Do you have a question you’ve been dying to ask, but didn’t know who to turn to? Well, now you do. The National Women’s Health Network has established a biweekly Q & A column where you can ask questions on a variety of topics. Those topics include contraception, abortion, sexual health, menopause & menopause hormone therapy, osteoporosis, obesity, and some aspects of heart disease. Each week we will feature a new question. See this week’s question below.

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What we are able to provide:

  • A feminist perspective on current issues in women’s health
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Please note: Questions submitted will not be answered personally, and not all questions submitted will be answered. If your question is selected, you will be notified via email. Before you submit your question, search our website to see if you find the answer to your question. Your answer might be found in a fact sheet, newsletter article or on one of our advocacy pages. NWHN can provide you with accessible and accurate health information; however, we are not medically licensed professionals and thus cannot provide medical diagnostic or treatment advice.

Biweekly Column: Is it true that some states require a woman to have a man’s consent to talk to a doctor about getting a hysterectomy? What if the procedure is medically necessary?

A hysterectomy is the surgical removal of the uterus. There are multiple types of hysterectomies, including subtotal, supracervical or partial hysterectomy, where the uterus is removed, but not the cervix, and a complete hysterectomy where both the uterus and cervix are removed. There are also multiple ways in which the surgery can be carried out: the uterus can be removed through the vagina, through the abdomen, or with the use of a laparoscope.

Statistics from 2004 suggest that over one-third of US women will have had a hysterectomy by age 60. One may seek a hysterectomy for reasons that include, but are not limited to: invasive cancer of the uterus, cervix, vagina, fallopian tubes, and or ovaries, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), unmanageable infection, unmanageable bleeding, or serious complications during childbirth, such as a rupture of the uterus. 

In 1975, the New Jersey Superior Court ruled in Ponter v. Ponter that women have a constitutional right to obtain a sterilization operation without the consent of her husband. Hysterectomies are usually not done when the goal is sterilization, as tubal ligation is a less invasive procedure with that result. However, a hysterectomy is still a “sterilization operation” in the sense that a pregnancy cannot occur when a hysterectomy has been performed, and could ultimately fall under the category of sterilization when it comes to spousal consent for the procedure. This is good news in terms of protecting the autonomy of those who are seeking the surgery. 

Unfortunately, religious refusal policies mean that this law does not need to be upheld in private hospitals, such as those that are religiously affiliated. It only needs to be upheld in public hospitals. Carrying out sterilization procedures may be in conflict with a health care provider’s religious beliefs, and religious refusal allows such providers to refuse to perform the procedure, even if medically necessary. 

However, it is quite unlikely that a health care provider would deny performing a hysterectomy without spousal consent. Requiring spousal consent is not standard for the procedure, and it is widely understood that hysterectomies are extremely common, safe, and undergone for a myriad of reasons. There are no states that mandate spousal consent for the procedure. If one is interested in having a hysterectomy done, the NWHN recommends that they discuss the benefits and risks with their health care provider privately to outline the best path forward for them. 


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