First, a bit of background. Surgical removal of the uterus is called a “hysterectomy.” There are multiple types of hysterectomies, procedures where the uterus is removed but the cervix isn’t (called subtotal, supracervical, or partial hysterectomy), and ones where both the uterus and cervix are removed (a complete hysterectomy).
Hysterectomy is performed for a variety of reasons, including invasive cancer of the uterus, cervix, vagina, fallopian tubes, and or ovaries; polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS); unmanageable infection or bleeding; and serious complications during childbirth, such as a rupture of the uterus. After hysterectomy, a person cannot become pregnant.
The NWHN believes that hysterectomies are over-performed. While hysterectomy rates are falling in industrialized countries, about one-third of U.S. women will have had the procedure by age 60.
No state mandates spousal consent for this procedure, and any such proposals would almost certainly be found to be unconstitutional. That’s because hysterectomy can be considered to be a sterilization procedure, since pregnancy cannot occur afterwards. Hysterectomy therefore falls under the protections enabling women to obtain sterilization procedures without spousal consent. Numerous state courts as well as federal policy have established this right. (It should be noted that U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled on the question, so it’s not 100 percent settled law.)
This is good news in terms of women’s autonomy and right to make their own medical decisions. Because of religious refusal policies, however, some private hospitals—particularly religiously affiliated facilities—may require signed consent from both spouses. To find out more about how religiously affiliated hospitals are restricting women’s access to reproductive services, visit our allies at MergerWatch.
The bottom line is that it’s very unlikely that a health care provider would refuse to perform a hysterectomy without spousal consent. People who are interested in hysterectomy should discuss the risks and with their health care provider privately to make the best decision for their own, unique circumstances. For more information, see the NWHN’s Fact Sheet.
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