rick Wehner
    June 26, 2010 at 7:02 pm

  3. Where is the campaign to combat the negative image? When I travel, and am asked “Where are you from?” – – one learns not to say Colorado Springs in order to avoid the astonished look on the amused faces: Like, “You really live there?”

    How much of this is responsible for the .63% growth in the city. Yes, that is a decimal point BEFORE the 6 and not AFTER the 3.

    Staci Lynne Holdt
    June 27, 2010 at 7:26 am