Wednesday, July 2, 2008

SD Courts: Abortion Providers Must Lie to Patients

Last week, a South Dakota court of appeals decided that the state can enforce a law regarding abortion until courts determine whether or not the legislation infringes on the rights to free speech and privacy. The law in question is an anti-choice measure which would require doctors to provide incorrect, misleading or unproven information to their patients seeking abortions.

A three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit had agreed with Schreier, but the full court threw out her order. It said Friday that Planned Parenthood, which operates South Dakota's only abortion clinic in Sioux Falls, has not provided enough evidence that it is likely to prevail.

"The bottom line is if the state Legislature orders a professional to tell the truth, that's not a violation of the First Amendment," said South Dakota Attorney General Larry Long, who is defending the law in court.

Mimi Liu, a lawyer for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said such rulings generally take about three weeks to take effect. Long said it could take less time.

The 2005 law would make doctors tell women "that the abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being." Women also would have to be told they have a right to continue a pregnancy and that abortion may cause women psychological harm, including thoughts of suicide.

Planned Parenthood has failed to show that the information to be given to women seeking abortions is untruthful, misleading or irrelevant to the woman's decision, the appeals court majority said. Taking into account definitions in the law, the information required to be given is biological in nature, so Planned Parenthood has not shown the information is ideological, the decision said.
In other words, the courts are taking the same stance as legislators in SD -- deciding that they know better than doctors. Unfortunately, they're wrong. The information is not in fact biological in nature, and the requirements do not force doctors to tell the truth but to lie. In addition to the above, the ACLU Blog notes further requirements in the law:

The law also forces a doctor to tell his or her patient that she “has an existing relationship with that unborn human being” and if she has an abortion, “her existing relationship and her existing constitutional rights with regards to that relationship will be terminated.”

It seems almost unimaginable that one could not see this as ideological and politically motivated. Contrary to the ruling, there is not a biological fact in the entire above statement-- but there is a lot of negative judgment directed towards women who have abortions. And the New Jersey courts agreed; a very similar law written by the same anti-choice activist who wrote the South Dakota law was unanimously thrown out by the New Jersey Supreme Court, who noted that the language implies a moral judgment not shared by all citizens.

These are the facts: the abortion and suicide link is unproven at best, and believed to be false by reputable sources including the American Psychiatric Association. Instead, up to 98% of women who have abortions do not regret the procedure and the most common response is relief. Additionally, as a group ,women who have had an abortion actually tend to report higher levels of self-esteem, and the rates of short-term depressive symptoms after first-trimester abortions are much lower than the rate of short-term depressive symptoms after giving birth. Serious psychological problems follow a similar trend.

Not all women feel an emotional attachment to their pregnancy, and certainly not all feel that they have an "existing relationship" with the embryo or fetus they're carrying. This is a very personal part of pregnancy and the decision to have an abortion, and is in absolutely no way universal. And while it is true that the fetus or embryo is biologically human, most people do not believe that this grants it "personhood," or same rights as born human beings, particularly at the very early stages when most abortions are conducted. These claims -- which abortion providers will now be forced to give to women in writing for them to read and sign -- are not medical or biological facts, but are designed to establish a state opinion about abortion and to shame women who make this choice.

Beyond the fact that the claims are false, there are additional concerns. The law clearly makes no provision for those women for whom abortion is an emotional decision. While there are definitely exceptions, most women come to see abortion providers because they have already made a decision to terminate a pregnancy. Imagine a woman for whom the decision was difficult having to read the above statements. And what about women who have been the victims of rape and/or incest? Or those who must have an abortion do to medical problems? For many women, the statements above are simply judgmental and inappropriate, but for others they are downright cruel.

Lastly, we need to look at this law as potentially setting a dangerous precedent. Doctors have been ordered to lie to their patients. It is a violation of free speech, privacy and doctor-patient relationships. Chillingly, politicians have imposed their ideologies on our health systems. And yet again, abortion is being treated differently from all other medical care. For example, women seeking pre-natal care are not required to be told about the real risk of post-partum depression, or informed by law that they have a right to end their pregnancies. Politicians respect and allow doctors to continue to respect a woman's right to give birth. Yet again, the right of a woman to not give birth is treated differently.

South Dakota has only one abortion provider in the state, and it is Planned Parenthood. South Dakota is often noted as the state with the most restrictive abortion laws, and anti-choice groups are trying this year for the second time to outlaw the procedure entirely. You can support the work of Planned Parenthood clinics in South Dakota by donating to Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. For more on the ruling, including updates, check out the Planned Parenthood blog Stand UP South Dakota.


KaeLyn said...

Oh, Cara, you just say it like it is...and I love it. Thanks for the link to the Stand UP South Dakota blog!

Ali said...

Thanks so much for this, Cara! I'd like to echo KaeLyn's comment that you calls 'em like you sees 'em.

Regarding this line from the new requirements, that a doctor must inform a woman that:

"... if she has an abortion, “her existing relationship and her existing constitutional rights with regards to that relationship will be terminated.”"

Well, duh! Isn't that kind of the point of abortion? To terminate that "relationship"? Never mind the fact that I'm not aware of any part of the constitution that specifically mentions a pregnant woman's "rights with regard to that relationship". So. . .what the flying heck does that statement even mean?

Anyway, good job Cara! As always.