Speaking of Women's Rights: The "Doctor" Will See You in a Moment. Well, Not Exactly.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The "Doctor" Will See You in a Moment. Well, Not Exactly.

Imagine going into a car dealership and being told the automobile you covet has only 25,000 miles on it. You joyfully close the purchase, only to discover that the odometer had been rolled back, and the car has actually been driven more than 100,000 miles. Could that happen? Not under Washington law, and if it did, you’d be able to sue the dealership and recover for your losses.

Now picture yourself walking into a clinic to see if you are pregnant. You aren’t sure what you will do if you are; you just want to understand all your options and the possible ramifications of pregnancy. The person in the white coat who greets you takes your urine sample, tells you it will be some time before she can give you results, and then starts telling you:

· Your risk of breast cancer almost doubles after one abortion
· 28% of women attempt suicide after an abortion
· The AIDS virus easily slips through condoms

Two hours later, she tells you the results of your test, but she won’t give you anything in writing to verify those results. She tells you the clinic reserves the right to withhold test results if they believe the woman would use the results to obtain an abortion. (And did I mention the ‘lab analysis’ was actually an over-the-counter home pregnancy test the volunteer conducted on your sample?)

Do you have any recourse? Nope.

Can someone explain to me why we are more protected when buying a car than when trying to find out if we are pregnant, and deciding what to do about it? Every one of the statements above, and more, have been documented at Limited Services Pregnancy Centers (also called Crisis Pregnancy Centers) in Washington and around the country.

And they are FALSE. The myth of links between abortion and breast cancer has long since been debunked by the U.S. National Cancer Institute. A December 2009 article in American Psychologist, the official publication of the American Psychological Association, comprehensively evaluated studies on abortion and mental health, and concluded that the risk of adverse mental health complications after abortion is no greater than after carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term. And please, we know condoms are the most effective method of preventing transmission of sexually transmitted infections for people engaging in intercourse. So give that one a rest, already!

Seriously, though: what does it mean that we tolerate risking the health of women by permitting these ‘clinics’ --- most of which do not have medical personnel, do not comply with federal health privacy laws, do not tell the truth, affirmatively lie to and mislead women and their partners --- to operate completely free from regulation? It just doesn’t make sense.

Legal Voice and our allies are asking the Washington Legislature to pass Senate Bill 6452, which would impose reasonable requirements on these centers: disclose what services they do and do not perform; protect the privacy of health care information they collect; provide the pregnancy test results immediately, not hours later after they’ve scolded, scared and misled the woman; and protect consumer health by requiring that all reproductive health information be medically accurate.

Here at Legal Voice we’ve spent nearly six years researching the activities of these centers, and exploring ways to protect women’s health and rights when they enter one. This bill would make Washington the first state in the country to regulate these centers and ensure the public health is protected, so that women get accurate information and can make decisions based on medical reality and their own moral and ethical beliefs.

It won’t put these centers out of business, and that’s not our goal. They’re entitled to proselytize about their beliefs. But they’re not entitled to lie to or mislead women, or refuse to give women information about their own test results. Just as we require sexuality education in our public schools to be medically accurate, it’s appropriate to require these centers, which claim to be clinics with medical information and procedures, to be up-front about their mission and to honor women’s health and privacy.

If you’d like your health rights – and those of the women you care for – to be as protected in these centers as you are on the lot of a car dealership, contact your Washington state Senator and Representatives and ask them to support SB 6452 if --- make that when --- it comes before them.