Doctors Frequently Required to Misinform Patients About the Health Consequences of Abortion


Written materials developed by states as part of implementing mandatory abortion counseling laws often contain medically inaccurate, out-of-date or biased information, according to a new analysis by the Guttmacher Institute. "Misinformed Consent: The Medical Accuracy of State-Developed Abortion Counseling Materials,” by Chinué Turner Richardson and Elizabeth Nash, published in the Fall 2006 issue of the Guttmacher Policy Review, details how false or misleading information that has long been promoted by antiabortion activists features prominently in the information that many states require doctors to provide to their patients.

“Our analysis of state abortion counseling laws and the materials doctors are required to provide to women seeking abortions reveals that basic public health principles often are disregarded in favor of furthering a highly politicized antiabortion agenda,” says Elizabeth Nash, a public policy associate at Guttmacher. “Providing medically inaccurate information violates a core tenet of sound public health policy and seriously jeopardizes a woman’s ability to make an informed decision regarding her own life and health.”

The Guttmacher analysis found 22 states where state health departments had developed written counseling materials, in most cases covering specific topics required by law. While most of the information on abortion is consistent with current scientific findings, the following were among the most common inaccuracies:

  • Fetal Pain: False or misleading information on a fetus’ ability to perceive pain appears in the materials of five states (AR, GA, MN, SD, TX). For example, materials in Texas suggest that pain perception may occur as early as 12 weeks’ gestation. However, current research is unable to determine when a fetus has the capacity to feel pain, and data suggests that it is unlikely to do so until at least 29 weeks’ gestation.
  • Psychological effects: Seven states (MI, NE, SC, SD, TX, UT, WV) provide misleading or incomplete counseling materials on the psychological impact of induced abortion, such as claims of suicidal behavior and “postabortion traumatic stress syndrome.” The best scientific evidence states clearly that there is no causal relationship between abortion and negative mental health outcomes.
  • Breast cancer: Required counseling materials in five states (AK, KS, MS, TX, WV) include medically inaccurate claims that induced abortion is linked to breast cancer. For example, materials in Texas state the evidence on the issue is “inconclusive,” even though the National Cancer Institute has stated categorically that “[i]nduced abortion is not associated with an increase in breast cancer risk.”
  • Referrals: Materials in 20 states (AK, AR, GA, ID, KS, KY, LA, MN, MS, NE, ND, OH, PA, SC, SD, TX, UT, VA, WI, WV) include so-called “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs) in their listings for support services. According to a recent congressional report, CPCs often intentionally provide false information to deter women from having an abortion.

“The flawed abortion counseling materials produced by many states are the unfortunate, but predictable, outcome of politicians inserting themselves into what should be a private conversation between a woman and her doctor,” says Sharon L. Camp, president and CEO of the Guttmacher Institute. “Rather than creating new barriers for women seeking an abortion, policymakers should instead focus on helping women avoid unintended pregnancies in the first place. But our analysis found that only 13 of the 22 states provide referral information for contraceptive services in their written counseling materials, even though any woman seeking an abortion is at risk of experiencing a subsequent unintended pregnancy.”

Click here for more information on:

Dispelling the myths around abortion and mental health

How abortion and unintended pregnancy fit into the context of women’s lives

State-by-state information on abortion policies

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