The right-wing media misinformation behind the 231 restrictions on abortion passed by state legislatures in the last four years has found its way into Congressional Republicans' latest strategy to roll back abortion rights nationally. Medical experts agree that such anti-choice legislation is often based on medically inaccurate or outright false information and that these regulations harm women. Here are the facts behind the myths underpinning the GOP's war on abortion rights.
GOP Brings Years-Long Campaign To Roll Back Abortion Rights To Congress
Politico: Republicans Unite In “National Strategy To Roll Back Abortion Rights.” In a January 12 article, Politico explained Republicans' recent push to crack-down on abortion with a national strategy to ban the procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy:
Republicans are more united than they have been in years on a national strategy to roll back abortion rights, using state legislatures and the new GOP Congress to push for banning the procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy -- a platform that also has the backing of the party's presidential candidates.
Their first salvo will come from the House, where GOP leaders plan to vote on a federal 20-week abortion ban on Jan. 22. That's the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade and falls on the same day as the March for Life, an annual mass demonstration of anti-abortion activists on the streets of Washington.
That timing came at the urging of nearly a dozen prominent anti-abortion groups that met with Republican leaders in November, many of whom had spent big on Republican Senate and House candidates. [Politico, 1/12/15]
Guttmacher Institute: States Enacted 231 Abortion Restrictions During Last Four Years. According to a January 5 report from the Guttmacher Institute, 231 abortion restrictions were enacted in the United States between 2011 and the end of 2014. In the year 2014 alone, state legislators introduced 335 anti-choice provisions and passed 26 new restrictions on abortion, leaving more than half of U.S. women of reproductive age living “in a state that is either hostile or extremely hostile to abortion rights.” Guttmacher wrote that major legislative actions in 2014 included attempts at abortion bans and banning the use of telemedicine in the procedure, mandated counseling and waiting periods before care, and the targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) through clinic regulation and admitting privileges. The report went on to explain that GOP midterm election results “provide good reasons to be concerned” as legislators in favor of harsh abortion restrictions begin their legislative sessions:
Nonetheless, the midterm election results provide good reason to be concerned about a renewed focus on restricting abortion in the upcoming 2015 legislative sessions. Republican legislators, who overwhelmingly oppose abortion rights, solidified their dominance in the states. Republicans will now control both legislative chambers in 30 states, three more than in 2014; in 23 of those states, the governor will also be Republican. Democrats will control both legislative chambers and the governor's mansion in only seven states. [Guttmacher Institute, 1/5/15]
Key Abortion Restrictions Facilitated By Right-Wing Media Myths
MYTH: Twenty-Week Abortion Bans Are Needed To Protect A Living Baby And Women
Fox Figures: Twenty-Week Bans Protect Human Beings, And Opponents To Ban Merely Want Abortions “For Any Reason.” On the June 10, 2013 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, Fox contributor Kirsten Powers argued that after 12-weeks of pregnancy, most people agree that the fetus is a human being, and thus bans on abortions after 20-weeks are appropriate and may not go far enough. Host Bill O'Reilly dismissed the legitimate health concerns that lead many women to obtain abortions after 20-weeks, saying women could obtain abortions for “any reason, women's health. 'Hey, look, I sprained my hand.'” [Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor, 7/10/13]
National Review's Rich Lowry: A Ban After 20 Weeks “Represents A Minor Restriction On Abortion By Any Reasonable Standard.” In a blog post, National Review editor Rich Lowry wrote: “A ban after 20 weeks, near the end of the second trimester, represents a minor restriction on abortion by any reasonable standard. Many European countries, which we tend to consider laxer on such matters, ban abortion well before 20 weeks.” [National Review Online, 7/16/13]
FACT: Doctors Agree That Fetuses Aren't Viable Until 24-28 Weeks
ThinkProgress: “Doctors Agree” Fetuses Aren't Viable “Until About 24 To 28 Weeks Of Pregnancy.” In a January 7 post on the new anti-abortion measures introduced in Congress, ThinkProgress explained that medical professionals “agree that fetuses cannot survive outside of the womb until about 24-28 weeks of pregnancy”:
In a statement released on Tuesday, Franks referred to 20-week fetuses as “innocent and defenseless children who can not only feel pain, but who can survive outside of the womb in most cases, and who are torturously killed without even basic anesthesia.”
In fact, doctors agree that fetuses cannot survive outside the womb until about 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy, which is considered to be the legal point of viability. At less than 21 weeks, no delivered baby has ever survived. Plus, scientific research has repeatedly confirmed that fetuses cannot feel pain until after they are viable; indeed, even the researchers who are trying to learn more about fetal pain don't want their findings to be used to justify abortion bans. [ThinkProgress, 1/7/15]
FACT: Many Serious Health Conditions For Mother And Fetus Are Only Discovered In 20th Week Of Pregnancy
American College Of Obstetricians And Gynecologists: Optimal Time When Obstetric Ultrasound Detects Major Malformations Is Between 18 And 20 Weeks. According to recommendations by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the “optimal time for an obstetric ultrasound examination is between 18 to 20 weeks of gestation because anatomically complex organs, such as the fetal heart and brain, can be imaged with sufficient clarity to allow detection of many major malformations.” [Aetna.com, Clinical Policy Bulletin, accessed 1/13/15]
Pediatric Cardiologist: Scans Around Week 20 “Are Critical For Uncovering Major Birth Defects.” A pediatric cardiologist and managing director of the Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform who specializes in high-risk pregnancies explained in a July 11, 2013 article for Slate that 20-week scans can reveal serious medical complications, including severe brain malformations of the fetus and missing organs:
Why do some women wait so long? The answer is that comprehensive fetal testing, such as anatomical sonograms and ultrasounds of the heart, are typically performed just before 20 weeks of gestation. Such scans are critical for uncovering major birth defects, such as anencephaly (severe brain malformations), major heart defects, missing organs and limbs, and other severe birth defects. Fetal development is a complex process that often goes awry. Roughly 2 percent of all pregnancies are complicated by a major birth defect, and of those about 0.5 percent have a chromosomal defect, such as an extra or missing segment of normal DNA. Birth defects are a leading cause of infant mortality, and in many cases of severe birth defects, no medical treatment can salvage a fetus's life or result in any measure of normal future health. [Slate, 7/11/13]
ACOG: “By The Time A Diagnosis Is Confirmed ... The Pregnancy Has Often Progressed Beyond 20 Weeks.” ACOG explained in an amicus brief opposing a ban on abortions after 20 weeks in Arizona that while some dangerous conditions affecting the fetus can be detected earlier than week 20, "[b]y the time a diagnosis is confirmed by a specialist capable of diagnosing these anomalies, the pregnancy has often progressed beyond 20 weeks." [American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 9/11/12]
ACOG: Delaying Abortions In Non-Fatal Health Crises Can Put The “Patient's Health In Serious Jeopardy.” According to ACOG, delaying abortions in cases when mothers experience health complications that are not fatal at or past week 20, including heart conditions, cancer, lupus, and diabetes, can put the “patient's health in serious jeopardy” and “compromise the physician's ethical duty to the patient.” [American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 9/11/12]
MYTH: Restrictions On Abortion Like Hospital Admitting Privileges And Mandatory Delays Keep Women Safe
Fox's Kirsten Powers: Restrictions On Abortion Clinics Are Meant To Keep Women Safe. Fox contributor Kirsten Powers appeared on the July 15 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor to discuss the Women's Health Protection Act, which would prohibit states from targeting abortion with unnecessary restrictions like waiting periods and special standards for clinics. Powers claimed that state laws restricting access to abortion “were put in place to make abortion clinics safe” (emphasis added):
O'REILLY: So, there was a hearing today in Congress on [The Women's Health Protection Act], and how do you see it, Kirsten?
POWERS: Well, first of all, it's obviously an election year stunt. This probably won't even pass the Senate, let alone the House, and this is something to get the women ginned up in the Democratic Party base, who, as you know, have been ginned up before in the so-called War on Women, and I think this is part of that strategy. I also think that this is destructive because most of the laws that I think that they would like to roll back are laws that were put in place to make abortion clinics safe. For example, like the Gosnell clinic in Pennsylvania. These types of laws were created to respond to what happened to women. There was a woman who died. There were multiple women who died there. [Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor, 7/15/14]
O'Reilly Suggests Senators Who Oppose Unnecessary Abortion Clinic Restrictions Are “Executioners.” On the same edition of The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly teased a segment on the Women's Health Protection Act by asking if the two U.S. senators who proposed it were “executioners.” [Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor, 7/5/14]
Michelle Malkin Claims Texas' Abortion Legislation Requiring Clinics To Meet Surgical Center Standards “Ensure[s] Safety.” On the July 8, 2013 edition of Fox News' America Live, conservative commentator Michelle Malkin discussed Texas' controversial legislation to restrict abortion procedures after 20 weeks of pregnancy and place burdensome regulations on abortion clinics by requiring that they meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers. Malkin asserted that the legislation in question was simply about abortion providers having to “abide by standards that will ensure safety” and “make sure that women and unborn children are protected.” [Fox News, America Live, 7/8/13]
FACT: Restrictions Like Hospital Admitting Privileges Are Medically Unnecessary
ACOG: Abortion “Facility And Staffing” Legislation Impose “Medically Unnecessary” Requirements. In a November 2014 statement, the ACOG outlined their opposition to restrictions on abortion facilities and staff, noting that such measure were “medically unnecessary” and “do not improve patient safety or quality of care”:
Facility and staffing requirements enacted in some states, under the guise of promoting patient safety, single out abortion from other outpatient procedures and impose medically unnecessary requirements designed to reduce access to abortion. Also known as TRAP laws, these measures have included needless requirements such as mandating that facilities meet the physical plant standards of hospitals; that staffing, drug, equipment, and medical records be maintained at unnecessary levels; that physicians performing abortions in the clinic setting obtain hospital admitting privileges, with no mechanism to ensure that hospitals will grant such privileges; that the same physician perform in-person counseling, ultrasonography, and the abortion procedure, resulting in difficulties for physicians who travel long distances to provide abortion care in rural states and for multi-day procedures; and that clinic physicians be board certified obstetrician-gynecologists despite the fact that clinicians in many medical specialties can provide safe abortion services. The College opposes such requirements because they improperly regulate medical care and do not improve patient safety or quality of care.
These laws make abortion more difficult and expensive to obtain, imposing new costs on the women who can least afford them. Compliance with some of the most onerous regulatory requirements has proved to be so difficult that some practices have closed. In states with few abortion providers, TRAP laws can make abortion essentially inaccessible.[American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 11/14]
ACOG And The AMA: Hospital Admitting Privileges And Surgical Center Standards “Jeopardize The Health Of Women” And “Denies Them Access” To Safe Abortion. In a December 20 joint amicus brief for the United States Court of Appeals in Planned Parenthood v Abbott, the ACOG and The American Health Association condemned regulations such as those which require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at hospitals, writing that these regulations “jeopardize the health of women” and deny them access to safe abortions:
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Medical Association (AMA) filed a joint amicus brief in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in support of Planned Parenthood's challenge to Texas House Bill (HB) 2. ACOG and the AMA oppose HB 2 because it imposes government regulation on abortioncare that jeopardizes the health of women in Texas and denies them access to the safest and most effective evidence-based protocols for medical abortions.
Abortion is a very safe procedure, and complications requiring hospital admission are extremely rare. There is no medical basis to require abortion providers to have local hospital admitting privileges. Emergency room physicians, hospital-based physicians, and on-call specialists already provide prompt and effective treatment to all patients with urgent medical needs, including women with abortion-related complications. Moreover, there is no medically sound reason for Texas to impose more stringent requirements on abortion facilities than it does on other medical facilities that perform procedures with similar, or even greater, risks. [American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 12/20/13]
FACT: Early Abortion Has “Minimal Risk” Of Complication That Would Require Hospital Care
Guttmacher Institute: “Less Than 0.05%” Of First-Trimester Abortion Procedures Have Major Complications That May Need Hospital Care. According to the Guttmacher Institute,early abortion is “one of the safest medical procedures, with minimal risk” of “major complications that might need hospital care.” [Guttmacher Institute, July 2014]
FACT: Mandatory Delays In Abortion Care “Harm Women”
Center For Reproductive Rights: Mandatory Abortion Delays Increase Risk Of Complication. The Center for Reproductive Rights explained how mandatory delays in abortion procedures “harm women” by posing “real obstacles, particularly for low-income women” to accessing care. These delays also force many to postpone care until later in pregnancy, which increases the risk of complications. [Center for Reproductive Rights, 9/30/10]
National Partnership For Women And Families: Mandatory Delay Requirements Cause Health Professionals To “Withhold Care, Even If Doing So Violates Their Medical Judgment.” According to a report by the National Partnership for Women and Families (NPFW), required delays in abortion care and access “take decision-making away from the health care provider and patient,” an act which causes many to “withhold care, even if doing so violates their medical judgment.” The report went on to explain that these requirements hurt low-income women in particular, “exacerbating health disparities”:
Mandatory delays require patients to wait a specified number of hours or days before being able to obtain abortion care. These policies take decision-making away from the health care provider and patient, disregarding the fundamental principle of providing the right care at the right time according to medical need and the patient's best interests. Mandatory delay laws require providers to withhold care, even if doing so violates their medical judgment.
The impact of mandatory delays is exacerbated by the national shortage of abortion providers and can result in waits of greater duration than the state-mandated period. Eighty-nine percent of counties in the United States do not have a single abortion provider. Even for those counties that do have one or more providers, abortion services might be available only on certain days. Several states have only one clinic that offers surgical abortions, and some clinics rely on doctors to fly in from out of state.
Unnecessary delay requirements create the heaviest burden on rural, young and low-income women, exacerbating health disparities. [National Partnership for Women and Families,7/24/14]
MYTH: Mandated Counseling Addresses Mental Health Problems Caused By Abortion Procedures
Fox Guest Championed Discredited “Post-Abortion” Syndrome Behind GOP's Push For Mandated Counseling. Appearing on the March 19 edition of Fox News' Hannity, frequent Fox guest and conservative blogger Star Parker alluded to the discredited illness “post-abortion syndrome,” the idea that choosing to have an abortion causes subsequent mental illness, a claim used by Republicans to push for mandated counseling laws. Parker argued that women who have had abortions “have a tendency to have mental challenges later on.” [Fox News,Hannity, 3/19/13]
Fox Hosts Attack Woman Who Had An Abortion As “Deeply Disturbed,” In Need Of “Psychological Exam.” On May 6, the hosts of Fox News' The Five lobbed a series of attacks against Emily Letts, a woman who filmed her own abortion and wrote about her experience in Cosmopolitan. Greg Gutfeld said Letts “clearly needs help” while Andrea Tantaros described Letts as “deeply disturbed” and asked if her employer had considered giving her a “psychological exam.” Eric Bolling took it a step further, likening her abortion to having committed “some sort of genocide.” [Fox News, The Five, 5/6/14]
FACT: Abortion Does Not Cause Mental Health Problems
American Psychological Association: “No Evidence” That Abortion “Causes Mental Health Problems. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), there is ”no credible evidence" that abortion causes mental health problems for women. Their research also showed that “many of the studies published” on the topic “suffered from serious methodological problems.”
No evidence that having a single abortion causes mental health problems. The Task Force concluded that there is no credible evidence that a single elective abortion of an unwanted pregnancy in and of itself causes mental health problems for adult women. The research consistently found that the backgrounds and circumstances of the women who seek abortions vary. The Task Force found some studies that indicate that some women do experience sadness, grief and feelings of loss following an abortion and some experience “clinically significant disorders, including depression and anxiety.” The evidence regarding the relative mental health risks associated with multiple abortions is more uncertain. [ American Psychological Association, Accessed 1/13/15]
FACT: Mandated Abortion Counseling Often Includes “Medically Inaccurate Or Biased” Information
National Partnership For Women And Families: Mandated Counseling Often “Biased.” According to a report from the National Partnership for Women and Families, 28 states in the U.S. require health care workers to provide or offer patients “state-developed written materials” before providing an abortion. Of these states, 19 require information that is “medically inaccurate or biased”:
Twenty-eight states have measures that require health care providers to give or offer the patient abortion-specific, state-developed written materials. These requirements apply a one-size-fits-all approach force women seeking abortion to receive information unrelated to their individual circumstances.
Nineteen states require providers to offer, information --verbally or in writing -- that is medically inaccurate or biased. For example:
- Twelve states include unfounded information that fetuses can feel pain, despite the lack of scientific evidence.
- Eight states include information that describes only negative emotional responses to abortion.
- Five states include erroneous information about the impact of abortion on future fertility.
- Five states include information about a false link between abortion and breast cancer.
- Five states include the assertion that personhood begins at conception
- Women in Kansas receive information including all five of the above inaccurate assertions.
- Two states include inaccurate information linking abortion to an increased risk of suicide, even though there is no such connection. [National Partnership for Women & Families, 7/24/14]
Guttmacher: Study Finds Mandated Counseling Materials Contains “Misleading” And “Incorrect” Information About Abortion. According to a July 2006 study conducted by the Guttmacher Institute, which analyzed the mandated state-written counseling materials given out to those seeking abortion services, many of these materials contained “either misleading or altogether incorrect information”:
In July 2006, we conducted a 50-state investigation to discover in which states the health department had developed materials; we found that 22 states had done so, all under the direction of their legislatures. (One additional state, Oklahoma, has a law requiring the health department to develop materials, but the department has yet to do so.) In most cases, the topics included in the materials were specifically required by law; in other cases, the topics had been selected at the discretion of the health department.
Our analysis reveals that although most of the information in the materials about abortion comports with recent scientific findings and the principles of informed consent, some content--specifically, that which is related to breast cancer, psychological impact, fetal pain and referrals for additional care--is either misleading or altogether incorrect. Also, the investigation demonstrates that in a few cases, health departments acted to mitigate the potential harm of biased laws by publishing materials that are somewhat more balanced than the laws themselves. For example, laws in nine states require that the materials include information on the “possible detrimental psychological effects” of abortion; however, in all but two of these states, the materials describe a range of emotions--both positive and negative--a woman could experience. [Guttmacher Institute, September 2006]