By Meredith Clark
May 5, 2015
Picture this: you hurt yourself, and you go to the doctor to talk about knee surgery. What would you think if your doctor was required — by law — to tell you that the operation would increase your chance of bone cancer? Or that repairing your torn ligament would increase your risk of serious mental health problems?
You'd probably think something was very wrong. But, it turns out, doctors are legally obligated to lay out a list of medically dubious consequences for a routine medical procedure all across the country.
Despite tons of scientific evidence and years' worth of medical examples, states have not stopped passing laws based on bad science. A surprising number of states require doctors to set aside their medical knowledge and effectively lie to women.
Now that two states have passed laws that require abortion providers to counsel patients that medical abortions can be "reversed," it’s time to revisit a few of the questionable pieces of science that doctors must give abortion seekers.
1. "You can get an abortion reversal."
Where you have to hear it: Arizona, Arkansas
The truth: There are no studies that suggest the shot of hormones given to women in “abortion reversal” procedures has any effect. Medical abortions involve two different drugs taken at different times, and success rates for these procedures are much lower if a person takes only the first drug. As a doctor explained to Refinery29, “There’s a good chance that the result would have been the same without the progesterone shot. It’s a drug vs. placebo effect.” At best, this is untested, experimental medicine. At worst, it’s snake oil.
2. "Fetuses can feel pain."
Where you have to hear it: Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah
The Truth: Laws that ban abortion after 20 weeks swept through the country earlier this decade, and supporters of the laws cited studies that said that was that gestational age at which fetuses could feel pain. The problem? The studies cited by lawmakers have been repeatedlydebunked. It is well established in medicine that fetuses don't even develop the parts of the brain that feel pain until about 24 weeks. As one doctor told Salon in 2013, "The way that a fetus grows and develops hasn't changed and never will."
3. "Abortion has been linked in studies to breast cancer."
Where you have to hear it: Alaska, Kansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Texas
The Truth: There are many risk factors for breast cancer, but it has been clear for over a decade that abortion is not one of them. In 2003, the National Cancer Institute gathered over 100 experts to go over studies and research, and they agreed that no reputable science supports claims of a link. Studies released since then also support that conclusion.
4. "Abortion can have long term negative mental health effects."
Where you have to hear it: Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina, Texas, Utah
The Truth: It is true that abortion, like many, many other medical procedures — and most daily activities — can affect a person’s mental health. However, of the 22 states that provide information about possible psychological responses, these seven heavily emphasize negative reactions. The American Psychology Association has found that unintended pregnancies are equally connected to mental health risks whether they end in abortion or a birth.
5. "Abortion can cause problems with future fertility and pregnancy."
Where you'll hear it: Arizona, Kansas, South Dakota, Texas
The Truth: Like the other statements on this list, science has debunked this claim over and over again. As a reporter for Rolling Stone pointed out last year, the Mayo clinic says abortion does not affect fertility. Tennessee Congresswoman Diane Black revived old theories about possible links between abortion and pregnancy complications like pre-term birth last summer, but as the Roosevelt Institute's Andrea Flynn said at the time, thanks in part to advances in medicine and abortion procedures, current studies show absolutely no link between abortion and such pregnancy problems.
[Ed note: Information about which states have passed these laws comes from the Guttmacher Institute, which studies and tracks reproductive health.]