Accepted Paper:

Seeing Inside: A Critical Study of Fetal Ultrasound in Medicine and Law  


Jennifer Denbow (California Polytechnic State University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines medical research on fetal ultrasound and how legal actors in the US employ that research. I argue that legal actors often rely on this research to increase surveillance of pregnant women. The paper highlights the political stakes and uneven effects of a particular technology.

Paper long abstract:

Fetal ultrasound has become increasingly important for both its diagnostic use and for its potential to promote bonding between a pregnant woman and her fetus. Both medical research and regulatory bodies in the United States recognize these uses of ultrasound in pregnancy. While numerous feminist STS scholars have examined the importance of fetal sonograms for cultural and political understandings of pregnancy, no one has conducted an in-depth examination of how medical researchers understand and frame the use of ultrasound in pregnancy. Furthermore, legal scholars have not examined how regulatory guidelines and laws regarding fetal ultrasound are related to this medical research.

This paper fills these gaps by providing a critical analysis of medical research on fetal ultrasound. Importantly, the project will investigate how legal bodies in the US make use of this medical research. The paper is based on a discourse analysis of medical research, laws, and legislative records. I argue that some medical research on fetal ultrasound takes for granted that fetuses are individual patients and that ultrasound can and should be used to alter women's attitudes and behaviors toward fetuses. Furthermore, I find that regulatory recommendations regarding the use of ultrasound in pregnancy often uncritically accept medical understandings of fetal sonograms, especially regarding their role in promoting bonding between pregnant women and fetuses. By critically examining materials that have not yet been studied, this paper sheds light on the issue of how medical researchers think of fetal sonograms and how that understanding is taken up in law.

Panel T059
Making Worlds: Feminist STS and everyday technoscience