Date of Award

Spring 2008

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Anthropology




Diagnostic imaging -- Social aspects, Diagnostic imaging -- Law and legislation -- Analysis, Fetus -- Legal status -- United States


Prenatal ultrasounds have become commonplace and widespread throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. Ethnographic studies have illustrated that ultrasounds can have a positive impact on a woman’s pregnancy, one that establishes a relationship between the mother and the unborn fetus as a person. This relationship comes into question when examining the state’s regulation of abortion. Several states, including Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, South Dakota, South Carolina and Ohio have considered legislation that would mandate the use of ultrasounds prior to terminating a pregnancy. The specifics of these policies vary from mandating ultrasounds as simply an option for pregnant women seeking an abortion to forcing a woman to obtain an ultrasound before the procedure would be provided. In order to understand the social and emotional outcomes of such policies at the state level it is useful to examine the role ultrasounds play in women’s lives that plan to carry their pregnancy to term. Since its widespread use beginning in the 1980s, ultrasounds have emerged as normal part of pregnancy. Ultrasounds give pregnant women the opportunity to view their pregnancy on screen allowing for the attribution of physical and possible social characteristics of the fetus prior to birth. This paper examines the effect of an ultrasound on women through an anthropological lens. By examining the cultural meaning of ultrasounds and how they affect women’s reproductive experiences cross-culturally, I will place ultrasound technology in social and cultural context that illuminates the potential impact of mandatory ultrasound policies.


© 2008 Anne Morrill

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This is a Policy Paper in fulfillment of the M.A. in Anthropology

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