Early Bird Tests Surge: Women Rush Prenatal Screenings Amid Stricter Abortion Laws in Utah, North Carolina

Early Bird Tests Surge: Women Rush Prenatal Screenings Amid Stricter Abortion Laws in Utah, North CarolinaSource: Unsplash/ Elen Sher
Aisha Mahmoud
Published on February 12, 2024

In the post-Roe v. Wade era, Utah's maternal-fetal medicine specialists and obstetricians in North Carolina are reporting a noticeable upsurge in patients seeking early pregnancy screenings. These early tests, which include ultrasounds and genetic screenings, are becoming more prevalent as state-imposed abortion restrictions place strict time limits on when a woman can legally terminate her pregnancy. According to a Seattle Times report, patients like those of Dr. Cara Heuser in Utah are getting ultrasounds sooner in hopes of discerning fetal conditions that could influence their decision to continue or end a pregnancy.

With state laws now setting hard lines in the sand, women are having to quickly assess their options based on preliminary test results. "More people are trying to find these things out earlier to try to fit within the confines of laws that in my mind don’t have a place in medical practice," Dr. Clayton Alfonso, an OB-GYN at Duke University, told the Seattle Times. Unfortunately, the reliability of early ultrasounds and genetic screenings, which do not always provide a firm diagnosis, is not on par with that of later, more comprehensive tests.

This trend is exacerbating a poignant reality for many women across dozens of states with restrictive abortion laws. Approximately half of the states now impose bans or severe restrictions on abortion post a certain point in pregnancy, leaving millions of women with insufficient time to undergo follow-up diagnostic tests that could affect their reproductive choices. Specifically, in Utah and North Carolina, women face cutoffs at 18 and 12 weeks respectively, as reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune.

The stakes for accurate information are high, as reflected in the words of Sabrina Fletcher, a doula featured in an ABC News article, who has supported women through these tough decisions. Upon learning of a potentially serious fetal problem, "you’re in crisis mode," Fletcher explained. "You’re not thinking about legal repercussions and (state) cutoff dates, and yet we’re forced to." This sentiment underscores the intense pressure and the limited time-frame women and couples face in making some of the most profoundly personal choices of their lives.

As state legislation continues to reshape the reproductive landscape, health care providers and patient advocates are noting the acute ways in which these laws are impacting prenatal care. The gap between the legality of health care procedures and the practicalities of medical evidence is growing, leading to a health care environment rife with tough decisions made under the duress of a ticking clock.