Despite Overwhelming Evidence, Federal Appeals Court Upholds Law Requiring Doctors to Lie to Women


See our article on the story behind the research used in this case and find all articles about this court decision here.

If you are like me, you like to think, or at least grew up thinking, that judges are smart, impartial people who see through ideology to seek truth and justice for the greater good.

That assumption has been shattered numerous times in recent years, and the shards of respect for courts as a bastion of human rights and sanity were, for me at least, further crushed with a ruling yesterday by a federal appeals court that upholds a South Dakota law requiring, among other things, that doctors lie to women seeking an abortion.

As reported in the StarTribune Nation, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals found yesterday by a vote of 7 to 4 that South Dakota can require doctors to warn women that they face an increased risk of suicide if they have an abortion, even though they don’t.

The state, in supporting the law passed seven years ago, [submitted] several studies published in peer-reviewed medical journals to demonstrate a “statistically significant correlation between abortion and suicide.” Planned Parenthood relied on another study to argue its belief that certain underlying factors, such as mental health issues, predispose women to have both unwanted pregnancies and suicidal tendencies.

As the StarTribune notes: “The four dissenting judges said multiple studies cited failed to take into account factors such as pre-existing mental health issues, domestic violence and a young age at the time of pregnancy.”

“The most reliable evidence in the record shows that abortion does not have a causal relationship to the risk of suicide and that South Dakota’s mandated advisory is not truthful, but actually misleading,” Circuit Judge Diana Murphy wrote for the dissenting side.

But the majority opinion states:

“On its face, the suicide advisory presents neither an undue burden on abortion rights nor a violation of physicians’ free speech rights,” the court wrote in its majority opinion.

This could be re-written to say: “On its face, lying to women….”.  Because this is what the law constitutes: Legally-mandated lying. It takes out of the hands of physicians their duty to their patients to rely on the best available evidence and science, and on standards of medical practice developed by those who actually know what they are doing, and creates a mandate developed by right-wing legislators who show they will stop at nothing to undermine the most basic rights of women.

Creating and disseminating false “medical findings” on everything from abortion and depression and suicide, to abortion and breast cancer, to abortion and “fetal pain” are key to the strategy of the anti-choice movement. Under the guise of “informed consent,” they are forcing doctors to use fake or manipulated data to misinform women who simply do not want to or can not continue a pregnancy. Every one of the claims listed above and others have been debunked by medical professionals and bodies ranging from the World Health Organization to the Amercian College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to the American Cancer Society and National Cancer Institute to the American Pediatric Association. But never mind that: The court considered and gave weight to junk science to reach a decision that disconnects real evidence from law and real medicine from women’s lives.

For example, in December 2011, we reported that the United Kingdom Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AMRC) published the world’s largest, most comprehensive and systematic review of mental health outcomes and abortion care. The review included 44 high-quality studies done in developed countries and published between 1990 and 2011. The findings?

Having an abortion does not increase the risk of mental health problems. “The best current evidence,” according to the Academy, “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.”

A commentary on the study published in the December 17th of the British Medical Journal, The Lancet notes:  “Past studies on the effect of an induced abortion on mental health have been mixed in terms of their quality, findings, and interpretation. Some have shown no harm while others have found associations with mental disorders.”

In March, we reported on another “abortion-mental health” study debunked, this time by the University of California-San Francisco Department of Psychiatry.

It is clear that the majority in the 8th circuit decision are either ill-equipped to understand or disinterested in understanding what is real and what is fake medical and psychological evidence on abortion and mental health

In a statement, Sarah Stoesz, president of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota said she is “extremely disappointed” by the federal court ruling, adding that no reputable scientific evidence shows a cause-effect relationship between abortion and suicide.

“This ruling by the 8th Circuit Court represents the greatest intrusion by the government into the patient doctor relationship to date,” she said.

Of course, as ideology increasingly trumps science in our made-for-Orwell society, you can expect more intrusion into your personal life and more “evidence” trumped up by religious fundamentalists and anti-choice fanatics bent on controlling your life from “conception to natural death.” Even though they are lying.

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  • stacey-burns

    You know what DOES cause suicidal thoughts? Unwanted pregnancy with no way out.

    Oh, and even wanted pregnancy. So I guess that women need to be screened for suicide risk before getting pregnant…

  • therealistmom

    Having the abortion eliminated my suicidal thoughts at the time. Being 15 and unable to face a pregnancy at the time and all- I guess it would have been better to off myself and kill me AND the 9 week fetus right?

  • idiolect

    If I were a doctor I would say, ” The law requires me to say you are at increased risk for suicide if you have an abortion. This is not true but I am required to say it by law.”  Fight speech with more speech at all times

  • idiolect

    If I were a doctor I would say, ” The law requires me to say you are at increased risk for suicide if you have an abortion. This is not true but I am required to say it by law.” Always fight speech with more speech.