Several days ago, the Committee on State Affairs in the Texas State Senate voted unanimously to advance legislation removing “wrongful birth” from causes of action (lawsuits) against physicians. This committee—comprised of two Democrats, seven Republicans; three women and six men—did their best to deflect inevitable criticism by adding the stipulation that “This section may not be construed to eliminate any duty of a physician or other health care practitioner under any other applicable law.” This is a thinly-veiled effort to make it not look like they are providing legal cover for obstetricians and women’s health professionals to withhold information from women about the health of their unborn child.
The legislation essentially seeks to allow physicians and women’s health professionals to either not encourage pregnant women to get certain tests to assess the health of their child, or to withhold information from pregnant women about the health of their child on the basis that disclosing such information could potentially impact that woman’s decision or desire to carry her pregnancy to term. Coming from a party, and an ideological perspective, whose opposition to the Affordable Care Act is motivated, in part, by concerns of the “government meddling in the private doctor-patient relationship,” advancing legislation that directly undermines that relationship—and worse, a patient’s ability to both trust their physician and hold them accountable—is nothing short of hypocritical.
As a Republican, I am ashamed—though, this isn’t to say there aren’t glaring issues on the other end of the spectrum.
Having never been pregnant, I turned to the number one maker of humans I know: my mom. She reminded me of her experience carrying the youngest Greaux spawn, my now 19-year-old brother.
At the time, she was…over 35—a high-risk pregnancy at the outset. To make matters worse, her disgusting, germy 10-year-old (me) brought home some sort of weird plague. “Fifth’s” disease, while harmless to children but for a face rash, was less than ideal for an already high-risk pregnant lady.
Because of her age and my plague, she was encouraged to have an amniocentesis. My mother refused, telling the doctors that it didn’t matter to her if the baby had developmental issues. I asked if she’d gotten pushback, and she did. “It wasn’t a throw down or anything, but the doctors did push back,” she said. “But my mind was made up. It was my baby.” Taking into account that this was her fourth child—and she’d had a long career as a nurse—the situation was particularly galling.
My mom’s experience highlights the same problem created by this disastrous legislation in Texas, but on the other end of the ideological spectrum: it is okay for doctors not to trust the judgment of their pregnant patients.
Those on the pro-life right correctly cite situations like this as evidence that abortion does not sufficiently regard the wishes of their patients. But it is staggeringly hypocritical for them to promote legislation protecting health providers for withholding information from pregnant women on the basis that pregnant women may actually take that information into account when making decisions about their pregnancy.
When we talk about abortion in the United States, our thoughts immediately wander to the “16 and Pregnant” set, or college-aged girls at the campus clinic. But the fact of the matter is that, from 2003-2012, the abortion rate has declined across all women under 40, with a massive reduction—42.9 and 40.4 percent—in women under the age of 15 and between 15-19, respectively. In only one age group did the rate of abortion go up: the over 40 set, with an increase of 7.7 percent over the same period.
The increase in the abortion rate among this demographic has led to many think-pieces on high-risk pregnancies. This particularly poignant column in The New York Times correctly points to a heartbreaking issue for both pregnant women and the community of people who live with disabilities:
That abortion is not the exception, but rather the expectation in cases of Down syndrome, is not limited to medical professionals. Though precise numbers are unavailable, at least two-thirds and as many as 90 percent of fetuses found to have Down syndrome in utero are aborted. Public opinion polls show that Americans are significantly less critical of abortion in the case of mental or physical impairment. Even the Dalai Lama says it is understandable.
Ultimately, both sides of the ideological spectrum are getting it wrong.
Physicians and health professionals are not Gods, and they are not the decision-makers when it comes to our health—we are. It is their responsibility to scientifically assess our health and the health of our children, inform us about our condition, and provide options for maintenance, management and treatment. The pro-choice left cannot abort away what they determine to be a problem. And the pro-life right cannot lie or cover up information in fear of the decisions their pregnant patients will make.
They are two sides of the same, very wrong, coin that treats women’s decision-making abilities with reckless disregard. Any woman who considers herself a feminist and advocate for women’s rights should regard both circumstances with equal outrage.