Seeing, feeling, doing: a critique of mandatory ultrasound laws

Associate Professor Catherine Mills will be giving a presentation entitled Seeing, feeling, doing: a critique of mandatory ultrasound laws. She is an ARC Future Fellow in the Centre for Human Bioethics in the School of Philosophical, Historical & International Studies.

Date: Friday 27th May, 10am – 12pm

Location: Menzies (Building 20), Room N402, Clayton


In recent years, a number of US states have adopted laws that require pregnant women to have an ultrasound examination, and be shown images of their fetus, prior to undergoing a pregnancy termination. While there is a some critical literature on such laws, there has been almost no philosophical engagement with them, and nor has there been any attempt to unpack one of the basic presumptions of such laws: that seeing one’s fetus changes the ways in which one might act in regards to it, including in terms of the (ethical) decision about whether to allow it to live or not. However, this presumption raises significant questions, specifically about the relation between visibility, emotion and ethics. In this paper I elaborate these questions and begin to address them, especially through recent philosophical literature on empathy.

Catherine has suggested two accompanying readings.

Stephenson, N., McLeod, K. & Mills, C. (forthcoming) Ambiguous encounters, uncertain foetuses: Women’s experiences of obstetric ultrasound, Feminist Review.

Slote, M. (2007) The Ethics of Care and Empathy, London: Routledge. pp. 17-20.