Despite the fact that abortion is a common medical procedure—one in four women in the United States has an abortion by age 45—it has always been a controversial topic in American politics. But if it feels like the debate around abortion has become even more heated recently, it’s for good reason. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization dedicated to advancing sexual and reproductive health, more than one fourth of all abortion restrictions passed since Roe v. Wade were enacted between 2011 and 2015. Anti-choice legislators across the country have been busy trying to put in place as many restrictions as possible to inhibit women’s access to abortion care, even to the extent of passing blatantly unconstitutional laws, such as Iowa’s new six-week abortion ban.
On next week’s episode of Sex Ed with DB—an intersectional feminist podcast trying to revolutionize the way we talk about sex—we discuss abortion, including the impact of abortion restrictions on women’s health outcomes. Says podcast guest Toni Guy, a sex educator who worked for Planned Parenthood for many years: “To just outlaw it, all that does really . . . is it kills women. Women have been getting abortions since forever. Medicine women, healers, midwives all knew how to give women certain herbs . . . Abortion is just another part of women’s health care.”
NOT-SO-INFORMED CONSENT LAWS
Laws like Iowa’s, which bans abortion before many women even know they are pregnant, clearly inhibit the ability to access this form of health care. But not all legal restrictions on abortion take the form of time limits or restrictions on methods of abortion care. Another favorite method of the anti-choicers is to put into effect “informed consent” laws which require that doctors first provide women seeking abortions with state-selected messages.
Informed consent laws, which exist in all fields of medicine, are generally a good thing. The original purpose of such laws was to protect bodily autonomy and allow patients to fully understand a medical procedure or course of treatment before consenting to it. But in the abortion context, anti-choice legislators have perverted informed consent laws to share misinformation and scare women out of choosing abortion. These laws are so widespread that a recent study reviewing brochures doctors are legally required to provide abortion patients concluded that one third (!) of women who seek abortions are provided with misleading information.
What are these falsehoods that states require doctors tell women under the guise of “informed” consent? Laws across the country require abortion patients be told misleading or straight up false information including that abortion is linked to breast cancer, that having an abortion poses a risk to their future fertility, and that women who have abortions suffer from depression and regret. But the truth is that all of these claims have been debunked by the medical community.
THE ABORTION SEX ED YOU NEVER GOT
The myth that abortions are “highly dangerous types of procedures, it is so false,” says podcast guest Karen Scott, an OB/GYN, current MPH student, and women and gender studies professor. “I want to make sure that people really understand that abortions are safe. Serious complications resulting from an abortion are rare, and actually occur far less frequently than those complications that occur with actual childbirth.”
But misinformation and stigma around abortion is so prevalent in our society today that many women do not know to question the politically-motivated information they hear from their doctors. Perhaps this is because they did not have access to comprehensive sex education growing up; only 13 states require that schools teach medically accurate sex ed. If sex ed did cover abortion, it would surely teach that abortion is a common medical procedure which is very safe—both physically and psychologically.
“The overwhelming scientific consensus” is that early abortions pose “virtually no long-term risk of infertility,” or other negative reproductive health outcomes. And the American Cancer Society has rejected the claim that there is a connection between abortion and breast cancer. Finally, it is just not true that women tend to regret having an abortion. According to a recent longitudinal study from the University of California, San Francisco, 99 percent of women consistently reported that having an abortion was the right decision. In fact, women who seek abortions but are denied the procedure actually report more negative mental health outcomes, like anxiety, than women who have abortions.
There is no other kind of health care for which doctors are required, by law, to lie to their patients about negative health outcomes—a phenomenon which has been termed “abortion exceptionalism” by scholars. Twisted informed consent laws are born out of the same sex-negative perspective that deprives young people of comprehensive sex education classes. As long as such policies remain enshrined in law, it is important to fight back by sharing accurate information about sexual health including, necessarily, abortion.
Disclaimer: The author would like to acknowledge that not all people who seek or obtain abortions identify as “women.” However, the author has chosen to use the word “women” in this article, and in her other writings about abortion, in order to remain consistent with the terminology typically used in state and federal laws and court decisions.
A new episode of Season 2 of Sex Ed with DB airs every Wednesdays. If this article left you craving open and honest conversations about abortion, be turn to tune in to our episode about abortion on June 20th! Check out Sex Ed with DB wherever you get your podcasts, and connect online at sexedwithdb.com, on Facebook.com/edwithdb, on Instagram @sexedwithdbpodcast, and on Twitter.com/SexEdwithDB.