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Respecting Women's Decisions

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July 16, 2010

On Wednesday, a federal judge sensibly blocked a Nebraska law that not only would have placed unnecessary obstacles in front of women seeking abortions, but also demonstrated a profoundly patronizing view of women who decide that abortion is the right decision for their circumstances.

Misleadlingly called the “Women’s Health Protection Act” and claiming to ensure that women are “informed” of potential health risks before consenting to an abortion, the law, when read literally, would have required physicians to review thousands of articles — dating back more than a century, in dozens of different languages — that mention any supposed risk factor associated with abortion regardless of the scientific validity of the research or whether it was even pertinent to the woman’s situation. The law would further require a physician to discuss some of these flawed findings with their patients. For example, the law would require a physician to discuss flawed studies that purport to find a link between abortion and breast cancer with a patient, even though the leading medical organizations — such as the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists — have all flatly rejected any association between abortion and breast cancer. The law was challenged by Planned Parenthood and the ACLU.

The idea of providing patients with thousands of scientific studies dating back as much as 100 years would be laughable if it wasn’t so dangerous. A woman’s health and well-being are best supported when she can trust that her doctor will provide medical information that is accurate and unbiased. Rather than ensuring that a woman’s choice to end her pregnancy is meaningful and informed, this law forces her doctor to provide her false and misleading information, undermining the trust between a woman and her doctor.

Fortunately, Judge Laurie Smith Camp found that compliance with the law “would be impossible or nearly impossible,” and would likely deter physicians from providing abortion care in the first place. Additionally, Judge Camp determined that “no such legislative concern for the health of women, or of men, has given rise to any remotely similar informed-consent statutes applicable to other medical procedure.”

As Judge Camp also recognized, most important decisions in life trigger complex and conflicting, maybe even some negative, emotions — abortion is no exception. A woman facing an unintended pregnancy needs the opportunity to make the best decision for her circumstances. But it is not the government’s place to question the judgment of a patient seeking legal, constitutionally protected medical care. We can respect a woman’s emotions about abortion without interfering with her ability to make that decision.

We are glad that the federal court demonstrated common constitutional sense in blocking this law from taking effect. But yesterday’s injunction is only a first step. We will continue to fight this law in the weeks and months to come. As the Reproductive Freedom Project’s Alexa Kolbi-Molinas said after the ruling, this law “presents a political and dangerous interference in a woman’s most personal, private medical decisions and her trusted relationship with her doctor. Physicians, not politicians, should decide what is discussed with a patient.”

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