Myths about Abortion and the ‘Women’s Health Protection Act’

by Anna Franzonello & Mary Harned

Holding a hearing on S. 1696, deceptively titled “The Women’s Health Protection Act,” the U.S. Senate committee on the Judiciary heard many myths from abortion proponents about the “need” for the bill’s evisceration of all life-affirming legislation. This is a federal attempt to expand abortion policy while also destroying pro-life legislation and blocking new life-protecting efforts.

Consider this sampling of abortion industry talking points:

Myth: Life-affirming laws are enacted “ . . . under the false pretext of health and safety.”

Fact:  A substantial body of peer-reviewed scientific literature documents that induced abortion is associated with significant risks and potential harms to women. Time and time again, the abortion industry has proved — at the cost of women’s lives and health — that it places profit as its top priority and it should not be left to self-police its dangerous practice.

The pro-life movement cares about both mothers and their babies and therefore supports the health-and-safety standards contained in the laws that S. 1696 would strike down and prohibit.

Whether accomplished by an invasive surgical procedure or by taking a combination of potent drugs, abortion carries inherent physical risks of harm for women. Numerous, well-documented studies in peer-reviewed international medical journals have found this to be the case.

Even the nation’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, acknowledges on its website the undisputed risks of immediate complications from abortion, including blood clots, hemorrhage, incomplete abortions, infection, and injury to the cervix and other organs. It can also cause missed ectopic pregnancy, cardiac arrest, respiratory arrest, renal failure, metabolic disorder, or shock. Immediate complications affect approximately 10 percent of women undergoing abortions.

History shows that unregulated abortion sets the stage for substandard clinic conditions to compound these risks.
 

Myth: “[D]ata show that abortion, even after the first trimester, carries a lower risk of serious complications than vaginal births, cesarean sections, and even plastic surgery procedures such as facelifts and liposuction.”

Fact: Abortion is always deadly for at least one person, the baby, and data shows that risks to women increase with gestational age.

The “abortion is safer than childbirth” myth relies on U.S. abortion data that is incomplete and unreliable. Unlike abortion-related deaths, pregnancy-related deaths are systemically sought, identified, and investigated. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has cautioned medical professionals not to make comparative statements based on CDC data.

It is undisputed that the later in pregnancy an abortion occurs, the riskier it is and the greater the chance for significant complications.  Gestational age is the strongest risk factor for abortion-related death.  A woman seeking an abortion at 20 weeks (five months) is 35 times more likely to die from it than she was in the first trimester.  At 21 weeks or more, she is 91 times more likely to die from abortion than she was in the first trimester. 
 

Myth: “Global evidence indicates that where abortion services are restricted and unavailable, abortions still occur and are mostly unsafe.”

Fact: Studies have shown that where abortion is restricted, maternal mortality rates have decreased.

For example, a May 2012 study out of Chile that examined trends in maternal death both when abortion was legal in Chile and after abortion was prohibited found that death rates did not increase after abortion was made illegal. While abortion was the leading cause of death for a pregnant woman between 1957 and 1989 — the time period in which abortion was legal — maternal mortality decreased from 41.3 deaths per 100,000 live births when abortion was legal, to just 12.7 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births after abortion was made illegal. Today, Chile has a lower maternal mortality rate than the United States and it has the lowest maternal mortality rate in all of Latin America.
 

Myth: “Ob-gyns who perform miscarriage completions in their office practices are not subject to these onerous requirements, despite the fact that they are performing the same medical procedure as abortion providers . . . ”

Fact: As Dr. Monique Chireau testified, induced abortion differs significantly from dilation and curettage in a non-pregnant patient for a variety of reasons, including differences between the pregnant and non-pregnant uterus, the presence of the fetus, increased risk for perforation, bleeding and infection, and the consequences of incomplete evacuation of the uterus.
 

Myth: Admitting privileges laws are “not medically justified” and “do not promote women’s health or safety, and run counter to sound medical practice and opinion.”

Fact:  As Dr. Chireau explained, all too often women with induced abortion complications are told to go to an emergency department by a practitioner who not only does not live in the area, or have admitting privileges to a local hospital, but also has no clinician backup or transfer agreement in place. This would constitute malpractice in any other scenario. Physicians practice within a regulatory framework that exists to protect both their patients and themselves. Physicians also are usually part of a professional community.
 

Myth: “Mandatory performance of an ultrasound is not an accepted medical practice or standard of care . . . this practice does not add to the quality or safety of the medical care being provided.”

Fact: Ultrasounds serve the essential medical purpose of confirming the presence, location, and gestational age of a pregnancy. Ultrasounds also help to diagnose ectopic pregnancies that, if left undiagnosed, can result in infertility or even fatal blood loss.

The National Abortion Federation (NAF) lists “undiagnosed ectopic pregnancy” as one of “[t]he main complications” of chemical abortions.  Notably, NAF states that “providers must remain vigilant to detect this complication,” and explains that “experienced sonographers using a transvaginal probe” are an important means to rule out an ectopic pregnancy.

A study on early abortions (prior to 6-7 weeks gestation), published in 2003, surveyed 113 abortion providers, including 74 Planned Parenthood affiliates that performed abortions, and found these clinics routinely use vaginal ultrasounds before an early abortion. The study even credits “vaginal ultrasonography” as one reason that “early abortion” has become what it considers a “safe and practical option.”

In Texas Medical Providers Performing Abortion Services v. Lakey, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the 2011 Texas ultrasound law, finding that performing an ultrasound and checking for fetal heartbeat are both “routine measures in pregnancy medicine today” and viewed as “medically necessary” for the mother and unborn child.
 

Myth: Ultrasounds and their descriptions are “cruel and inhumane” and treat women “like second class citizens.”

Fact: Allowing women the opportunity to view their ultrasounds serves an important role in providing informed consent, enabling women to exercise true choice.

Upholding the Texas ultrasound law, the Fifth Circuit noted,

The point of informed consent laws is to allow the patient to evaluate her condition and render her best decision under difficult circumstances. Denying her up to date medical information is more of an abuse to her ability to decide than providing the information.
 

Myth: Life-affirming laws are “seeking to make an end run around public opinion.”

Fact: Public opinion supports the common sense, common-ground laws this bill would eliminate. The truth is S. 1696 is the end-run around public opinion.

The vast majority of Americans believe that abortion should be either illegal in all circumstances (20 percent) or legal only under certain circumstances (52 percent). Only 26 percent believe that abortion should be legal under any circumstances.

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In the over forty years since Roe, numerous examples exist to demonstrate the necessity of regulating abortion clinics.  The trial of now-convicted murderer Dr. Kermit Gosnell brought some attention to the tragic impact that the “legal” abortion industry has had on women’s health. Gosnell’s clinic was not an aberration.

However, states would be impeded from enacting new legislation or even enforcing existing laws that protect women against these dangerous providers if this bill were enacted, predicating the legality of a health regulation upon its impact on mere “access” to abortion clinics.  

Contrary to the assurances made in Roe, and in the subsequent cases Planned Parenthood v. Casey and Gonzales v. Carhart, S. 1696 would permit abortion clinics, particularly in states with a limited number of them, to run unregulated practices and perform abortions through all nine months of pregnancy. Abortionists, not women, benefit from this dangerous bill.

— Anna Franzonello and Mary Harned are staff attorneys at Americans United for Life.