I’ve talked before about my frustration at the skillful ability of the right-wing to harness language. This comes out all the time in regard to abortion, and sometimes, the issue is that the other side does a really good job of making something sound rational when it really isn’t. An example is the wave of so-called “informed consent” laws, which sound not only innocuous but also inarguable. Who could oppose making sure women have given their informed consent before undergoing an abortion? Not me, nor, I’m sure, any other pro-choicer, including anyone who provides abortions. And in fact, states typically have pretty rigorous informed consent laws in place governing all medical procedures.
Unfortunately, these laws are not enough for the anti-choicers, who start with the premise that Abortion Doctors Are In It For The Money (No. No one who has to go to work in a bulletproof vest does it for financial reasons.) and thus Abortion Clinics Do Not Have Women’s Interests At Heart, and so Clinics Sneakily Connive Women Into Having Abortions They Actually Really In Their Heart of Hearts If Only Anthony Kennedy Could Show Them The Truth Do Not Want.
Given that series of faulty premises, state legislators try to fix a nonexistent problem by passing new “informed consent” laws pertaining only to abortion care. (This, of course, assumes I give legislators the benefit of the doubt that they actually believe a problem exists, and the whole thing isn’t an entirely cynical ploy to keep women from obtaining legal abortions– which would be awfully generous of me.)
Exhibit A right now is in Nebraska, where oral arguments are being heard today in a case challenging the constitutionality of one of these “informed consent” laws. Before I get to the substance, back to the language issue for a minute. If we concede, and call these ridiculous regulations informed consent laws, even if we use the prefix “so-called” or the scare quotes, we’re letting them win that battle. So how about everyone in the repro rights world agrees on an alternate vocabulary and sticks to it. Let’s call this particular set of laws, for instance, biased counseling restrictions, because that is what they are.
Moving on. The Nebraska law has several facets, but the main gist is that it requires doctors to review an exhaustive amount of articles in order to compile a list of risk factors associated with abortion and the complications associated with those risk factors. Then the doctors must compare the checklist to each woman seeking an abortion, and review any potential risk factors/complications. This doesn’t sound crazy at first, but the literature on abortion is beyond extensive, and included in the requirement would be: articles from before abortion was legal, from other countries, in other languages, and articles claiming risk factors like “abortion causes breast cancer” which have since been thoroughly debunked. The law, as written, is impossible to comply with, and would force doctors to come up with a nonsensical and at times self-contradictory (ie, one article says divorced women are at higher risk of depression after abortion, while another says never-married women are more likely to adjust poorly to abortion) list.
The big lie here is that these laws are necessary at all. As if abortion providers aren’t already trying to provide women with all the information they need to make the best choice in a difficult situation. As if providers are the enemy, which distracts from the real culprit, the circumstances that lead women to unintended and unwanted pregnancies. As if women need this extra mandate from the state in order to make the best decisions for themselves. AND then there’s the flat-out falsehood that women in these circumstances would always be better off if they opted against abortion. Causation is complicated, but it seems pretty clear that having an unintended pregnancy itself puts women at risk of any number of consequences– regardless of how they choose to handle it.