State-Issued Pamphlet On Abortion Contains Many Medical Inaccuracies [UPDATED]

Texas law requires that abortion providers hand out a booklet that, critics say, is filled with medical inaccuracies.
Texas law requires that abortion providers hand out a booklet that, critics say, is filled with medical inaccuracies.
Monica Fuentes/Phil Roeder via Flickr creative commons

“You are pregnant and want to know everything you can about the options you have. You have a right to know the truth.”

Those are the opening lines of A Woman's Right to Know, an informational booklet that Texas abortion providers must pass to women seeking an abortion, which was updated on Monday. The goal of the pamphlet is to provide an overview of what abortion entails – how the pregnancy and the procedure works, its side effects and possible alternatives – so that a woman is fully informed if she chooses to end her pregnancy.

That's the goal, anyways. In practice, A Woman's Right to Know has long been criticized for repeating various medical inaccuracies.

A draft of the new A Woman's Right to Know text was previously published for public comment, according to the Texas Tribune. (The booklet was first created after Texas legislators passed a 2003 law designed to ensure that a woman has “informed consent” when she decides to have an abortion; it's periodically updated.) Nearly a third of that draft's statements were medically inaccurate, according to the Informed Consent Project, a research team from Rutgers University.

“This pamphlet is riddled with errors and promotes misinformation designed to stigmatize abortion and dissuade women from making their own decisions about their health care,” Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said in an emailed statement. “The state health agency should not be in the business of providing propaganda and interfering in the doctor-patient relationship.”

One of the biggest inaccuracies in A Woman's Right to Know, which has remained in the newest edition of the pamphlet, is the debunked claim that abortion is linked to a risk of breast cancer. “If you give birth to your baby, you are less likely to develop breast cancer in the future,” the booklet reads. “Research indicates that having an abortion will not provide you this increased protection against breast cancer. In addition, doctors and scientists are actively studying the complex biology of breast cancer to understand whether abortion may affect the risk of breast cancer.”

But according to the American Cancer Society, that might be simplifying the situation. Yes, the more pregnancies you carry to term, the more the risk of breast cancer goes down. And yes, if you have a full-term pregnancy before you turn 20 then you have a lower risk of breast cancer than women who never carry a pregnancy to term, or who do so after 30. However, if you have a full-term pregnancy after 30, you may face a higher risk of breast cancer than if you never gave birth at all.

Furthermore, scientists seem to have already settled the question of whether an abortion can cause a higher risk of breast cancer – and the answer is no. The confusion, according to the National Cancer Institute, may stem from earlier, flawed studies that found inconsistent results when testing whether abortion or miscarriages were associated with a higher risk of breast cancer. Newer, better designed research has found no relationship among the three.

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A Woman's Right to Know also repeatedly highlights the possibility of dying from abortion. While this is possible, out of the thousands of women who receive abortions in Texas every year, only two are reported to have died from them between 2005 and 2014, according to Department of State Health Services data.

Interestingly, the pamphlet also advises that if a woman feels pressured to have an abortion, she should – among other options such as talking to a doctor or counselor – “ask for a phone to call 9-1-1 for immediate help.” Officials at the Combined Law Enforcement of Texas took issue with this, telling the Houston Chronicle that Texas police are already short-staffed and thus unlikely to be immediately able to come to a woman's aid.

Update: UltraViolet, a national women's rights group that aims to fight sexism through grassroots organizing campaigns, has reignited its petition demanding that the Texas Department of State Health Services remove the medically inaccurate information from A Woman's Right to Know. In a Thursday press release, UltraViolet co-founder Shaunna Thomas said, “It seems that Texas officials just can’t get enough of pushing bold-faced, scientifically disproven lies onto women in order to move their own anti-abortion agendas forward. It’s time to change the rulebook and provide all women with medically factual and accurate information. It’s the least they deserve.”


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