Every state requires that a patient consent before undergoing medical treatment and that the consent be “informed.” Three interrelated elements underlie the long-standing tradition of informed consent: Patients must possess the capacity to make decisions about their care; their participation in these decisions must be voluntary; and they must be provided adequate and appropriate information. However, abortion counseling requirements sometimes run afoul of these principles by requiring information that is irrelevant or misleading.
In addition to abortion counseling requirements, many states require that at least 24 hours elapse between counseling and an abortion. In states in which counseling must be received in person (rather than via mail, fax, Internet or phone) and patients must wait a specified time period afterwards, they are effectively required to make two trips in order to obtain an abortion, a requirement that can be a hardship for some people. Moreover, several states also mandate when and how an ultrasound is performed prior to an abortion (see Requirements for Ultrasound).
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- 33 states require that patients receive counseling before an abortion is performed: 29 of these states detail the information that providers must give; 4 states have abortion-specific requirements generally following the established principles of informed consent.
- 27 of these states also require patients to wait a specified amount of time—most often 24 hours—between the counseling and the abortion procedure.
- 14 states require that counseling be provided in person and that the counseling take place before the waiting period begins, thereby necessitating two separate trips to the facility.
- 28 states direct the state health agency to develop written materials: 11 require that the materials be given to patients, 17 require that the materials be offered to them.
- 16 states require that patients be informed that they cannot be coerced into obtaining an abortion.
- Nearly all the states that require counseling include information about the abortion procedure and fetal development.
- 25 states require that patients be given information about the specific procedure, while 24 require information about all common abortion procedures.
- 31 states require that patients be told the gestational age of the fetus.
- 27 states include information on fetal development throughout pregnancy.
- 13 states include information on the ability of a fetus to feel pain.
- 5 states require that patients be told that personhood begins at conception.
- 27 states include information about the risks of abortion.
- 8 states require medically inaccurate information that a medication abortion can be stopped after the patient takes the first dose of pills.
- 20 states include accurate information on the potential effect of abortion on future fertility; in 3 states, the written materials inaccurately portray this risk.
- 5 of the 7 states that include information on breast cancer inaccurately assert a link between abortion and an increased risk of breast cancer.
- 8 of the 22 states that include information on possible psychological responses to abortion stress negative emotional responses.
- 28 states include information on the health risks of continuing a pregnancy.
- Northern America: United States
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