Can Pro-Choice People Support the Pregnant Women Support Act?

On the 36th anniversary of Roe v Wade, Senator Bob Casey, who
opposes legal abortion, introduced what he described as a common ground
bill: The Pregnant Women Support Act. He explained, "I
believe there is more common ground in America than we might realize.
If only we focus on how we can truly help and support women who wish to
carry their pregnancies to term and how we can give them and their
babies what they really need to begin healthy and productive lives

Pro-choice people, like myself, get a little defensive over
proposals such as this, and the righteous rhetoric that accompanies
them. This legislation proposes to provide support to low-income women
who want to bring a pregnancy to term. Pro-choice elected officials
have proposed providing more support to low-income women and families
for years. But let’s put aside pride of authorship for the time being.
In the new age of conciliation we might file away such grievances in
the hopes that having the anti-choice side think it was their idea
might help get it done. That’s not to say that the Pregnant Woman Support Act is perfect — it’s not.  (It fails to mention family planning.  Planning a pregnancy is step one to having a healthy one.  And how can any proposal aimed at reducing abortion be taken seriously without including contraception?)  But it
does do a lot of great things and there are solutions for the areas
that are problematic. First let’s review its attributes:

The Pregnant Women Support Act is inspired by the belief that if
women facing unintended pregnancy are provided substantive help they
might continue, rather than terminate, a pregnancy. Two-thirds of all
women seeking abortion care report it’s because they cannot afford to
have a child. Perhaps choosing abortion because one can’t afford to
have a child is not the best choice for her.  In a perfect pro-choice
world, parenting, abortion and adoption would be equally available
options, and, importantly, none would be stigmatized. Neutralizing
income as a determining factor for what a woman does in her
reproductive life is reproductive justice. Much of the Pregnant Women
Support Act is a means to that end. For example it would provide
financial, medical, educational assistance, insurance coverage for
those in need who ordinarily would not qualify for it. A woman can get
nurse home visits, counseling, shelter, help with child care,
assistance to help her stay in school, and a lot of other services that
may broaden her choices. That’s all good.

Here’s where the problem starts for pro-choice people. The bill would:

a new pilot program for "Life Support Centers" to offer comprehensive
and supportive services for pregnant women, mothers, and children."

Life Support Centers appears to be a way, among other things, to
funnel money into crisis pregnancy centers. These have been a ruse of
pro-life activists. They are billed as places a pregnant woman can
visit  to consider all her options. But they mislead women about the
options available to them, offering up inaccurate information intended
to scare women about abortion. Misleading women is not something
pro-choice organizations or elected officials will be able to support
(nor should any self-respecting pro-lifer). Removal of the section
should be fought for vigorously.

Or alternatively, find a way to legislate out its heavy-handed
agenda. If the ideological, coercive and misleading tactics that are
the signature of crisis pregnancy centers were prohibited, there could
be a limited but legitimate role for these centers to play in the
delivery of support services. But an affirmative and explicit
disclaimer should be issued right up front.  The Pregnant Women Support
Act would be a good place to begin to insist that crisis pregnancy
centers act in a responsible way. Make  "Life Support Centers" stick to
medical facts rather than ideology.  There ought to be a "no
propaganda" agreement right up front in every common ground campaign.
Anti-abortion activists have, in several states, succeeded in passing
legislation mandating that ideological, medically inaccurate scripts be
read to patients who seek abortions services. Mandating that ideology
and inaccuracy be inserted into a medical environment, as the
anti-abortion movement has done, is ethically troublesome. But what if,
instead, the law mandated that medical and scientific accuracy be
required of ideological organizations masquerading as health centers?
An amendment to the Pregnant Women Support Act could propose that every
"Life Support Center" receiving federal funds be required to provide
medically accurate information to all it counsels and also disclose
that its mission is to convince women not to have an abortion.
Providing accurate information should be a common ground goal and
anti-abortion organizations should have no problem admitting that
convincing women not to choose abortion is their intent. Each center
would be required to read a script that include information like this:

"This is not a medical facility. There are no medical personnel on
staff. The staff of this facility is unable to diagnose complications
of pregnancy or fetal anomalies (birth defects). This facility is
staffed by people who are opposed to abortion and contraception.
Medical research shows that women who have an abortion are at no
greater risk of breast cancer, miscarriage in future pregnancies,
mental distress or any other mental or physical disorder than women who
have never had an abortion. Ultrasound images may exaggerate the size
of the embryo/fetus."  Etc.

Sprinkled throughout the Pregnant Women Support Act is the term
"counseling."  The "no propaganda" rule should apply in every instance
a woman receives counseling. (To pre-emptively address a point that
will be made by opponents of abortion: no, medically, scientifically
accepted, peer-reviewed evidence does not fall under the category of

Another area of concern is that the bill proposes to promote
adoption as an alternative to abortion. There is no doubt that the
adoption industry has changed dramatically in the last forty years, in
great part because of legal abortion. Many Americans, including women
confronting unwanted pregnancy, are not aware that the adoption choice
now offers many avenues, including open adoption. There is a real need
to update Americans’ understanding of adoption as an option for
unwanted pregnancy. But, it should not be in the context of disparaging
other choices. As the book, The Girls Who Went Away,
and even recent discussions on RH Reality Check reveal, adoption is
typically a difficult choice and many women suffer immensely by being
pressured into that option. For some women abortion is the wrong choice
and for some women adoption is the wrong choice. There is great need
for education about adoption, there’s no need to present it as an
alternative to abortion or parenting. A woman, if given comprehensive
and accurate information about all of her choices, is her own best
moral agent.

The last sticking point for pro-choice people with the bill is that
it seeks to codify the regulation that extends coverage under the State
Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to both low-income pregnant
women and unborn children. As long as pregnant women are extended
prenatal care coverage through Medicaid, this is a superfluous section
and a back-door attempt to create independent rights in law for a
fetus. This section would not prevent one abortion or make it any
easier for women to bring a pregnancy to term. It defies the
"common-ground" spirit the bill was intended to cultivate. Keeping it
in the bill could only be interpreted as a cynical attempt to co-opt
"common ground" for anti-choice purposes.

With these important changes, none of which jeopardize the true
intent of the bill, we should be prepared, for the moment, to take
Senator Casey at his word when he says he wants a common ground
approach. Senator Casey stated, "I
introduce this bill with the deepest conviction that we can find common
ground. I believe that we can transform this debate by focusing upon
the issues that unite us, not the issues that divide us."
If that is true, and these slight changes are made to the bill,
pro-choice people are a more likely constituency of support. But if
these proposals remain, common ground will not be achieved and pregnant
women won’t get the support they deserve.

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  • invalid-0

    Very good post. Very interesting

  • invalid-0

    Yes, this is a great blog.

    I especially liked this: “A woman, if given comprehensive and accurate information about all of her choices, is her own best moral agent.”

    Imagine if the entire world believed that when given comprehensive and accurate information about choices to approach any situation, human beings are their best moral agents.

    I rank that axiom right up there with “Do unto others …”


  • invalid-0

    You stated, “Medical research shows that women who have an abortion are at no greater risk of breast cancer, miscarriage in future pregnancies, mental distress or any other mental or physical disorder than women who have never had an abortion…”

    Medical research dating back to 1957 shows exactly the opposite of what you state and the medical research that has NOT shown a link between abortion and breast cancer has been analyzed in detail (10 “highly regarded” studies) by medical experts and found to be seriously, methodologically flawed. This has been brought to light and published in the medical literature as recently as 2005 and, to date, there has been no rebuttal or refutation of this information. Why not? In order to have an intelligent, meaningful dialogue about this issue (breast cancer abortion link) we must look at all of the research…not just one side or the other. In addition, the biological facts surrounding pregnancy and its effects on breast physiology unequivocally point to a link. Furthermore, there is no dispute among the medical community that abortion increases risk of premature birth and the scientific community also is in agreement that premature birth is linked to breast cancer. I respectfully suggest that you strive to be more responsible in your commentary about such and important issue.

    Thank you,
    Rebecca Curtis
    Desert Hills, Arizona

  • invalid-0

    I think honesty on both sides of the fence needs to be addressed. As an adoptee researching adoption, coercion in adoption does exist. It does come from the crisis pregnancy centers which a majority are connected to Bethany Adoption Services and other National Council for Adoption adoption agencies. At the same time, there can not be coercion on the abortion side. Both must present honest terminology and research.

  • emily-douglas

    Cristina, I really like what you say about the work the Pregnant Women Support Act does to “neutralize income as a factor” when a woman dealing with an unintended pregnancy is making decisions about what’s best for her. My concern about the PWSA is that it does not try to neutralize income because that’s the only truly liberating way for women to make use of their right to parent or seek an abortion or relinquish a child for adoption but because it’ll get women to carry a pregnancy to term. We must be careful to support reproductive justice and women’s moral agency, not try to convince women they can afford and hence ought to have a child. Do you think PWSA does enough in this regard to be considered reproductive justice?

  • cristina-page

    The following is taken directly from the National Cancer Institute website:


    "Current Knowledge: In February 2003, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) convened a workshop of over 100 of the world’s leading experts who study pregnancy and breast cancer risk. Workshop participants reviewed existing population-based, clinical, and animal studies on the relationship between pregnancy and breast cancer risk, including studies of induced and spontaneous abortions. They concluded that having an abortion or miscarriage does not increase a woman’s subsequent risk of developing breast cancer. A summary of their findings, titled Summary Report: Early Reproductive Events and Breast Cancer Workshop, can be found at ."


    So Rebecca, unless you are a greater expert on cancer than the National Cancer Institute, I respectfully suggest that you strive to be more responsible in your commenting about such and important issue.






    • invalid-0

      Just wanted to point out: anyone who refers to the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) as an authoritative medical organization, is immediately identifiable with a “pro-life” agenda. The AAPS is a conservative political group, with a mandate that seeks, among other things, to overturn Roe v. Wade, eliminate Medicare and Medicaid (which it has actually called “immoral” and “evil”), ban emergency contraception, and end all mandatory immunization programs.


      • invalid-0

        How about these references? The National Cancer Institute specifically commissioned a study by Janet Daling, a well-respected breast cancer researcher, who is admittedly pro-choice. She reported that among women who had been pregnant at least once, the risk of breast cancer in those who had experienced an induced abortion was 50% higher than among other women. Highest risk (more than double) was observed when the abortion was done at ages younger than 18 years or at least 30 years or older. The 1991 edition of “The Breast” by Bland and Copeland, an authoritative medical text used by breast disease specialists, provided documentation of a breast cancer risk for users of oral contraceptives. In its 1998 edition of the text, the authors acknowledged an abortion-breast cancer link. A record linkage case-control study in 1989 by Howe HL; Senie RT; Bzduch H; Herzfeld P, and published in 1989 in the International Journal of Epidemiology, reported a statistically significant 90 percent increased risk among post-abortive New York residents. Breast cancer rates have risen steadily among women under age 40 at time of Roe V. Wade, (and in no other age group) paralleling rising number of abortions since 1973 (U.S. government/American Cancer Society report, 2001). In November of 2007, The Actuary, a British Insurance publication published a study by Actuary Patrick Carroll whose data demonstrated abortion to be best predictor of breast cancer in eight European nations.

  • cristina-page

    Thanks Emily, you know I’m not sure "reproductive justice" is what Casey was after but, because this bill attempts to minimize income as a factor while not restricting abortion, in the end (if all the concerning pieces are addressed) I think it is a great first step toward that end.

  • equalist

    One important thing to point out I think is that adoption today is not like it was in the 1950s.  Pregnant, unwed girls and women are not whisked away to some undisclosed location to return without the baby.  Instead, today women considering adoption are in integral part of the process, and make many of the decisions, rather than just being viewed as the bodies from which adoptable babies are harvested.  With the greater options for adoption currently had, there is no reason it shouldn’t be a valuable option for today’s women, but like any option, it should be complete voluntary, and viewed only as one of many options, not so much the only one.


    Equal rights, equal responsibilities.

  • invalid-0

    Can we really find common ground without both sides recognizing a woman’s right to an abortion? I think the PWSA could be a first step in reproductive justice by providing much needed support to women who WANT to carry a pregnancy to term but don’t feel they have the resources to do so. Reproductive Justice can be served only when there is support for ALL of women’s choices. I don’t trust the common ground with folks who fundamentally don’t believe women should have the right to an abortion, but for political expediency are willing to work on reducing the number of abortions. I think those of us working for justice can agree that reducing abortions (by preventing unwanted pregnancy, for instance) isn’t problematic, but trying to reduce abortions without acknowledging that women have the right to have one without guilt or shame if that is what she feels is best for her, that is where problems start to arise.

  • alexm

    Both the pro- and anti-choice would have to change the way they advocate for reproductive rights, and a large part of that would be ideological concessions on both sides.


    However I think the time is right to give the 40 year "abortion war" a rest.  As pro choice activists, we start being unfairly seen as pro abortion every time we rally:  this is usually in response to anti choice action.  If we spent the resources on promoting the status of women as well as implementing quality sexual health care and education for everyone, we could work together to decreased the need for abortion.

    The personal is political.

  • invalid-0

    I think I have to agree with Emily on this. The way I read the bill the issue of mitigating financial expeditures is pretty much only going to get up to birth and maybe a few months beyond. What financial support is a single parent going to have when their child is three?

    Unless this country is willing to make major steps such as creating national daycare and creating a work policies that are more aligned in supporting families, I’m not sure what “provid[ing] substantive help [so that women] might continue, rather than terminate, a pregnancy” really means. To me it means “We’ll give you free health care up until birth…will that change your mind?”

    Um…hardly. And I doubt it would change any unexpectedly pregnant woman’s mind either. The cost of the birth is barely part of the mental calculus that most women go through when deciding whether or not to carry to term. Sure it’s *part* of it…but I’m sure the 18+ years of SUPPORTING A CHILD is a bigger part of the equation.

    I doubt there’s going to be any way to keep this bill from giving money to crisis pregnancy centers to keep doing “the Lord’s work.” I don’t think the trade off is worth it.

  • invalid-0

    No, I am not a cancer expert but I can read. I am a medical transcriptionist for a general surgical practice, a good portion of which is comprised of breast cancer surgery.

    It is important for people to know that the 2003 NCI workshop was convened to study the abortion breast cancer link. However, of the 100 cancer specialists invited, few if any were independent of the federal government, and they only invited one viewpoint, i.e., they looked only at studies that did not show a link. The ignored all of the studies going as far back as 1957 that did show a link. Experts in breast cancer research, such as the highly respected, Pro-Choice cancer researcher, Janet Daling, while invited to attend, was not a keynote speaker. Rather, an expert on the link between obesity and breast cancer was. Daling’s research, funded by the NCI, shows a strong link and she stands by her research as “rock-solid.” The bias of those in attendance at the workshop is illustrated by the comments of one of the NCI moderators, Dr. Leslie Bernstein: “The biggest bang for the buck is the first birth and the younger you are the better off you are”, followed by, “There are so many other messages we can give women about lifestyle modification and the impact of lifestyle and risk that I would never be a proponent of going around and telling them that having babies is the way to reduce your risk.” Then she added, “I don’t want the issue relating to induced abortion to breast cancer risk to be part of the mix of the discussion of induced abortion, its legality, its continued availability. I think it should not be part of the argument.” (Available at:

    There is a body of ten studies routinely cited by journalists and cancer fund-raising organizations as evidence there is no abortion-cancer link. The Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, however, published a critical review of these 10 studies in 2005 detailing the significant flaws in each and every one of them, concluding, therefore, that these studies cannot be used to invalidate the larger body of research that has shown a link. To date, no scientist has attempted to refute these conclusions. The obvious question, especially for someone calling for accuracy in the abortion debate, is why not? This critical review is available at

    Two of the favorites cited by those who would deny the link are the 2007 study by Michels, et al. and the 1997 Danish Melbye study. Like numerous other studies, which purport to refute the link, both are flawed methodologically. 1) Michels, et al. did not allow sufficient follow-up time between exposure to abortion and the development of breast cancer. An example that most could relate to is the folly of conducting research on a group of people who smoke cigarettes today to see whether or not they will develop lung cancer next month. 2) The Michels study also excluded cases of in situ breast cancer, which show up sooner than do cases of invasive breast cancer. 3) Michels, et al. did not adjust for miscarriages in reporting the overall statistics. By failing to adjust for it, it had the effect of lowering the risk, statistically.

    In the 1997 Danish Melbye study 60,000 women who had undergone abortions were misclassified as not having had abortions. Furthermore they began tracking breast cancer cases and abortions from different points in time. But even this flawed study found a statistically significant 89% increase in risk of breast cancer for women who have abortions after 18 weeks gestation. Journalists and others in the scientific community did not discuss this information in the literature, but when a later study by Melbye (1999) found an increased risk of breast cancer with premature birth, they effectively solidified their earlier findings showing a link (because premature birth and abortion have the same hormonal effects on the breast). The 1999 study was a superior study, the flaws in the previous study having been corrected, and they used the same database. Yet the flawed 1997 study continues to be used to deny the abortion-breast cancer link.

    Michels, et al. was funded by the NCI. Yet, ten years ago an expert from the NCI, Patricia Hartge, editorialized against the abortion-breast cancer link in the New England Journal of Medicine after the first Melbye study was published concluding, “In short, a woman need not worry about breast cancer when facing the difficult decision of whether to terminate a pregnancy.” Again, I ask if we are calling on people for a meaningful debate on abortion, we have to ask why the NCI has continued to spend millions of dollars to fund studies on the abortion-breast cancer link if no such link exists. Scientists must at least suspect a link or they would move on.

  • invalid-0

    I think the pro-choice act is a good think because not all women are married and have the finance to take care of a child on their own. and if the kids are born they will be placed in an orphanage if the mom can’t take care of them, this will ruin every kids childhood.

  • invalid-0

    nice blog
    i have many articles about pregnant(some is important)
    you can see in my blog
    see ya

  • invalid-0

    Super post, well thought out with a ton of information. Whether or not it can be supported can be pretty subjective but you certainly laid out the fine points, thanks!

  • invalid-0

    What if there is a doctor on staff? What if a nurse volunteers at a pregnancy health center? If you want to get away from ideology maybe the first thing that should be canned is the ideology that no medical staff would ever set foot in a pregnancy health center.

    The biggest need of these pregnancy health centers is ultrasound machines. As a husband of a pregnant wife, she wants nothing more than to see the baby at her appointments. Pregnancy health centers are not spreading lies by showing an ultrasound, all they are doing this showing what any woman who goes to a NORMAL DOCTOR would see. Footage of the fetus. Sounds of the heartbeat. If these are lies, or these tactics not proper for OBGYN’s, the statement you mentioned must be expanded to include every single OBGYN that practices in the US.

    Please do a little research on pregnancy health centers before you spread lies about them. I know several volunteers at these pregnancy clinics, and yes their first response is to seek ways for the mother to keep the baby. This is no different than if you schedule your first of many pregnancy appointments with a doctor. Ultrasound, heartbeat, facts. Just Facts.