On Monday, Texas’ health department released a new version of a 13-year-old pamphlet meant to educate women about abortion. But health experts say this update is even more medically inaccurate than its dated predecessor — and serves more as a piece of political “propaganda” than educational tool.
Abortion doctors in Texas have been required by law to give an informational pamphlet to women seeking an abortion 24 hours before having the procedure since 2003. The law, however, mandated the text be “objective and nonjudgmental and be designed to convey only accurate scientific information.” This isn’t reflected in the newest version, according to medical experts.
“The information in the brochure is biased and the risks presented are primarily the risks of abortion,” write R. Moss Hampton, chair of the Texas District American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and Kimberly Carter, president of the Texas Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, in their response to health department’s first draft of the published pamphlet.
Instead of balancing the risks associated with both abortion and carrying a pregnancy to term, the two argued, the state falsely paints abortion as a much riskier procedure.
The pamphlet, titled “A Woman’s Right to Know,” gives women an incremental guide to fetal development. Members of a Rutgers University research team have found 30 percent of statements in this section to be medically inaccurate — and nearly half of all statements on first trimester development to be untrue. The text shows heart and brain development taking place far too early in fetal development, and uses the term “your baby” 79 times throughout the pamphlet — an unscientific term that no scientists use to describe a two-week old embryo.
Risks of abortion include death, suicide, and depression, according to the pamphlet. But it fails to mention that death associated with childbirth is approximately 12 times more common than abortion-related death — and how postpartum depression affects nearly 1 million women each year.
And instead of redacting now-debunked information linking abortion to breast cancer, state health officials make it sound like a proven guarantee: “If you give birth to your baby, you are less likely to develop breast cancer in the future,” the text reads.
It’s now been over a decade since the National Cancer Institute confirmed, along with dozens of international reproductive health and cancer experts, that having an abortion or miscarriage does not increase a woman’s breast cancer risk.
Additional inaccuracies include the claim that “babies develop the ability to feel pain while in the womb” at 20 weeks gestation. Despite conservative lawmakers pushing this idea to inform anti-abortion laws, there is no conclusive evidence that fetuses feel pain this early into a pregnancy.
There is, however, a mountain of evidence showing just how burdensome anti-abortion laws are to women living in Texas — burdens that the U.S. Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional in June.
But along with reading this pamphlet, women seeking an abortion in Texas are still required by law to get a medically unnecessary sonogram, have the fetus’ features described to them by a doctor, and listen to its heartbeat. A woman must then wait at least 24 hours to “consider all the facts” before returning to the clinic to get the abortion procedure. Doctors and women’s health advocates have said this law, pushed by far-right lawmakers, is only an attempt to shame and persuade women out of making their own decisions about their body.
Over the summer, the state health department received around 5,000 comments from Texans about the proposed pamphlet text. Reproductive health advocates said they were disappointed Tuesday to see that the text had remained largely unchanged.
“This is the latest example of the state ignoring the concerns of its citizens and the medical community by playing politics with people’s health care,” said Heather Busby, director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, in a press release.
“Texans deserve medically accurate information when making private health care decisions.”