When Informed Consent Becomes State-Mandated Lies

Taken from the May/June 2015 issue of the Women's Health Activist Newsletter.

Abortions aren’t reversible, as anyone who’s had basic sex education knows. But, anti-abortionists have created this term as way to limit the growing use of medication to induce an abortion. Medication abortion has been available in the U.S. for 15 years, and involves using two drugs (mifepristone or methotrexate, plus misoprostol) to induce an abortion. Medication abortion has become more common and now accounts for 23% of all U.S. abortions. In some communities, it’s the most common technique for early abortions. (Non-medication abortions are performed by vacuum aspiration, also known as surgical abortion).

Anti-abortionists haven’t had much luck changing public opinion about abortion. According to Gallup polls, 78% of people in the U.S. believe abortion should be legal in some or all circumstances, a number that hasn’t changed much over the last 40-plus years.

Yet, this widespread and consistent public support for a women’s right to safe and legal abortion hasn’t stopped legislators from trying to restrict access to abortion care. Since 2011, state legislators passed a record-setting 231 new abortion restrictions, with dire effects on women’s health.

The latest trend is to force clinics to close unless they can turn themselves into surgi-centers. Targeted regulation of abortion provider (TRAP) laws go beyond what’s medically necessary and require clinics to widen their hallways, enlarge procedure rooms, and even provide a specified number of parking spaces. According to Bloomberg News, 70 clinics have recently either closed or stopped offering abortion care.

But, such burdensome regulations don’t necessarily stop women from getting medical abortion, which can be safely provided in non-clinic settings (including the privacy of a woman’s home).

Stopping people from providing and getting abortion care is what anti-abortionists are all about.

That’s where “reversible abortion” comes in. They now claim women can stop a medical abortion that’s already started by taking progesterone, a hormone present in high levels during early pregnancy. This claim has no scientific or medical justification. Progesterone is necessary to sustain a pregnancy, but can’t reverse the effects of medications that have already disrupted a growing embryo.

Although all legitimate scientific authorities oppose the claim, legislators in Arizona and Arkansas recently passed legislation requiring abortion care providers to “inform” women they might be able to reverse their abortion this way. The goal’s to interfere with women’s decision-making process.

These laws are a perversion of informed consent. Informed consent gives patients an opportunity to make sure they know about the benefits and risks of a procedure, device, or medication. Good informed consent processes help patients know what to expect and recognize signs of problems, and gives them a chance to raise concerns or questions. The Network is justifiably proud of our role in advocating for informed consent as a necessary and routine part of health care services.  Mandating lies isn’t informed consent, it’s manipulating women, and it’s got to stop.

Cindy Pearson was the NWHN’s Executive Director from 1996 to 2021. One of the nation's leading advocates for women's health, Cindy often testified before Congress,  NIH and the FDA and was frequently featured in the news as a consumer expert on women’s health issues. When she retired, Cindy received a Congressional Resolution in honor of her outstanding contributions to the health of women and girls.

Read more from Cindy Pearson.