Categories: Feminism

Women Deserve Full & Accurate Info Except When They Don’t

Imagine that in order to get a vasectomy, you must agree to have a needle inserted into your testes to extract sperm, which is then photographed and shown to you. You may either view the photo or hear it described to you in detail.

You are told this is to empower you, because then you will have more information about the health of your reproductive system, which could be used to produce many children.

Now imagine that in addition to that, your doctor has the right to withhold information about anything he finds in the course of his exam, like a deadly STD. This is because if you knew you had a deadly STD, you’d be much less likely to want to reproduce.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? On the one hand, your doctor forces you to hear information you do not think you need to know. On the other hand, your doctor withholds information you would very much like to know. Welcome to America!

This is the closest analogy I could create for the absolutely horrific and contradictory bills that are being approved by state legislatures left and right. It was a full year ago that I began telling skeptic and secular audiences about the Religious Right’s War on Women, and I’m sad to say that all those awful bills I listed are actually passing. One of the worst has been the ultrasound bill, which back then was only on the table in Texas and has just today become a law in Virgina. The law forces women to have an ultrasound before she can have an abortion. Originally it had to be a wand shoved inside her vagina, but it was pointed out to Republicans that they would at last be quite literally approving State-mandated rape, so now women may choose to have an abdominal ultrasound instead. Here’s what Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell had to say about it (bolding mine):

Women have a right to know all the available medical and legal information surrounding the abortion decision before giving legally effective informed consent. Informed consent is already required prior to an abortion being performed in Virginia, based on the longstanding health care concept that complete information about a medical procedure must be given to a patient before she can freely consent to a procedure. As difficult as an abortion decision is, the information provided by ultrasounds, along with other information given by the doctor pursuant to current law and prevailing medical practice, can help the mother make a fully informed decision.

Meanwhile, the GOP in Arizona has just passed a bill (SB 1359) that gives doctors the right to withhold important medical information from a woman if he thinks that information might result in her wanting an abortion.

With rare exceptions, ectopic pregnancies are not viable anyway, but Republicans are allowing anti-abortion doctors to keep life threatening information from pregnant women all because they are obsessed with stopping any and all abortions. Women may not know they have a life threatening condition until they die on the emergency room table. And the doctor couldn’t be sued.

You know what other type of bill they’ve passed in Arizona? If you guessed “an informed consent about abortion” bill, give yourself a treat!

Everyone deserves full and accurate information before undergoing any medical procedure,” said Deborah Sheasby, legal counsel for the Center for Arizona Policy. “These types of protections have been repeatedly upheld and are overwhelmingly supported by the public.

Guess what other bill the Center for Arizona Policy supported? If you guessed SB 1359, the one that lets doctors withhold full and accurate information from women, give yourself another treat! You deserve it.

I don’t yet see an official statement about the SB 1359 victory from the Center for Arizona Policy, so I’ll write one for them:

“Everyone deserves full and accurate information before undergoing any medical procedure, except for sluts! They’ll take whatever information we give them and like it,” said Deborah Sheasby of the Center for Arizona Policy, who then disappeared in a puff of sulphur and flames.

See how it all makes sense? More information is good. Less information is also good. Whatever does most to inhibit a woman’s ability to make decisions about her own body. This is piss-poor policy making that will result in more women dying, and why? Because the Religious Right insists that an embryo – a fertilized egg – has more rights than the woman whose body it is inhabiting.


EDIT 2 (3/9): @IAmNidocking points out that the bill’s fourth section includes language that suggests doctors will not be protected if their action or omission is intentional or grossly negligent. Because the anti-choice lobby is pushing this bill hard, I’m not ready to relax yet. We’ve seen other attempts by anti-choicers to take a cue from the creationists’ wedge strategy, introducing language that will allow them to slowly push in the agenda they want.

Rebecca Watson :Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

View Comments (40)

  • I have some co-workers who have had medically indicated trans-vaginal ultrasounds, and described them as Very Uncomfortable, bordering on Painful. And these WERE necessary...

  • As I understand the underlying legal justification for the "okay to lie to the patient" laws, the zygote/blastocyst/embryo is considered the doctor's real patient, and the woman is merely a potentially uncooperative container and 'nutrition source'. It is considered acceptable to lie to her and keep her in the dark about her and the fetus' medical condition, even when it seriously damages her, because her position is adversarial to that of the fetus, who is 'innocent' and therefore the more important 'person' in the equation.

    The doctor may have to pay a financial penalty if someone objects to his tricking her into dying, unless he has a really good lawyer to argue how it wasn't his fault at all but hers for "not gestating correctly". They seem sure that lawsuits aren't too likely, since after all why would her husband care about keeping poor breeding stock around that can't produce reliably?

    There's a reason so many of these bills are coming out of the Agricultural Committee.

    • "the zygote/blastocyst/embryo is considered the doctor’s real patient"

      This made me think of a really ugly analogy. Imagine a legal system where your lawyer, although claiming to you was your representative and there to protect your rights, actually represented the state and was legally required to ignore your interests in favor of those of the state. In fact, I think that's exactly how the legal system works under fascism and other authoritarian systems.

  • Well we already have nut jobs that make doctors who provide abortions anxious for their own safety; and if any of this legislation passes there will be a new bunch of anxious doctors who will have to face husbands and fathers who may consider doing very unpleasant things if a doctors decision to withhold information resulted in someone’s injury or death.

  • Interesting, I just posted a comment and it was inserted between two comments from yesterday. If I could only harness these special powers.

  • Powerful post - well said Rebecca & thankyou. I'm sharing this on facebook - would love to have a button to click to make that easier but will cut'n'paste it.

    I'd wish everyone a Happy International Women's day but in the circumstances it seems inappropriate seeing these laws and the war on women raging and leading to so much suffering so bad now.

  • Let's make it a Happy International Womens day *next year* by throwing these evil misogynist laws and the sick cruel, disgusting people promoting the women-hating anti-freedom and opportunity for all Coathanger lobby out of power and into social outcast status shall we?

  • I won't go into the ultrasound issue, because it involves a value judgment and reasonable people can fall on either side of the issue. Nothing about the debate is all that interesting except that, again, a skeptical blogger is commenting on politics exclusively from a far left-liberal viewpoint, without acknowledging the arguments of the other side.

    However, I raised my eyebrows when I saw the SB 1359 link – it didn’t go to a legitimate news source but to a left-wing advocacy site. So I searched for a legitimate news story about it, and found this AP write-up:


    Here are some quotes from the article:
    “Arizona could become the latest state to ban lawsuits similar to one filed by a Florida couple whose son was born with no arms and one leg.
    The couple sued their doctor for not detecting their son’s disabilities before he was born, arguing that if they had known, they would have elected to have an abortion. In September, a jury awarded them $4.5 million to care for the boy.”

    And this:
    “Barto said the bill will still allow “true malpractice suits” to go forward. The bill states that its restrictions would not apply to lawsuits involving an “intentional or grossly negligent act or omission,” including one that violates a criminal law.” I notice you mention this in your second edit, but since you don't link to a story quoting this, here it is.

    Here’s the kicker:
    “Planned Parenthood has no plans to weigh in on the bill, said spokeswoman Cynde Cerf.”

    Arizona would be the 10th state to pass such a law.

    If indeed women will die as a result of this public policy, as you claim, would there not already be some examples from one of the 9 states where the law is already on the books? Pennsylvania, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Idaho, Indiana, Missouri, Minnesota and North Carolina have already passed similar laws (3 of those are blue states, btw, voting for Obama in 2008). As a skeptic I go where the evidence takes me and if women are dead as a result of this law, I’ll reconsider my viewpoint that you are using hyperbole/scare tactics to make your case instead of logic/reason.

    If your argument is to the left of Planned Parenthood, you might have an extreme viewpoint. And if you’re using issue advocacy tactics (like the creationists you justifiably bemoan), you may have a flawed argument.

    Aside: I found the Claims Journal link via the Huffington Post, which even for a liberal website offers a more balanced view than Rebecca: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/09/wrongful-birth-bill-arizona-senate-abortion-bill_n_1335117.html

  • Yep. Here in Arizona it's like we're competing with Virginia, Texas, Utah, and other states in a race to the bottom. Today the state senate is hearing SB1009, which requires public schools to promote childbirth and adoption over abortion. And before that they were debating HB2036, which bans abortions after 20 weeks, denying options even in the case of fetal anomalies. Put it together with severe cutbacks in abortion access initiated by our lovely Gov. Jan Brewer, the prevalence of abstinence-only education, and our sky-high teen pregnancy rate, and it seems like we just might win this race. Ugh.

  • "Democratic Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner is the third female lawmaker to introduce a bill that would limit men's access to Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs to make a statement about the dozens of anti-abortion bills that have passed statehouses around the country over the last year." I am from Ohio (Go Buckeyes!) and lmfao when I read this. It is about time. Giving male politicians colonoscopies without an anesthetic should be required to find out if they have cranial analitis (head stuck up their ass).