When it comes to reproductive rights, this legislative session has been characterized by first-of-their-kind laws intended to test the limits of Roe v. Wade. Bolstered by significant GOP gains in the 2014 midterm elections, state lawmakers have forged ahead into new territory, enacting policies that seek to limit access to abortion in innovative ways.
This week, however, doctors are fighting back. Abortion providers in two different states have filed suit against new laws that they say are based in scientific misinformation, and that ultimately force them to violate their best medical judgment when they’re treating their patients.
In Arizona, for example, several health care providers are challenging a law that requires doctors to mislead their patients by telling them their abortion can be reversed — pointing out the state shouldn’t be allowed to put words in doctors’ mouths.
Though there’s no credible scientific evidence to back up the notion of “abortion pill reversal,” it’s become a popular talking point among abortion opponents, who claim that some women change their minds in the middle of the two-part process to terminate a first-trimester pregnancy with medication. This spring, Arizona and Arkansas became the first states in the nation to force doctors to give this information to women seeking abortions. Members of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) have referred to the new laws as “tantamount to quackery.”
So now, doctors are arguing the law should be struck down because it violates their First Amendment rights. “Plain and simple, this law would force doctors to lie to women about their health care options, and that is never acceptable,” Nancy Northup, the president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which frequently litigates against anti-abortion laws, said in a statement announcing the legal challenge.
Meanwhile, in Kansas, a father-daughter team of certified OB-GYNs are suing over a new law that bans a common method of second-trimester abortion, arguing it infringes on patients’ right to bodily integrity by prohibiting their doctors from offering them the safest abortion care.
Kansas lawmakers made history this spring by passing the first ban on so-called “fetal dismemberment” — an inflammatory term for the medical procedure officially known as Dilation and Evacuation, or “D&E.;”
Although D&E; is the most common way to perform a surgical abortion after the first trimester — and is actually the method endorsed by researchers from the World Health Organization — it has emerged as the next target for abortion opponents, who are increasingly attempting to cut off access to specific procedures without explicitly banning abortion altogether. Similar “dismemberment” bans were introduced in Missouri and South Carolina and approved in Oklahoma.
Medical professionals in the state urged Gov. Sam Brownback (R) to veto the bill, but he didn’t listen. So this week, two abortion doctors sued, making the case that the new law will put unnecessary burdens on their medical practice.
Reproductive rights supporters say that these new state policies have enshrined junk science into law in new ways, ultimately putting doctors in untenable situations.
And even aside from the measures in Arizona and Kansas, medical misinformation is written into abortion laws throughout the country. According to a recent report from the National Partnership for Women & Families, 33 states are currently enforcing at least one of four different types of “bad medicine” laws — unnecessary ultrasound requirements, biased counseling sessions, mandatory waiting periods, and regulations on the abortion pill — that aren’t grounded in any scientific evidence.
Counseling laws are particularly problematic for medical professionals, since they often require doctors to tell their patients misleading information that exaggerates the risks of having an abortion. Writing in Slate this week, an OB-GYN named Jennifer Conti explained that it’s incredibly difficult to be forced to lie to patients in this way.
“To equate the politician-physician relationship with that of a puppeteer and his doll seems drastic, but in some states and some clinics, that is the unfortunate truth,” Conti writes. “In what other field of medicine is a physician required by law to give false medical information or to be purposefully cruel in the hopes of changing someone’s mind about a medical procedure? This is not what our physician predecessors had in mind when they pushed so hard to legalize abortion in 1973.”