Visual Power in Ultrasound Technology

Introduction | Pro-choice Discourse | Images and Anchorage in Medical Discourse | Dr. Bernard Nathanson and Auteur Theory | Silent Scream Analysis

Ultrasound is a technology that shows an energy generated by sound waves of 20,000 or more vibrations per second. The research for this technology wasmostly conducted in Austria by Dr. Karl Theodore Dussik in 1942. That work was later developed into practical technology and applications in the 1950s by Professor Ian Donald of Scotland. Technology of many varieties plays an important role in the display of authoritative knowledge because of symbolic, and oftentimes practical value. Technologies such as the ultrasound, have association with experts and their expression of power and other significant relationships serve to engage an entire community of practice: locally, nationally and globally (Georges).

Across the nation, states such as Florida and Oklahoma are passing laws that require women seeking to have an abortion view ultrasounds of the fetuses growing inside of them. Along with this stipulation is a form that is required to be signed by women stating that they have not been coerced into having an abortion. Rose's term of "regime of truth" can be applied to the use of ultrasounds in the decision for an abortion, "Regime of Truth is the particular grounds on which Truth is claimed and these shift historically. Some historians of photography have argued, for example, that the 'realism' of the photographic image was produced not by new photographic technology, but the use of photographs in a specific regime of truth, so that photographs were seen as evidence of what was 'really there'" (Rose 144). In this case however, the historical progression is in line with the technological progression, and in the abortion debate, technology has added a new dimension.

Within recent years, ultrasound technology has advanced to create an show images within a woman's womb that show the fetus in 3d with more features than have ever been availably displayed. In 3D fetal scanning, however, instead of the sound waves being sent straight down and reflected back, they are sent at different angles. The returning echoes are processed by a computer program that results in a reconstructed three dimensional volume image of the fetus's surface or internal organs. This works in the same way that a CT scan machine constructs a CT scan image from multiple x-rays. This technology was developed by Stephen Smith and Olaf von Ramm at Duke University in 1987. Controversially, Christian and Catholic non-profit organizations have employed 3D ultrasounds for pregnant women in order to influence, help, educate and deter their decisions regarding abortion.

Works Cited

Eugenia Georges. "Fetal Ultrasound Imaging and the Production of Authoritative Knowledge in Greece". Medical Anthropology Quarterly, New Series, Vol. 10, No. 2, The Social Production of Authoritative Knowledge in Pregnancy and Childbirth (Jun., 1996), pp. 157-175 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association Stable URL: