Louisiana Bill May Force Women To Read Pamphlets Warning Of "Psychological Impacts" Before They Can Get Abortions

On the surface, this isn't a terrible idea. Patients need to be able to participate in any medical procedure, including abortion, with informed consent. But there's more to it than that.
Publish date:
May 2, 2014
mental illness, abortion, anti-abortion, TRAP laws

You know that myth about how abortion causes mental illness? Yeah, that one, the one anti-choicers like to trot out when they're "defending the unborn" so they can say they're just looking out for the wellbeing of women and hate to think of a plague of perfectly preventable post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and, you know, other handwavey bad brain stuff.

Well, Louisiana wants to force women to read a pamphlet all about abortion and mental illness before they can get abortions, with a bill that just passed the House and is moving on up to the Senate. HB1262, "Provides relative to information to be conveyed to a woman prior to abortion," requires doctors to hand out a pamphlet 24 hours before an abortion can take place with information about the risks of abortion. If it passes, Louisiana would become the 25th state with a similar requirement.

On the surface, this isn't a terrible idea. Patients need to be able to participate in any medical procedure, including abortion, with informed consent. It is important for them to understand the (extremely low) complications associated with abortion. The pamphlet is also specifically required to cover coerced abortion, which, while rare, does happen -- and patients should know that there are resources available to help them if they do not want an abortion. Furthermore, there's a section reaching out to possible human trafficking victims to provide them with resources, as any clinical contact could represent a possible chance to seek help.

The most disturbing element of the pamphlet, though, is this requirement: "The legislature hereby declares that women of this state have a right to know that undergoing an abortion may have serious psychological impacts, including severe emotional distress and mental and behavioral health afflictions."

So... unsurprisingly, there have actually been a lot of studies on this subject.

The best current evidence suggests that it makes no difference to a woman’s mental health whether she chooses to have an abortion or to continue with the pregnancy. (source)

The relative risk of a psychiatric contact did not differ significantly after abortion as compared with before abortion. (source)

Difficulty with the abortion decision and the degree to which the pregnancy had been planned were most important for women's postabortion emotional state. Experiencing negative emotions postabortion is different from believing that abortion was not the right decision. (source)

Researchers tackling the subject of pregnancy, abortion, and mental health have found that, generally speaking, the risk factors you need to worry about are having an unwanted pregnancy (wow, shocker there), post-partum depression, and pregnancy loss. Abortion doesn't really seem to have much of an effect on mental health -- and while women can experience negative emotions about their abortions, such as regret or sorrow, they can still firmly believe it was the right decision to make at the time.

The notion that abortion causes mental health problems is an outright lie, and it bothers me. It bothers me because it's being used to create yet another barrier for women who are just trying to make the right decisions for themselves and their bodies. It also bothers me because of the implications about mental health, and the reinforcement of stigma about mental health conditions -- don't get an abortion, you'll go crazy.

This bill isn't about caring for women or ensuring the best outcome for patients. It's not about securing informed consent and making sure people are aware of all their options. It's purely and simply about trying to limit the number of abortions: women have to read a scaremongering pamphlet, and they need to undergo a 24 hour waiting period. That's two appointments for a procedure that should take one, with a waiting period making it difficult for people who might be traveling to get abortions, or needing to make arrangements to care for children and other family members, or to get coverage at work.

As if this wasn't bad enough, the pamphlet will be written by a 14 person committee composed entirely of anti-choice people: "Ivey's bill calls for the pamphlets to be developed by a committee that includes state senators and representatives as well as people who counsel women against having abortions. No abortion providers or mental health professionals that recommend abortions would be allowed on the panel."

Furthermore, the list of post-abortion mental health and counseling resources included in the pamphlet cannot include abortion providers, pro-choice mental health professionals, or even people affiliated with abortion providers, according to the bill. This entire bill is just a giant "fuck you" to Louisiana women and their freedom of choice. You can't make a choice when you're provided with misinformation and lies and told that this is the truth, and when you can't access nonbiased counseling.

Crisis pregnancy centers, anti-choice "counselors," and others provide only one option: keep the pregnancy. Pro-choice counselors, medical professionals, and mental health professionals offer lots of options, of which abortion is only one, and encourage patients to decide on the path that's right for them. Nanny-state bills like this one want to deny women their autonomy, and they're part of the wave of anti-abortion legislation that just keeps breaking over the United States.

Clinics are already legally and ethically obligated to provide patients with detailed information about abortions before the procedure. They're already required to secure informed consent, report child abuse, and address suspected cases of coerced abortion with sensitivity. This law isn't addressing an unmet need that endangers women: instead, it's doing just the opposite, creating yet another obstacle for women and endangering their ability to communicate clearly and honestly with their health care providers.

Some patients absolutely do need counseling and the ability to talk to someone after an abortion, which is why there are services like Exhale, why there are abortion doulas, why counselors are ready to talk to people who need help processing their emotions after an abortion. To say that abortion will make people mentally ill is a lie, and it's insulting -- and it detracts from the very real suffering of people who experience emotional distress (which is not the same thing as mental illness) over their abortions.