Think Ultrasounds Before Abortions Are No Big Deal? Think Again

This is the law that is currently pending in my state of Pennsylvania, and has already passed or is pending in many other states in the US.

HB 1077
An Act providing for ultrasound test requirements to determine gestational ages of unborn children; establishing the right to view ultrasound image and ultrasound video of unborn child and the right to observe or hear the fetal heartbeat; providing for powers and duties of the Department of Health and for duties of physicians performing abortions; requiring certain reports to be filed with the Department of Health; imposing administrative sanctions and criminal penalties; and providing for remedies.

In order to see a fetus that is less than twelve weeks old in all but the most slender women (and in all women under six weeks pregnant), a vaginal ultrasound is required.

This is a transvaginal ultrasound wand.

This is a woman holding a transvaginal ultrasound wand. See how big it is?

This is what a transvaginal ultrasound looks like when it’s inside your body.

Medical professionals do NOT require (nor want to perform) transvaginal ultrasounds prior to performing abortions. They are not considered a necessary diagnostic tool in all cases (in some they are).

The point of doing the ultrasound, of course, is to force women to “see” the fetus prior to termination in hopes that they will change their minds. Most laws require that the monitor be positioned so that the woman receiving the ultrasound has to see it.

This is what they see.

This is what a transvaginal ultrasound sees at less than eight weeks pregnant, when 58% of abortions are performed (according to the CDC).

This is what a transvaginal ultrasound reveals at less than 13 weeks pregnant, when 91.6% of abortions are performed.

Here’s what the (mostly male) politicians don’t know about transvaginal ultrasounds.

• They hurt. A lot.

• They take a long time.

• In order to see the fetus, the medical professional using the wand often has to move the wand around inside you, pressing hard into your cervix, increasing your pain considerably.

• To position the wand for the best results, the technician often has their fist against your vulva.

• I’ll say it again: they HURT.

• It is the most invasive medical procedure I’ve personally experienced because it involves a very large object being placed inside my body. Yes, it’s more invasive than a traditional pelvic exam in my experience because of the way it presses into your cervix.

Here’s what Dr. Jen Gunter has to say about requiring ultrasounds:

There is no medical evidence to support ultrasound laws. They are a waste of taxpayer dollars and do nothing to accomplish the goal of reducing abortion. They also create a dangerous precedent of allowing hypocritical politicians to set unacceptably low standards of medical care based on political goals, religion, and misogyny.

In her post, Dr. Gunter also mentions that required ultrasounds are often paid for by the women, thereby increasing abortion costs beyond what some women can afford, and also delays their ability to get the procedure, pushing them into requiring a more expensive procedure.


I’ve had literally dozens of transvaginal ultrasounds, mostly while undergoing fertility treatment. I grinned and bore it throughout because I desperately WANTED my daughter. But being required to undergo the procedure against my will?

Yeah. It would feel like being medically assaulted, and like being held hostage. The law is saying “allow me to invade your body against your will, and only THEN will you be allowed to terminate your pregnancy (taking back control of your body).

This is wrong.

Please tell your representatives that this is WRONG. Even when it doesn’t go very well.



Comments Closed


  1. says

    I had more than one transvaginal ultrasound when I was pregnant for TJ, and yes, they hurt. And yes, they are exceptionally invasive. If I hadn’t been so worried about whether or not I was losing my baby, I would have joked about having the technician buy me dinner first. I can’t believe (or maybe I can) that these are to be REQUIRED for women who don’t need them.

  2. Kristin says

    Let’s not forget if you have a little extra weight in your lower abdomen they also occasionally use a fist to push and change the view of the uterus. I know that’s what they did when I was undergoing fertility treatments.

    You’re right, they do hurt, it’s uncomfortable and it left me feeling a little achy for the rest of the day.

  3. says

    I had one yesterday to see how thick the walls of my uterus are and today I hurt. Like a lot. The procedure itself didn’t hurt that bad except once when they pushed really hard, but today I have a lot of pelvic pain. Just thought I’d put that out there.


  4. says

    Also also? One of the reasons it’s super uncomfortable and painful is that you often have to drink a buttload of water beforehand – so you not only are getting crunched, poked and prodded from the inside, but you also have a ridiculously full bladder. Like painfully full – and it takes a lot of control to keep what is IN the bladder from coming out, especially when said full bladder is also getting crunched, poked and prodded.

    • says

      ohhhh, the water!! For me that was the absolute worst part. I didn’t find the procedure uncomfortable physically, but it was very strange from a personal point of view. To Erica’s point below, I think it’s extremely cruel to force a victim of sexual assault to have a procedure like this.

      It would also be extremely if testing found that the baby had downs or another medical condition that caused a parent to decide to end the pregnancy.

  5. says

    And let’s not forget those women who are there because they were victims of sexual assault to begin with. Nothing like forcing a victim to lay back on a table and relive her assault all over again just to satisfy some political agenda… Sigh…

  6. WendyPinNJ says

    Um, who wrote that blog post about that letter from Readshaw? That is probably one of the most repugnant things I’ve seen in a long time, and I think it’s worth “sharing” (on FB, Twitter, Pinterest, etc), but can’t figure out how to do it.

    Been waiting for you to write about this. I’m so disgusted by the Republican party as a whole (based on the “face” they’re currently choosing to show the public) right now that I can’t even find words.

    Will you also be writing about the March on DC at the end of April. I hope so. It’d go a long way toward spreading the word!

  7. Viki says

    I had one once but not because of a pregnancy. I didn’t like it but had to have it because there might have been something wrong. I wonder if this has ever been challenged as unconstitutional. I can’t see how the state can force a woman to do this since it is unnecessary.

  8. Kristen says

    Maybe I’m just lucky, but I’ve never felt transvaginal ultrasounds to be painful. Invasive, yes, but not at all painful. But I’m with you – there is no way they should be legally required for women prior to abortions.

  9. Sunny says

    I’ve had many through years of infertility and never found them to be painful. I didn’t think the wand was particularly large, despite how it looks, it’s thin. Not that it matters, but just thought I’d share my experiences as it seems like mileage varies with this particular type of procedure.

  10. Kate says

    This is just the debate we’re having here in Virginia. The politicians who claim that making the HPV vaccine mandatory for girls is inserting (!) the government into the doctor-patient relationship are the very same politicians who thinks it’s OK to mandate an ultrasound before an abortion.

    Unfortunately, it’s all been on The Daily Show, and Rachel Maddow, and the Ed Show, and SNL (or just visit YouTube for “Delegate Dave Albo” to see his latest House shenanigans.) Sad.

      • LegalLady says

        Get an education? Well coming from someone who passed the Bar Exam with flying colors, I’d have to wonder who needs an education on this subject… An excerpt taken on when life begins:

        A scientific textbook called “Basics of Biology” gives five characteristics of living things; these five criteria are found in all modern elementary scientific textbooks:

        1. Living things are highly organized.

        2. All living things have an ability to acquire materials and energy.

        3. All living things have an ability to respond to their environment.

        4. All living things have an ability to reproduce.

        5. All living things have an ability to adapt.

        According to this elementary definition of life, life begins at fertilization, when a sperm unites with an oocyte. From this moment, the being is highly organized, has the ability to acquire materials and energy, has the ability to respond to his or her environment, has the ability to adapt, and has the ability to reproduce (the cells divide, then divide again, etc., and barring pathology and pending reproductive maturity has the potential to reproduce other members of the species). Non-living things do not do these things. Even before the mother is aware that she is pregnant, a distinct, unique life has begun his or her existence inside her.

        • LegalLady says

          and as far as when a living thing is “human” is really a matter of opinion and will never be more than on ongoing argument based on a number of philosophical and religious factors and in some cases, unfortunately in roe vs. wade for example, overly simplified within the language and meaning of the fourteenth amendment. so yes, lets all get an education, shall we?

  11. says

    ah yes, the dildo cam. i had many many trans vaginal ultrasounds while going through infertility, it’s even more fun when they’re trying to look at you ovaries. horrible that they are trying to require them before abortions, that’s just what you want to see right before you have an abortion.

  12. Michele says

    For me, this isn’t about the pain or the size, it is about my right as a woman to determine what is done to my body. Abortion is legal and I have the right to decide if that is the right course of action for me. Medical decisions should be between me and my doctor, not me, my doctor, the insurance company, and the government.

    What a shame and what a blow to women’s rights.

  13. says

    I think that this law, and others like it, are unconstitutional. Roe Vrs Wade basically made abortions legal because it is considered a privacy issue. Medical testing against someone’s will for a legal medical procedure would also be considered interfering with a person’s privacy. Since most states have shot down forcing a person to take medication against their will, I don’t think forcing a woman to take an ultrasound would pass muster.

    I have not found the ‘dildo-cam’ painful in regards to my uterus in the past. BUT this past December I had a miscarriage, and the transvaginal ultrasound my OB/GYN performed to make sure there absolutely wasn’t a chance for the pregnancy to continue was VERY painful. He was having trouble getting a good angle, and it was necessary to be as accurate as possible. I think the leeway for a doctor to be truly sadistic with a woman who is about to have an abortion is painfully evident. You can perform one of these ultrasounds gently, and NOT so gently, if you get my drift.

  14. Shelley says

    The Republican WOMAN who introduced this bill was not only apparently UNAWARE that a transvaginal ultrasound would be required for pregnancies that early in gestation, rather than the much less invasive transabdominal u/s, SHE SAID SHE’D NEVER HEARD OF A TRANSVAGINAL U/S.

    Sit with that a minute. The woman who introduced the bill is so willfully ignorant about the topic that she doesn’t know what a transvaginal u/s is, and that a transabdominal u/s is generally inadequate for seeing a fetus in the earliest stages of pregnancy. Can you imagine?

  15. says

    It is barbaric to make on medical procedure contingent on another via law, not because it is medically supported, purely to deter. I vote for a law that these men need to be sterilised, let’s make it a castration, before they can get any dentistry done. Cause that suits my politics.

  16. says

    Thank you for spelling this out so clearly. I was opposed to mandatory trans-vaginal ultrasounds being forced when unneeded already, this just underlines and emphasizes the point.

    Thank You.

  17. Phyllis says

    What I find so astounding about this push to require mandatory ultrasounds before an abortion can proceed, is that the population of this country is pretty equal between males and females. I think I recall that it is women 51%/men 49%. One would think these mouth breathing males would consider this when serving, currently campaigning to serve, or planning to serve in public office in the future. Politicians pushing this agenda have zero respect for females or their rights. Vote them all out!

  18. A woman says

    I’ve been the woman who was going for an abortion and had to have a vaginal ultrasound prior to the procedure. That was the worst part of the worst thing I have ever been through in my life. This was 10 years ago and in California.

    I’ve gone on to marry the man who was with me and endured the choice we made together. We’ve had two wonderful children and been married for ten years…

    I will never forget that ultrasound. EVER. I had no idea if it was required or not, just that they said to do this and that and I was embarrassed, confused, sad. I’ll never forget that wand.

    This law is fucked up.

  19. says

    While I’m generally NOT an abortion advocate I do think that this law is over the top. The abortion issue should be cut and dry. Either it’s legal or it’s not. Period. Adding exceptions is just a bunch of nonsense that is a waste of time and resources.

    As for the transvaginal U/S, I had one last week for a gyn issue and while it was a bit uncomfortable, I found it to be less painful than a pap smear when the Dr. inserts that stupid metal thing in so they can get a better look.

  20. alyssa says

    personally, i think they’re putting in the issue of transvaginal ultrasounds to make us angrier. so we fight like hell to get rid of this part of the law, and win because i can’t imagine it holding up in court, and ultimately they get their wish of regular ultrasounds. it throws us offtrack, then they win.

    (i’ve had both kinds, the regular kind and the wand. the wand can hurt like hell, esp when your ovary is roving around and the doctor is hunting for it. i had one in the midst of a deep depression, and i wanted to crawl up and die. being adamantly pro-choice and being forced to do any kind of ultrasound, during what would be a heartbreaking decision for me, would be horrifying.)

  21. says

    I’ve had 2, one with each pregnancies. They are not comfortable and not fun and VERY invasive. It doesn’t look like a baby so I don’t understand why they think it would pull any heart strings on someone getting an abortion, also I don’t know anyone that goes into an abortion happy about it.

  22. Lynn says

    I’ve had many dozens of them in the course of infertility treatments and pregnancies. I am a very thin woman not requiring much manipulation or pressing and they all hurt anyway, every single one. Most hurt mildly, a few really badly! It is impossible to obtain accurate early dating without them.

  23. J says

    State mandated RAPE. That’s what it is.

    GAH! Literally makes me spit when discussing.

  24. says

    Thank you so much for writing about this so coherently. I’ve tried to start a few posts, but I just get shrill and angry. And I hadn’t seen that blog post about the PA Rep. Amazing. In the worst possible way.

  25. Betty says

    Thanks for the post. Wish these men would get smart and women who vote for it should have to experience it. Also wish they would realize most pregnancies don’t end in abortion.

  26. Hetty Fauxvert says

    I’m going to have to differ with you, Cecily, about whether a transvaginal ultrasound is painful or not. You are asserting that they are (a LOT, as you said) and I think it is more accurate to say that *you* found them painful. (Which I am sorry about! But that was your experience, not the inevitable experience that EVERY woman is going to have.) I had a number of transvaginal ultrasounds while we were doing IVF, and in the early stages of my high-risk pregnancy, and I did not find them painful. Annoying, yes, embarrassing sometimes, but painful? No.

    I also don’t find mammography to be particularly uncomfortable. And I was scared spitless of getting a mammogram before I had my first one, because I had read so much about how much they hurt! I think we need to be careful about scaring women with how much certain procedures supposedly hurt, since that might lead them to NOT undergo medically necessary exams. (Not that this proposed pre-abortion exam is medically necessary, but there are other times when a transvaginal ultrasound is the only way to fly.) So please don’t scare women too much about this procedure. At least for me, it was not a big deal.

  27. Heather Stein says

    I’ve had too many of these ultrasounds to count. Like other readers they were not painful for me. The worst part was having a full bladder, however that was for only a portion of the session. In fact I feel like a pap is way more invasive than this testing.

    Anyways, I am in no way in favor of the government mandating these ultrasounds before an abortion. For once this pro-life conservative agrees with you ladies. I’m just not in favor of much of the government mandates nowadays.

  28. Heidie says

    As a sonographer who performs transvaginal ultrasounds, I can tell you, I never had my hand anywhere near my patient’s vulva. I had my gloved hand on the handle, where it’s supposed to be. I was very cognizant of his my patient was tolerating the exam. Never once during a transvaginal ultrasound was my patients bladder full. To visualize the uterus, overlies and adnexal structures properly, the bladder HAS to be completely empty. The reason for that is because the bladder pushes the uterus out of the field of view. The bladder does need to he full when performing a transabdominal scan. That isto move the gas filled bowel out of the way and moves the uterus into a position more perpendicular to the ultrasound beam, producing high quality images. Most Radiologists, the physicians who read the ultrasound images, require a transvaginal ultrasound. Not to invade a woman but to get close up images of the pelvic structures. It is actually to the patients’ advantange to have the transvaginal ultrasound performed so that the Radiologist, the ordering physician and ultimately, the patient, is confident that nothing was missed by NOT doing the exam.

    I think that the ultrasound exam being performed prior to a pregnancy termination, is a good idea. What if the patient has a uterus that isn’t shaped like the majority of the uteri? That is a problem for the physican and could potentially lead to complications.

    To be clear though, I would be very against the ultrasound on the grounds its to make me see the baby. That’s just ludicrous. I think there needs to be more communication to figure out if its a safety issue or a control issue. I, personally want to have a choice about having the exam performed. With the information shared above, I would be inclined to have the exam performed if I were ever to be on that situation.

    Thank you for reading this. I hope it was somewhat helpful.

  29. Joy says

    You mean you have to be put through some discomfort before you decide to kill your baby? How INHUMANE! Oh, the world. Well someday they will come up with a quick easy way to go in there and git-er-done so I can just go home, have some cocktails, and not have to think about it anymore.

    • Joy says

      Also, the points being made against this procedure apply to many medical procedures, and it’s obviously not rape, it’s a medical procedure. Just as much as surgery where they cut you open wouldn’t be considered manslaughter lol. I don’t see how any of these points being made would hold up to stop the law from being passed, being that there are a lot of medical procedures that are very uncomfortable, time consuming, and inconvenient. That’s just a fact of life in the land of hospitals and doctor’s offices. Are we going to start throwing a big fit over all the other medical procedures as well? Why this one?

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  31. amber says

    Yall are a bunch of whiney selfish little brats. 1 I have had these before. They don’t hurt at all. You get papsmears don’t you? Tell me please how that isn’t invasive? Morons. You give real women a bad name. Yall are weak. If that wand hurts you so much your men must have peckers the width of pencils. Its about the baby not you you dumbass cackling hens. Never have I seem weaker unrespectable human beings.

  32. Heidie says

    Another thing I’d like to add about the transvaginal ultrasound is this: If you were having surgery on any part if your body, wouldn’t you want your Dr. to know the anatomy of the structure being operated on? What if there was a fibroid that was in the way or your uterus was small? I’d be happy that the Dr. had this information. Having the uterus punctured by one if the instruments is no small deal. One needs to look at the whole picture, so to speak.

  33. Kristy says

    Heidie –

    Thank you for your comments. For the past couple of months I’ve been having excruciating stomach pain and vomiting the day right before my period, both times. A friend told me she had the exact same symptoms and it was ovarian cysts, so I called my gyno and got an appointment next week. It sounds like I’m likely going to have to have this ultrasound, and from what I was reading it didn’t sound any worse than a Pap smear, but then I kept seeing all these “omg they’re so painful!” posts everywhere. I feel a bit better now reading what is supposed to happen from the point of view of someone who is performing it.

  34. Heidie says

    Kristy, I’m so glad that my comments made you feel more comfortable. I hope you’ll post what your experience was during the ultrasound exam. I also hope that the Sonographer doesn’t prove me wrong. Occasionally the ovaries will be positioned a bit away from the uterus and the angle if the transducer (wand) may be a but uncomfortable. Just relax and you will be fine. Good luck!

  35. neva_eva_always says

    I just had one today and they didn’t push on me, it wasn’t for an abortion and I know the lady was trying to be gentle but now that I’m done I’m cramping. I only cramp during my time of the month and if I start over a week early I will be complaining loudly to the dr. who sent me for it. i’m having problems thats why I went though i think what they were looking for is gone.

  36. Kat says

    Perhaps it is so offensive because of what you see which is more than a clump of tissue which abortion providers allow women to believe. Call it what you will but people are choosing to inflict harm on another being. It’s not about choosing what to do with your body but what to do to another body. It’s scientific. Geography (being inside a woman’s body) does not change the fact that it is the destruction of another living thing. The ultrasound is far less invasive than the actual abortive procedure, so if you want to be up in arms about something perhaps you should show a picture of the tools used to cut, dismember, vacuum and scrape another being from the mother’s womb. But then showing that would be disgusting right, or would emphasize just how in comparison a vaginal ultrasound wand really isn’t that bad.

    • Marie says

      So, what if someone needs an abortion to remove a dead fetus.. it’s a procedure… Not saying abortion = birth control.. I’m saying that abortion is a procedure and it’s legal or it isn’t. I don’t think government should judge and have to go over each case to determine who does and who doesn’t get this procedure done. God judges us.

    • says

      Most clinics will give the woman an ultrasound to see the baby but only if they want it. They’re not hiding anything. But the required ultrasound, painful or not, is a blatant attempt to guilt the woman into not going through the procedure with sentimentality.

  37. Megan says

    I had a (medically necessary) transvaginal ultrasound when I woke up with sever abdominal pain and thought I was miscarrying in my second month. It didn’t hurt at all – and of course I was delighted at the first glimpse of my long-wanted boy.

    People keep saying they hurt, but maybe it has to do with how far along you are?

    Please understand, I am rabidly pro-choice, and absolutely opposed to the mandatory ultrasounds, transvaginal or not. But I worry that we might be slipping into misinformation on this point.

  38. No Trace says

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  39. lw24 says

    I don’t remember this procedure hurting at all….not any different than a yearly exam anyway.

  40. Lory says

    What on Earth are u talking about??? Sounds like someone raped u w one of those! Geez, i just had a couple, & U R WRONG!!! They dont hurt, AT ALL, the Dr. Is very careful to not jerk that thing around! & it took 2 WHOLE MINS! wow, the stuff u read online, smh…

  41. Kristin says

    I’m beginning to wonder, after reading everyone’s comments, if the transvaginal rapewand is being used as a form of punishment by republicans. It serves no purpose other than causing women pain, uncomfortability and, in some cases, forcing women to feel violated and even abused. This is expecially horrific when considering that many women have already been raped and violated, causing them to visit the abortion clinic in the first place. When you consider the fact that so many women have to pay out of pocket for this useless and invasive procedure, along with everything else I’ve mentioned, the mandating of this procedure is in place to punish women for having different beliefs than the anti-choice republicans who are more interested in controlling and dominating women than they are concerned for their own sisters’ health. We are fighting for the same rights that our mothers worked so hard to gain for us decades ago.

    • Lindsay says

      Transvaginal ultrasounds are used because they get a clearer view of the uterus. Unless you’re exceptionally skinny, they are necessary. I don’t understand how anyone could say they’re painful.

  42. says

    I’ve had them three times for various health reasons. (I’ve never been pregnant.) All three times were after I lost my virginity. They were in 2001, 2008 and 2011. The first two were mildly uncomfortable and the last one hurt like hell! I think it has something to do with the skill of the tech doing the ultrasound. It wasn’t a big deal when I did at the gynecologist, but when I went to a regular radiology center, ugh! I think they kept jamming it into my cervix and against the walls of my vagina that last time.

    Either way, I keep reading descriptions of the probe as the size of a tampon. I am positive the probes they used when I had them done were *not* the size of a tampon. It felt like a dildo. They even put a condom and lube over the probe. I wonder if they’ve gotten smaller since 2011? Even if it has, it definitely goes way farther in than a tampon. And they may need to press on things to get a good picture.

    I couldn’t imagine going through this procedure as a virgin, or even as someone who has sex once or twice and isn’t very experienced. And if you’ve been raped, having something that feels like a penis inside of you could be very traumatizing.

    • MusicGirl says

      I have had one. Would rather have a PAP any day…

      I was diagnosed with a genetic condition that has put me at super high risk of really really really early menopause. Due to this, I decided to look into fertility preservation.

      I am 23 years old and have never been in a relationship. Virgin. Intact hymen. I’m also super small, 4’9 and 87 pounds on a ‘heavy’ day. Picture the size of an eleven to twelve year old and you have got me.

      They don’t make a pediatric size/virgin ultrasound probe. My doctor moved slowly, and as gently as possible, but it HURT going in. A LOT. I felt like my tissue was going to be torn apart.

      Anyways…I have to go back for another tomorrow. New doctor (they rotate on the clinic) and that makes me nervous as well. Ugh.

  43. Lindsay says

    Oh please. They do not hurt at all. If you think that’s painful (which is ridiculous) then you must have an amazingly low pain threshold and be incapable of having sex, which leads me to wonder how you got pregnant in the first place. I’m being seen by a reproductive endocrinologist. I’ve had 5 ultrasounds. Two of them during pregnancy. My last two ultrasounds to see my baby took less than 5 minutes each and most of that was him showing me the baby and letting me hear it’s heartbeat. Again, zero amount of pain. The wand is more narrow than the average penis and they lube it up prior to beginning the ultrasound so I fail to see how this could be considered painful at all.