These Abortion Restrictions Make No Sense, According To Science

by Eliza Castile
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Decades after the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional state laws banning abortions, the topic hasn't become any less controversial. Anti-abortion advocates nationwide have fought to ban the procedure ever since Roe v. Wade, and in some states, they have succeeded in enacting abortion restrictions that aren't based in science at all. Ironically, that particular fact is scientifically-backed: According to a recent analysis by the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research organization, at least 10 major categories of abortion restrictions are based on "assertions not supported by rigorous scientific evidence." In other words, although it's a medical procedure, many policies regarding abortion conflict with established medical facts.

The report, released on Tuesday, analyzed the justification for abortion regulations across the country. The authors identified 10 abortion restrictions that have no basis in science, despite purporting to "protect women's health" in many instances. They acknowledge that the new presidential administration is a source of concern for many reproductive health advocates, especially given its tendency to espouse "alternative facts." However, the researchers also point out that anti-abortion rhetoric has historically relied on emotional appeal rather than fact, which is how reproductive rights has come to occupy an "evidence-free zone" today.

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Abortion is an emotional subject for many people, and unfortunately, that emotion is easily exploited by anti-abortion advocates. Some restrictions on the procedure may claim to have "women's best interests" in mind, but upon closer inspection, they appear to be designed to punish women rather than help them get through a difficult time in their lives. According to a separate Guttmacher study, for example, prospective patients in 13 states receive "counseling" that includes information about a fetus's ability to feel pain (even though it'sbeen proven that fetuses can't feel pain at the 20 week mark), and six states require women to be told personhood begins at conception.

To read the recent Guttmacher report in its entirety, head over to the organization's website. However, here are seven restrictions highlighted by the study that make zero scientific sense.


Counseling Requirements

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According to the Guttmacher Institute, 35 states require counseling for women before an abortion is performed. Sometimes, this is designed to adhere to informed consent, but in many cases, researchers found that the information given to women was based on incorrect or unproven assumptions. In six states, for example, women are told that abortion is linked to mental health problems, but a growing heap of research studies have found no such association.

The same story plays out again and again in regards to other topics. There's no demonstrated association between abortion and breast cancer or infertility, despite the information provided by counseling sessions in some states.


Waiting Periods

In more than half of the United States, counseling is followed by a mandated waiting period before the procedure can be performed. This period usually lasts between 18 hours and several days, often requiring multiple appointments. As NPR reported in 2015, several of these states are actually increasing the length of time someone must wait before receiving the procedure.

The idea is that women need time to reconsider their decision, but according to research, this time is unnecessary. As the Guttmacher Institute points out, multiple studies have found that by the time they make an appointment to have an abortion, the vast majority of people seeking abortions have already made up their minds. What's more, the majority of people who get abortions don't regret them later.


Hospital Admitting Privileges

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Last year, the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law requiring physicians to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, and similar regulations were in place in other states. Proponents of these laws claim that it protects patients in case of an emergency, but according to the American Public Health Association, this is simply unnecessary. "Abortion is a very safe procedure, and there is no evidence to support the claim that hospital admitting privilege laws protect or improve women’s safety," the APHA writes.

Admitting privileges may not influence a patient's safety, but the requirement does have a different effect. As Guttmacher points out, Texas's restriction caused the closure of many abortion clinics, leading to overcrowding at those that remained open.


Telemedicine Bans

Recently, in part of an effort to provide access for patients in under-served areas, there has been a push for telemedicine abortions. The idea of telemedicine abortions is simple: A doctor writes a prescription for an abortion pill, which the patient picks up at their local pharmacy and takes at home. Although it's been shown to be an incredibly safe procedure, 19 states have laws in place banning telemedicine abortions.


Ambulatory Surgical Centers

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According to the Guttmacher report, 18 states have laws imposing standards on abortion clinics that are equivalent to those for ambulatory surgical centers. This requirement supposedly protects patients in an emergency, but research shows that, like hospital admitting privilege requirements, it forces unnecessary restrictions on abortion clinics, particularly those that only provide medical (not surgical) abortions.


Physician Requirements

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In 38 states, abortions can only be provided by licensed physicians, and in 2012, the Mississippi governor signed a law restricting that further, to board-certified OB/GYN (with hospital admitting privileges, natch). As the Guttmacher report writes, however, many of these laws are decades old, and the World Health Organization has concluded that advanced practice clinicians, such as nurse practitioners, are capable of carrying out the procedure.


The 20-Week Ban

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More than a dozen states have banned abortions after 20 weeks, based on the idea that fetuses can feel pain at that point. However, multiple studies, including an intensive review by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, have concluded that pain cannot be felt that early on in the pregnancy. Like far too many abortion restrictions, the 20-week ban is based on a faulty assumption.

Unfortunately, these restrictions are widespread. The Guttmacher report found that more than half of American women of reproductive age live in a state with at least one regulation that goes against scientific evidence, and about one-third live in a state with at least five types of these restrictions. Misinformation, it appears, is the name of the game when it comes to abortion.