IOWA CITY, Iowa — When Rachel Owen officially opens the doors to Choices Medical Clinic in Iowa City, she’ll have medical technology that she previously had only dreamed about.

Thanks to a donation from the Knights of Columbus, Owen has use of a 4D ultrasound machine that provides parents with an unprecedented view of their unborn child. That’s key in crisis-pregnancy work because of the high percentage of mothers who, after seeing an ultrasound, choose life for their child.

“We love the Knights,” said Owen. “Our grand opening is Sept. 3, but we’ve already had six clients. The response so far has been amazing.”

The Knights of Columbus Ultrasound Program was unveiled in January as part of its Culture of Life Fund. Working with local Knights’ councils, the Supreme Council is willing to provide up to half the cost of ultrasound equipment. The Knights hope to place a machine in a crisis-pregnancy center in all 50 states. So far, 10 machines have been placed.

The first donations for machines were provided to the Women’s Help Center, Inc. in Jacksonville, Fla., and Choices Medical Clinic in Iowa City.

One of Owen’s goals is to use the ultrasound equipment for perineonatal hospice, cases where a fetal anomaly is detected and the child will not live long outside the womb.

“We plan to use the equipment, counsel parents, and walk the family through the grief so they can deliver the baby and celebrate that life,” said Owen.

According to Owen, various Iowa state Knights’ councils plan to collect aluminum cans as a way to help fund the $4,000 annual maintenance contract for the equipment.

“The sophistication of today’s medical technology provides a ‘window on the womb,’ said Carl Anderson, the Knights of Columbus’ supreme knight. “Even from the early stages of pregnancy, a mother can see her developing child, hear the baby’s heartbeat, and recognize the miracle of new life within her.”

The Knights have specific requirements for centers hoping to obtain ultrasound equipment. Those requirements include proper licensing for the center, a medical doctor who can oversee the ultrasound operation, and adequate insurance. In addition, the center cannot be anti-Catholic in its operations or counseling.

‘Womb With a View’

The Knights’ program is one of several in operation that are trying to provide crisis-pregnancy centers with ultrasound equipment. Focus on the Family hopes to equip 800 centers with ultrasounds by the end of this year through its “Option Ultrasound” program, and the Southern Baptist Convention is equipping centers with equipment through its Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

Focus on the Family estimates that as of January 2009 its five-year-old program’s 400 grants have potentially saved 63,000 babies.

The move to incorporate ultrasound technology into crisis-pregnancy centers is part of a larger trend among centers nationwide transitioning to a medical model.

Over the past decade, Craig and Beth Chase, directors of the National Institute of Family & Life Advocates’ Life Choices Project, have helped crisis-pregnancy centers wishing to convert to a medical model.

While there are approximately 3,000 crisis-pregnancy centers operating nationwide, only about 600 to 700 are using ultrasound equipment.

Craig Chase estimates that they are currently helping about 30 centers with the medical conversion process.

The medical model involves a center having a medical director as well as an individual who is trained in the use of ultrasound.

To that end, the National Institute of Family & Life Advocates has developed a two-part training program for nurses. The training follows guidelines set forth by the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine. The Chases’ organization offers the training approximately six times per year.

Craig Chase said that there are several advantages to following the medical model and offering ultrasound.

“Every day there are women who get abortions done with little or no information,” he said. “An ultrasound helps to confirm a pregnancy, determine if the pregnancy is viable, and lets them know how far along they are.”

Owen added that many women have abortions within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Offering ultrasound, she said, gives them an opportunity to see the life within them, oftentimes at their first appointment.

Those who use ultrasound technology say there are additional benefits as well.

Centers that convert to medical clinic status tend to see an increase in the total number of clients who are seen annually, including an increase in the number of abortion-minded clients, and there is a dramatic increase in the percentage of clients who choose life.

Depending upon the location of the crisis-pregnancy center, centers report that when women are given the opportunity to see the life within them on ultrasound, 80% to 90% choose life.

In a place like Iowa City, that can amount to a lot of saved lives.

“We’re the capital for abortions per capita,” said Owen. “We’re a college town. More than 3,000 abortions are performed here per year. Without the help of the Knights, it would have been impossible for us to have a 4D ultrasound.”

Tim Drake is based in

St. Joseph, Minnesota.