Stearns Bill Would Subsidize Misinformation On Women’s Health Choices

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As part of the national Republican campaign against a woman’s right to choose, Congressman Cliff Stearns hasn’t just voted to defund women’s health care in the form of Planned Parenthood clinics, but he’s introduced his own “alternative.” Stearns’ so-called Informed Choice Act, as you might expect, has nothing to do with truly informing anyone. Stearns’ bill is written to steer federal grants, our tax dollars, to facilities known as “crisis pregnancy centers.” Here are the details via Mother Jones:

The preamble of Stearns’ bill makes it sound as though any nonprofit, tax-exempt organization could apply to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for grants to purchase ultrasound equipment. But the bill comes with stipulations. To be eligible for this grant, a facility would have to show every woman seeking services the ultrasound image and describe to them the “general anatomical and physiological description of the characteristics of the fetus.” The facility would be required to provide women with “alternatives to abortion such as childbirth and adoption and information concerning public and private agencies that will assist in those alternatives.” It also must offer its services free of charge. That last condition would disqualify abortion providers, such as Planned Parenthood, which charges on a sliding scale based on a woman’s income.

So what exactly is the problem with these facilities – these crisis pregnancy centers? Unfortunately, they’re not places where women can receive accurate information about all their health care options. They’re tools of anti-choice extremists designed specifically to misinform and in some cases, frighten women. A 2006 report to the Committee on Government Reform (.pdf) revealed the numerous ways this happens.

The centers provided false and misleading information about a link between abortion and breast cancer. There is a medical consensus that induced abortion does not cause an increased risk of breast cancer. Despite this consensus, eight centers told the caller that having an abortion would in fact increase her risk. One center said that “all abortion causes an increased risk of breast cancer in later years.” Another claimed that research shows a “far greater risk” of breast cancer after an abortion, telling the caller that an abortion would “affect the milk developing in her breasts” and that the risk of breast cancer increased by as much as 80% following an abortion.

The centers provided false and misleading information about the effect of abortion on future fertility. Abortions in the first trimester, using the most common abortion procedure, do not pose an increased risk for future fertility. However, seven centers told the caller that having an abortion could hurt her chances of having children in the future. One center said that damage from abortion could lead to “many miscarriages” or to “permanent damage” so “you wouldn’t be able to carry,” telling the caller that this is “common” and happens “a lot.” Another center said, “In the future you could have trouble conceiving another baby” because of scar tissue, a side effect of abortion that happens to “a lot of women.”

The centers provided false and misleading information about the mental health effects of abortion. Research shows that significant psychological stress after an abortion is no more common than after birth. However, thirteen centers told the caller that the psychological effects of abortion are severe, long-lasting, and common. One center said that the suicide rate in the year after an abortion “goes up by seven times.” Another center said that post-abortion stress suffered by women having abortions is “much like” that seen in soldiers returning from Vietnam and “is something that anyone who’s had an abortion is sure to suffer from.” Other centers said that abortion can cause “guilt, … sexual problems, … suicidal ideas, … drug use, eating disorders,” and “a downward spiral where they lose friends and family members.”

The individuals who contact federally funded pregnancy resource centers are often vulnerable teenagers, who are susceptible to being misled and need medically accurate information to help them make a fully informed decision. The vast majority of pregnancy resource centers contacted for this report, however, provided false or misleading information about the health risks of an abortion. This may advance the mission of the pregnancy resource centers, which are typically pro-life organizations dedicated to preventing abortion, but it is an inappropriate public health practice.

So once again, Congressman Stearns is caught putting extreme right wing ideology over practical policy that would actually help people. Stearns should be working to create jobs and ease foreclosures in Marion County. Instead, we get this garbage. Women throughout our community should be outraged by this.