Seeing the Truth in an Unborn Baby’s Smile

By Liz Townsend

Editor’s note. Our latest entry in our year-long “Roe at 40” series come from the October 2003, edition of National Right to Life News. Our goal is to provide readers—especially those who may be relatively new to our Movement—with perspective on where we were at a given point in time. This story by Liz Townsend illustrates how even 10 years ago pro-abortionists were desperately worried about the impact of ever more sophisticated ultrasounds might have on the abortion debate.

fetal-yawn2A new controversy in Britain involves seemingly innocuous images – – babies smiling, yawning, blinking. But these babies are still in their mothers’ wombs, shown through a four-dimensional ultrasound procedure developed by Professor Stuart Campbell. The publication of some of these images has sparked a debate over what impact the technology might have on the acceptability of abortion and the view of the humanity of unborn children.

Four-dimensional ultrasound, which combines many three-dimensional pictures of unborn babies to show movement in real time, is a relatively new technology in Britain. Campbell uses it in his Create Health clinic in London.

Parents who see their babies through this technology said they felt extraordinary joy in seeing their unborn babies so clearly. “When the professor was scanning me, we started to call the baby’s name and it was amazing, he started to smile back at us. It was lovely,” Theresa Kirton told the Sunday Herald Sun.

Her husband Trevor said that he was amazed to see a family resemblance in his unborn son. “He knew we were there and was smiling for us,” Mr. Kirton said. “We had spent a long time playing him classical music and talking to him in the womb, but to see his response was astonishing. He also appeared to be concentrating at one point, and was pulling exactly the same face as I do when I am thinking hard.”

Professor Campbell said that the unborn babies’ facial expressions can be clearly seen, even if he cannot know exactly what is causing them. “What’s behind the smile, of course, I can’t say,” Campbell told the Chicago Sun-Times. “But the corners turn up, and the cheeks bulge… . I think it must be some indication of contentment in a stress-free environment.”

Pro-lifers point to the four-dimensional images to show that the child in the womb is a human being, with the same actions and expressions as any newborn baby. “The images show the delightful reality of the humanity of the unborn baby,” Pro-Life Party spokeswoman Julia Millington told BBC News. “We cannot believe that anybody could continue supporting abortion when they see these extraordinary pictures.”

Others, however, criticized the technology and the obvious conclusion that the baby in the images is human. Jeffrey Kahn, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Bioethics, said on CNN that the “emotional” view of the unborn as human would not change the essential debate, which he said comes down to the ability to survive separately from the mother. “I think we have to remember, it won’t change, really, the whole construct of how we’ve thought about abortion, which is staked to the viability of that fetus outside the womb,” Kahn said on Paula Zahn Now.

In the Guardian newspaper, columnist Anne Karpf jeered that the “anti-abortion lobby, intoxicated with evidence of a foetus’s humanity,” would use such images to advance its position in the abortion debate. She attempted to justify her opposition to showing 4-D ultrasound images by saying they violate privacy.

“Hitherto, the unborn baby existed as a cluster of possibilities, limited only by the parental imagination,” Karpf wrote. “I find these photos a rude invasion into a mysterious, and in some sense sacred, space.”

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This view is completely opposite from the reaction of families who’ve viewed their children in utero. The Kirtons often show their 4-D ultrasound video to their son Tevye, who is now almost two years old, the Herald Sun reported. Tevye watches himself moving and making faces inside his mother’s womb.

By using the 4-D ultrasound, the Kirtons were able to avoid a Caesarean section that had been recommended after a regular ultrasound indicated that there would be a problem with natural delivery. The more detailed ultrasound showed there was nothing wrong, and Tevye was born without any difficulties.

“The scan provides completely different information from the 2-D black and white ultrasound images that all women are offered at 12 and 20 weeks,” Professor Campbell told the Herald Sun. “The 2-D scan is excellent at showing the structure of the internal organs, but the 4-D gives better views of the surface features, such as the face, limbs, hands, and feet, and also the baby’s skull, spine, and skeleton.”

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