After months of meetings, drafts, and public comment periods, Texas is finally unveiling its controversial Informed Consent brochure that will be given to women considering an abortion. The premise for the brochure is scientifically invalid, since anyone undergoing any form of surgical operation already has to sign a waiver detailing the risks of the procedure. But to help the women of Texas, State Representative Frank Corte (R-San Antonio) last year authored HB-15, which mandated the creation of the booklet. `See story, "Misinforming consent," November 13-19, 2003.` It's not that Informed Consent is inherently bad - but it is an issue when the information is dead wrong, and sneaked into the booklet.
Texas is now the first state to warn women that having an abortion increases the risk that their future babies will have cerebral palsy. The warning states that women who have four or more abortions have an "800 percent increase in the risk of extremely premature births." The leap-frogging logic implies that since extremely premature births are more likely to have developmental disabilities, if you have an abortion, your future babies could end up retarded. Scary stuff - if you don't understand the science.
Where did this warning come from? It wasn't in the final draft of the booklet, which was approved by the Texas Department of Health Board of Health on October 30. A panel of six doctors met four times to review the materials - it wasn't mentioned then. The warning was submitted during the public comment period by one of the doctors on the panel - Dr. Martha Garza, a pro-lifer. Her "edited" version of final draft was submitted to the Board of Health for consideration, along with briefs submitted by groups like Planned Parenthood and the Texas Medical Association contesting the booklet's scientific inaccuracies. Garza's edits made it into the final version - the TMA's did not. "Ancedote consistently trumped scientific evidence," states Dr. Kimberly Carter of the TMA. "We were very disappointed with the professional inaccuracies." Statements in the brochure were "technically correct," Carter noted, "but not qualified." In other words, TDH strung together a series of statements to make the case for its agenda.
Start at the first lilypad to follow the leap-frogging of the cerebral palsy link: Women with four or more abortions are more likely to have premature births. This is correlation, not causation. The "study" upon which this claim is based is a review of three foreign medical studies that state there is no link between abortion and subsequent birth defects. The study's authors argue in their two-page review that the foreign studies are wrong, but did no research of their own to prove it. The journal is not listed in the standard reference for doctors; it's not peer-reviewed.
Based on this evidence, Dr. Garza insisted that the Informed Consent brochure be modified. Explains Vicki Cowling of the TDH, "She felt very strongly that this info be in there." Dr. Garza made other suggestions that were included in the final version of the brochure, including references to "fetal pain" during the procedure, which were shot down by the panel of doctors who okayed the final draft as unsupported by science. Now, a medical abortion, caused by taking a pill like RU486, is described in such misleading terms as taking "hours to days," and the subsequent bleeding "can last up to three weeks or more." Although the panel of doctors had decided not to describe "partial-birth abortion," a rare procedure used only in emergencies, Dr. Garza's grisly description of the procedure appears verbatim in the brochure. Statements that have no medical function - such as a warning that on the "anniversary of an abortion," a woman may have "serious psychological effects," were added at Dr. Garza's behest.
But Dr. Garza was not the only one to make last-minute additions to the booklet. Kathi Seay, Rep. Corte's aide, suggested that a mention of the Baby Moses law be added to the booklet. On the last page of the pink booklet emblazoned with flowers, women are advised that, if "weighed down by the job of being a parent," they can drop their baby off at any safe location without being charged with a crime. In the past few weeks, two babies were dropped off at San Antonio fire stations. With an Informed Consent booklet that scares, misinforms, and emotionally manipulates women considering an abortion, those scenarios might become more common in the future. •