Holy water spattered on white paper covering a medical exam table as Catholic Bishop David Zubik blessed the ultrasound machine at the North Side office of the Women's Choice Network.
"Grant that all those who will use this equipment to improve their lives and those of the unborn may recognize that you are wonderful in your works and may learn to carry out your will more readily," he prayed Thursday as dozens of staff, volunteers and donors looked on.
The Women's Choice Network is a local agency assisting women in crisis pregnancies with options other than abortion.
When a woman considering abortion sees a fetal image with a head and hands and feet, it "changes hearts and minds," said Amy Scheuring, the executive director. "About 85 percent of abortion-vulnerable women choose life after seeing the baby on the screen."
In 2011, the network assisted more than 1,500 women. Of the 172 who saw their sonogram when considering abortion, 123 continued the pregnancy.
Abortion opponents are such believers in the persuasive power of sonograms that 21 states now require abortion providers to conduct or offer them prior to the procedure.
A proposed sonogram bill for Pennsylvania died in committee earlier this year.
NARAL Pro-Choice America, the leading lobby for legal abortion, opposes such laws on the grounds that they harass and intimidate women. Abortion opponents, including the National Right to Life Committee, say they give women more information about their medical condition.
A spokeswomen for Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania, an abortion provider, said the organization had no comment on the voluntary ultrasounds at Women's Choice Network.
Women's Choice centers are state-regulated medical clinics where women can be tested for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, though they are referred for obstetrical care. Four of the six have ultrasound.
"The sonogram is just the first step. It's day one of a two-year journey. Most of the work we will do comes after the sonogram," Ms. Scheuring said, citing baby supplies, mentoring, assistance finding child care and other help.
The $30,000 machine on the North Side was a gift from the Catholic fraternal society the Knights of Columbus. Its national office matches money that local chapters raise for ultrasound equipment at crisis pregnancy centers that discourage abortion.
"It was such a worthy project that people gave to very generously and willingly," said Jack Rosati, a furniture salesman from Canonsburg who led the drive.
Women's Choice Network was created in a 2009 merger of two suburban services that wanted to reach low-income women and college students, the groups most likely to have abortions.
"We deliberately opened clinics that we knew would be situated in areas of highest need and risk," Ms. Scheuring said. They retained centers in the Monroeville Mall and in Marshall, adding Oakland, Wilkinsburg, McKeesport and the North Side.
Outreach is geared toward "women who are making a decision, who are shopping around," Ms. Scheuring said. Many agree to the sonogram because they aren't sure how far along they are, and its a no-cost way to find out. No woman is required to see the images, she said.
"We really leave it up to them, and we do have an occasional woman who doesn't want to look," she said. "But almost every woman, most every boyfriend and almost every weepy grandma in the room looks at that screen. They want to see. And the most common response we hear is 'We had no idea.' "neigh_city - health
Ann Rodgers: firstname.lastname@example.org.