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Doctored Information

• October 08, 2009 • 9:30 PM

While the purpose of informed consent laws is to educate women considering an abortion, they apparently do little to dissuade them from proceeding.

A new study concludes that carefully crafted informed consent laws, rather than discouraging women to forgo an abortion, have zero impact on the amount of abortions performed in the states that choose to mandate these “scary briefings.”

California State University, Long Beach, Economist Marshall H. Medoff, who has written a variety of studies on women’s issues, finds that the four areas of informed consent laws (possibilities of negative mental health associations, increased possibility of breast cancer, increased chance of infertility and images of fetal pain) intended to dissuade women from obtaining abortions, have no statistical impact on the number of procedures performed.

Medoff’s finding matters because some pro-life state legislatures have spent countless hours crafting informed consent mandates intended to caution women against obtaining abortions.

In Texas, for example, abortion-specific materials cite increased possibility of breast cancer. West Virginia materials warn that abortion is linked to side effects including eating disorders, sexual dysfunction and drug abuse. Simply put, these extensive claims can be dramatic in many cases-and sometimes they are just false.

Medoff’s study demonstrates that, like anti-smoking and anti-drug campaigns, using scare tactics to frighten individuals into making “good” health decisions can be extremely ineffective.

But the study raises another question: Are right-to-know laws really just scare tactics?

Yes, there is some egregious information floating around that doctors are now required to share with women considering an abortion (for example, there is virtually no link between obtaining an abortion and an increased risk of breast cancer), but most information seems relevant, if only slightly controversial — just like the procedure itself.

The real problem with right-to-know laws isn’t that patients are being informed of the negative repercussions of abortions, but that in some states they are presented only with these negative consequences (as opposed to detailing a full range of emotional and physical responses).

Without a federal consensus on at least the science of abortion, pro-life or pro-choice leaning state legislatures can hijack the patient-doctor relationship by mandating doctors to disclose heavily biased information. And the doctor-patient relationship is taking hits in other ways, too. It was reported today that beginning Nov. 1, a new law in Oklahoma will require physicians to disclose information on their patients’ abortions to the state’s Department of Health, which will then be posted online. The collected information includes the date of the abortion, the county in which abortion was performed, and the age, race and marital status of mother, among other things.

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Erik Hayden
Former Miller-McCune Fellow Erik Hayden recently graduated from Pepperdine University with a B.A. in Political Science and a minor in Religion. He regularly contributes for a variety of publications including the Ventura County Star and the alt-weekly, VCReporter.

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