Lying about abortion: Accurate information without exception

16 May

As some of you know, lawmakers in Kansas have been attempting to pass an execrable anti-abortion bill that, among other things, would seriously interfere with the private relationship between a woman and her doctor.  The bill, which currently appears to be stalled in the Kansas Senate, would have allowed physicians to deliberately withhold information regarding a woman’s pregnancy if they thought such information might lead the woman to choose abortion.  In addition, it would have required abortion providers to tell their patients that abortion is linked to breast cancer, although that theory has been debunked by multiple scientists and organizations, including the National Cancer Institute.

As egregious as this is, it is not the topic of my post.  Instead, I would like to focus on an email I got from Planned Parenthood about the bill.  I truly appreciate the work Planned Parenthood does.  I contribute money to them (as well as to smaller reproductive rights organizations, including local abortion funds) and often call my legislators when prompted by their informative emails.  But this part of the email gave me pause:

“What would this law do? First, it will force doctors to lie to their patients. Despite a complete lack of evidence, state lawmakers will require doctors to tell women seeking to end a pregnancy that an abortion will increase their risk of breast cancer.

Even though this will create additional stress for women who are already making what is, for many, a difficult decision. Even if the woman seeking abortion is a victim of rape or incest, her doctor will lie to her about her risk of breast cancer on the orders of Kansas lawmakers.

Why does this upset me?  I and others on this blog, as well as on other blogs, have written recurrently about this concept of “exceptions” in abortion care, and how it ultimately works against us and against all women who need services.  The idea that giving misinformation to women who are survivors of rape or incest is somehow worse than giving misinformation to other people is ludicrous.  As a doctor, I will always do everything in my power to tell the truth to every single one of my patients.  It doesn’t matter if that person is a murderer, a saint, the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, or a high school student.  If I’m seeing someone who has chosen to have an abortion, I will provide the same factually correct information to everyone, regardless of how she became pregnant or why she wants and/or needs to terminate her pregnancy.

Our allies need to stop using language that reinforces the false dichotomy of “Good Abortions” and “Bad Abortions.”  By creating a separate “class” of women needing abortions (in this case, those who are victims of rape or incest; but women who have health problems or have non-viable pregnancies are often similarly singled out for “exceptional” status), Planned Parenthood is unintentionally validating a deeply-ingrained societal belief that some abortions are more justified, more necessary, even better than others.  The final effect is to strengthen the stigma and shame attached to abortion for all women.

The bottom line: there is never any medical reason to lie to a patient, regardless of her circumstances.  That message by itself is powerful and strong, no exceptions required.

4 Responses to “Lying about abortion: Accurate information without exception”

  1. Crystal May 16, 2012 at 1:01 pm #

    This is interesting, and your views are what I’d want and expect from my own doctor.

    I always thought that making exceptions was bad, simply because it’s horribly impractical. “Oh, you want an abortion because you were raped? Can you prove that?” Er, no.

    Isn’t it worth, though, acknowledging that there is a difference? For example, I’ve never had the slightest desire to reproduce (and at 29, I know my own mind.) I think that my decision to have an abortion, should I need one, would be easy. Hypothetical Woman B desperately wants to have babies, but decides to terminate because the foetus is not viable.

    I don’t consider that either me or Woman B should have more sympathy, more right to an abortion, or more right to the truth and respect from our doctors. Nevertheless, our experience and maybe our needs are different.

    • NYCProChoiceMD May 17, 2012 at 9:27 am #

      I completely agree that although the information remains the same, the way someone wants/needs to hear it will vary based on many factors. This is true in medicine and in all communication. The relationship shouldn’t simply be one of a doctor reading a script to a patient; it should be an exchange that is tailored to her needs.

  2. Serena May 19, 2012 at 11:05 pm #

    Couldn’t agree more. All abortions are valid. Period.

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