What Happens When Doctors are Forced to Lie?

From Broadly:

Yesterday, the Texas Department of Health and Human Services released an updated version of its “Woman’s Right to Know” informed consent booklet, which abortion providers are required to offer their patients. Ostensibly, it contains information about the risks associated with abortion, fetal development stages, and alternatives to abortion. According to medical experts, however, it’s riddled with inaccuracies and misleading statements.

On the eighth page of the booklet—following a series of detailed and extremely not-to-scale images of fetal development—is a list of potential abortion risks. The first is “death.” A few paragraphs later, above a stock photo of sweater-clad women hugging each other supportively, depression and suicidal thoughts are listed as potential side effects of terminating a pregnancy. The next potential risk listed is future infertility, then breast cancer.

All of this, according to a group of researchers with the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, is intentionally misleading, simply meant to scare or shame women out of getting abortions. Surgical abortion is one of the safest medical procedures in the world—14 times safer than giving birth and 40 times safer than a colonoscopy. The proposed links between abortion and mental health issues, abortion and future infertility, and abortion and breast cancer are all wildly unsubstantiated, if not debunked entirely.

Texas is one of 38 states in which abortion providers are required to counsel their patients using state-mandated and often intentionally confusing or erroneous information. Of the states whose materials are publicly available, Texas’ are particularly extreme: Only six other states imply a link between abortion and breast cancer in their informed consent brochures, for instance, and just three others mention suicidal ideation or future infertility as a possible outcome of abortion.

“Several of the statements in the ‘Woman’s Right to Know’ booklet seem designed to confuse women, if not outright trick them,” wrote Dr. Daniel Grossman, an investigator at the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, in an op-ed criticizing the updated informed consent materials in August. “Just think how hamstrung Texas doctors must feel when they hand out the ‘Woman’s Right to Know’ booklet, knowing that the information it contains is inaccurate, out of date, and misleading.”

Other abortion providers forced to supply their patients with similarly misleading information have raised similar concerns. “I think that certainly the doctor–patient relationship is based on trust,” Dr. Diane Horvath-Cosper, a reproductive health advocacy fellow at Physicians for Reproductive Health, told Broadly earlier this year. “And how does a patient trust us if we’re giving them false information because we have to?”

In addition to exaggerating or misrepresenting the risks associated with abortion, Grossman notes, the booklet also contains ideological, unscientific language meant to humanize the fetus from the moment of conception. Throughout “A Woman’s Right to Know,” the fetus is referred to as “your baby” and “the baby that is growing in your womb.” “Your baby began developing at the moment of conception,” the booklet states. At four weeks’ gestation, it continues, “your baby is referred to as an embryo… Your baby’s weight is less than one ounce and length is less than 1/8 inch.”

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