Ultrasound, Embodiment and Abortion

  • Catherine MillsEmail author
Part of the International Library of Ethics, Law, and the New Medicine book series (LIME, volume 49)


In her controversial documentary on abortion, ‘My Foetus’, British filmmaker Julia Black1 asks the question of whether one could ‘look at the facts’ of abortion and still be pro-choice. The film did not provide a definitive answer to this question: Black herself stated her pro-choice stance, but in the film adopted a number of strategies used by anti-abortion campaigners to probe the ethical issues raised by abortion. Primarily, Black’s focus lay on the imagery of the foetus, a powerful tool in anti-abortion campaigns, and in particular, on the effect of ultrasound technologies that allow 3D imaging of the foetus on our intuitions about the ethics of abortion. Black suggests at one point that if anything is to lead her to take an anti-abortion position, it is this capacity to ‘see the foetus’, particularly as it is performing activities normally associated with babies such as thumb-sucking. Black’s sentiments seemed to find corroboration in more recent debates about legislation on late-term abortions in the United Kingdom, sparked in large part by Professor Stuart Campbell, who pioneered the technique of 4D scanning in Britain. Campbell controversially argued that 3D and 4D scanning reveal that a foetus shows ‘signs of humanity’ such as smiling, crying, and frowning from as early as eighteen weeks, or taking steps even earlier. He also writes, “there is something deeply moving about the image of a baby cocooned inside the womb ... [I’ve] sat with parents who trembled at the sight of their soon-to-be newborn.”2 These two instances provoke questions about the specific emotive and, I will argue, ethical, force of seeing the foetus and further, how the visualisation of the foetus may impact upon intuitions about abortion.


Bodily Imperative Feminist Ethic Foetal Image Ethical Relationship Corporeal Life 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Values, Ethics and Law in Medicine and Unit for History and Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of SydneyCamperdownAustralia

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