Of course, nothing is morally significant about squirming -- ours or the fetus'. What is significant is whether the fetus has a mind like ours. If it has no mind, or a mind of such a primitive level that it can't even feel pain, there's no reason to have attitudes of moral concern for it. The neural hardware for pain perception only starts to show up around week 23, and isn't in place until week 30 of the pregnancy. So having moral concern for a first-trimester fetus on the basis of the squirming you see in an ultrasound is a mistake.
It's a mistake that lots of people will easily make, though. People are quick to attribute mental qualities like beliefs, desires, and the ability to feel pain to things that don't have them. I imagine that lots of anti-abortion activists will be happy enough to let ultrasounds drive home the thought that women are murdering a real person inside them when they have an abortion -- when it turns out that women are doing nothing of the sort. (As Amanda points out, ultrasounds also cost money, and another part of the anti-abortion strategy is to reduce access to abortion simply by making it more expensive.)
It's hard to see a plausible moral outlook on which ultrasound would be genuinely enlightening as to the morality of abortion. It's not like an ultrasound is going to show you that the fetus has desires or a soul or a future capacity for having a mind like ours. There are non-rational processes that all of us are subject to, however, that cause us to see minds in places where no minds exist. By triggering these processes, ultrasounds promise to sow moral confusion, bad decisions, and unwarranted guilt.
Feminist commentators on Saletan's piece have played up its paternalistic elements. To quote Jessica:
He claims to “trust women” while simultaneously making the case that women don’t understand what they’re doing when they get abortions; that we’re incapable of making an informed decision without a helping hand from the state.For my part, I think there's room in the world for paternalism, but if you're going to be a paternalist you need to be better-informed and more rational than the people you're trying to impose your paternalistic requirements on. By letting his own squirming get the better of him and push him to support a useless and expensive procedure, Saletan fails this test. Instead of requiring ultrasounds before abortions, perhaps we should require him to reread the medical research on fetal pain before he does any more punditry.