In 2005, South Dakota passed a law which at the time was the pinnacle of crazy anti-abortion laws. It contained a wide range of provisions which ended up going back and forth in the courts for the past several years. Ultimately, the biological disclosure and “all known medical risks” disclosure stayed on the books, but the decision on a suicide advisory remained divided in the courts. It became its own spin-off case, and only this week did a decision come down.
Though you may have already read how the 8th circuit ruled , 7-4, with the majority in favor of keeping the suicide advisory, i.e. doctors must tell women seeking abortions that they have an increased risk of suicide if they seek an abortion, on the grounds that is not misleading and irrelevant.
Some things you should know about the case before we dive into this:
- The parties are two crisis pregnancy centers versus Planned Parenthood.
- The “friends of the court” of the crisis pregnancy centers include: Christian Medical & Dental Associations; American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians & Gynecologists; Catholic Medical Association; Physicians for Life; National Association of Pro-Life Nurses; Family Research Council; Care Net; Heartbeat International, Incorporated; National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, Incorporated; Eagle Forum Education and Legal Defense Fund; and the American College of Pediatricians. Yes, you read that last one right. Who knew?
- The author most cited in the majority opinion for the “evidence” of an increased risk of suicide and suicidal ideation among women who had an abortion might have her major paper on the topic retracted because it is not scientifically sound. Said author, Coleman, is referenced 14 times by name in the majority opinion.
But what stood out to me was the bizarre argument throughout the majority opinion about relative risk, increased risk, and causation. Anyone who has taken epidemiology 101 can parrot that correlation is not causation. Essentially, science is all about theories and making your way as close to the “truth” as possible. But will we ever know an absolute truth? No, we wouldn’t. This is 7th grade science people. Stay with me.
The majority opinion states how the suicide disclosure cannot be misleading or irrelevant only if there is “medical and scientific uncertainty,” then goes on to say “in order to render the suicide advisory unconstitutionally misleading or irrelevant, Planned Parenthood would have to show that abortion has been ruled out, to a degree of scientifically accepted certainty, as a statistically significance causal factor in post-abortion suicides.”
So for example let’s say I have a theory that doughnuts cure cancer and I go out there and find some evidence of this and get published, but someone retorts saying this is blatantly false. We now have medical and scientific uncertainty. Fine. But then according to the 8thcircuit the only reason I can’t force pediatricians to tell children to eat doughnuts is if I can show that doughnuts don’t cure cancer. Doughnuts for everyone?
Now let’s return to 7th grade. You can’t prove something is not a causal factor. You can no less prove it is a causal factor. You can be very sure one thing leads to another, e.g. smoking and cancer. But proving that the doughnuts do not cure cancer is impossible, so it would be impossible to fulfill this alleged requirement. Then what does the evidence tell us?
What we do know is that most scientists agree that risk of suicide does not increase with abortion. There is some shaky evidence of a possible association between abortion and suicide due outside underlying factors, i.e. if you have poor mental health you are more likely to seek an abortion and more likely to be suicidal. But it is a spurious relationship, it is the outside factor that connects them, the connection between the two is completely unfounded.
What is most upsetting is that the four dissenting justices even say how the majority recognizes that there is no proof in the literature that abortion causes suicide and that telling women that abortion causes an increased risk of suicide is untruthful. They know this, they recognize it, and yet here we are. Women across South Dakota will now be forced to listen to these lies before obtaining an abortion. How is that not misleading and irrelevant?