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Abortion foes use live ultrasounds to highlight anti-abortion-rights legislation

As While House leaders, Democrats and Republicans in Congress engaged in contentious debate over an anti-abortion-rights bill Thursday, anti-abortion-rights activists were at the Capitol using pregnant women and ultrasound technology to make the case that abortion should be illegal.

Among the five women to undergo a public ultrasound at the kickoff event to the Voices from the Womb campaign was Mary O’Connor, who works for Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), sponsor of the bill being debated in the House. Pitts’ House Resolution 358, or the “Protect Life Act,” would ban women from using tax subsidies created under the new health-care reform law to purchase health plans that cover abortions. HR 358 is scheduled for a vote in the House as soon as Thursday evening.

O’Connor lay on a wooden table in the Congressional Auditorium of the Capitol Visitor’s Center, while Dana Miller, a registered nurse from Fredericksburg, Va., administered an ultrasound using a portable sonogram machine provided by Stanton Healthcare, a crisis pregnancy center in Boise, Idaho, and one of the three sponsoring organizations hosting the live ultrasound event. O’Connor, who was confirmed to be 15-weeks pregnant, said she and her husband are referring to her baby as “Pookie” in this early stage.

Brandi Swindell, Stanton Healthcare’s founder and president, acted as master of ceremonies, delivering commentary while Miller pointed out the fetuses’ appendages and their different stages of developments. She intermittently allowed the audience of more than 100 — most of whom belonged to various youth-led anti-abortion rights groups from Fredericksburg, Va. — to hear the fetal heartbeats.

“Everyone comes to Washington, D.C. to testify,” said the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, another Voices of the Womb sponsor. ”Because of technology, we have the opportunity for … the voices of millions of pre-born children to be heard.

Mahoney compared the anti-abortion-rights movement to the civil rights movement, arguing that fetuses should be given full human rights at the detection of a heartbeat.

“Today there is no question when life begins,” Mahoney said. “If we can prove it’s a child … then Roe v. Wade is invalid. We are doing that today.”

A live ultrasound was performed on one of Mahoney’s daughters, 26 year-old Kaitlin Martinez, who, along with the activists, reporters and her father, learned the sex of her child (female).

“We want to safeguard the mothers’ dignity and privacy,” Mahoney said, ensuring the audience that reporters were given consent from the women on display, to peek around the gray curtain to see the sonogram machine up close.

Swindell explained that Stanton Healthcare was named after Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a leader in the women’s suffrage movement, who has been quoted likening abortion to infanticide (she is also quoted as being in support of birth control). Swindell argued that the women’s suffrage movement was about distinguishing women from men’s property, and that the “pro-life” movement is about distinguishing pre-born babies from women’s property.

“We have to get the moms upon the tables so we can see our babies,” Swindell said. “Even if it’s tiny like a little grain of rice [they] should carry it to term.”

Mahoney explained to the audience that one woman, Mashawn Evans, has had two other abortions and that she was encouraged by the D.C.-based Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center to carry her current pregnancy to term. After watching the other ultrasounds, Evans told Mahoney had she been given access to an ultrasound, she would have not had abortions previously.

Mahoney announced he would be using this statement from Evans throughout the Voices From the Womb campaign.

Evans came to the event believing she was 12 weeks along in her pregnancy, but after struggling to identify the heartbeat, Miller explained that Evans was closer to seven weeks. Eventually, a heartbeat was identified — distinctively quieter and weaker than the more developed fetuses. Mahoney reminded the audience that it is at this stage that states such as Ohio are attempting to ban abortion.

Though all 535 members of Congress were invited to attend the “Voices from the Womb,” only House Reps. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Tom Marino (R-Pa.), Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), and a representative from Rep. Michele Bachmann’s office spoke before the crowd of more than 100 anti-abortion-rights advocates.

Wicker, whose state has the opportunity next year to criminalize abortions by approving a “personhood amendment” on the ballot, told a story about counseling a young couple to have an abortion in the ’70s.

“We do a lot of things that are dumb when we’re not educated,” Wicker said. “I wish we had Voices From the Womb back in the late ’70s.”

Presidential contender Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who recently introduced an anti-abortion-rights bill (PDF) that would mandate sonograms for all women seeking abortions in the U.S., sent a legislative assistant, Renee Doyle to the event to speak in her absence.

“The beauty of [Bachmann's] bill is that the image will speak for itself,” Doyle said. “Once the mother chooses life, her heart changes … and she becomes a proponent of life.”

Doyle said Bachmann’s bill would require abortion providers to show women the sonogram image, describe cardiac activity present and make an available heartbeat audible using a hand-held Doppler monitor.

As TAI’s sister site The Florida Independent reported previously, the federal Food and Drug Administration has warned women against undergoing ultrasound procedures unless it is medically necessary, because the long-term effects of repeated ultrasound exposures on a fetus is not fully known.

Watch a live ultrasound of Mashawn Evans’ pregnancy at seven weeks.

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