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Research study

Wisconsin’s Mandatory Ultrasound Viewing Requirement

- back to the Evaluation of Abortion Restrictions Project


Multiple abortion restrictions have been passed in Wisconsin targeting providers in the state, including a mandatory ultrasound viewing law. In 2013, Wisconsin implemented a state law requiring abortion providers to display and describe the ultrasound image prior to a woman’s abortion procedure. The law also included state-mandated information be read to the woman about the development of the fetus.

This type of law is gaining in popularity in other states as well, but there is no existing literature examining how mandatory ultrasound viewing laws impact women having abortions.  Several studies assess the impact of allowing the woman to view her ultrasound, but none measure the impact of requiring that viewing, as Wisconsin now does. We are working with Doug Laube, MD at the University of Wisconsin to examine the impact of mandatory ultrasound viewing on women.


The objectives of this study are:

  1. To determine whether requiring providers to display and describe the ultrasound image results in a change in women’s likelihood of proceeding to the abortion.
  2. To understand women’s experiences with being required to view their ultrasound images and the process of viewing.

Study design

This study will have two components: quantitative and qualitative. The quantitative component will use data abstracted from medical records to determine whether or not being required to view the ultrasound image changes women’s likelihood of proceeding to the abortion. Specifically, we will compare the proportion of women who proceeded to an abortion before implementation of the law, compared to the proportion of women who proceeded to an abortion after implementation of the law. For the qualitative portion, we will conduct in-depth interviews with women about their experiences with viewing their ultrasounds under the law.

Key findings

  • The vast majority of women were certain that abortion was the right decision for them when they presented for care and they proceeded to abortion, both before and after the law.
  • After the law was implemented, there was a slight increase in the proportion of women who did not have an abortion at the clinic (from 8.7% to 11.2%). However, not being certain that abortion was the right decision and having to pay for the abortion entirely out-of-pocket were most strongly associated with not continuing to abortion.
  • The significance of factors other than viewing the ultrasound image in women's abortion decision-making suggests that we should think about viewing not as a stand-alone experience, but as mediated by the broader social environment and the context of women's lives and circumstances.

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ANSIRH is a program within the UCSF Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health and is a part of UCSF's Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences.

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