Reproductive rights advocates are calling for changes to information forced on pregnant people seeking abortion services, thanks to a Texas mandate.
Texas lawmakers passed the Texas Woman’s Right to Know Act in 2003, which requires abortion providers to inform pregnant people of the medical risks associated with abortion care, as well as the probable gestational age of the fetus and the medical risks of carrying a pregnancy to term.
The “A Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet, published by the state, has not been updated or revised since it was first made public in 2003. The pamphlet includes the medically dubious link between abortion care and breast cancer, among other medical inaccuracies common in anti-choice literature.
The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) in June published a revised draft version of the pamphlet. The draft version of “A Woman’s Right to Know” was published online, and proposed revisions are available for public comment until Friday.
John Seago, spokesperson for the anti-choice Texas Right to Life, told KUT that the pamphlet was created so pregnant people have accurate information before they consent to receiving abortion care.
“This is a booklet that’s not going to be put in the hands of experts, it’s not going to be put in the hands of OB-GYNs or scientists–it’s going to be put in the hands of women who will range in education, will range in background, and we want this booklet to be user-friendly enough that anyone can read this booklet and be informed,” he said.
Reproductive rights advocates charge that the information in the pamphlet presented an anti-abortion bias and includes factually incorrect information.
More than 34 percent of the information found in the previous version of the state’s “A Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet was medically inaccurate, according to a study by a Rutgers University research team.
State lawmakers and activists held a press conference Wednesday outside the DSHS offices in Austin and delivered nearly 5,000 Texans’ comments to the agency.
Kryston Skinner, an organizer with the Texas Equal Access Fund, spoke during the press conference about her experience having an abortion in Texas, and how the state-mandated pamphlet made her feel stigmatized.
Skinner told Rewire that the pamphlet “causes fear” in pregnant people who are unaware that the pamphlet is rife with misinformation. “It’s obviously a deterrent,” Skinner said. “There is no other reason for the state to force a medical professional to provide misinformation to their patients.”
State Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) said in a statement that the pamphlet is the “latest shameful example” of Texas lawmakers playing politics with reproductive health care. “As a former registered nurse, I find it outrageous that the state requires health professionals to provide misleading and coercive information to patients,” Howard said.
Howard, vice chair of the Texas House Women’s Health Caucus, vowed to propose legislation that would rid the booklet of its many inaccuracies if DSHS fails to take the thousands of comments into account, according to the Austin Chronicle.
Lawmakers in several states have passed laws mandating that states provide written materials to pregnant people seeking abortion services. These so-called informed consent laws often require that the material include inaccurate or misleading information pushed by legislators and organizations that oppose legal abortion care.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) sent a letter to DSHS that said the organization has “significant concerns with some of the material and how it is presented.”
Among the most controversial statements made in the pamphlet is the claim that “doctors and scientists are actively studying the complex biology of breast cancer to understand whether abortion may affect the risk of breast cancer.”
Texas Right to Life said in a statement that the organization wants the DSHS include “stronger language” about the supposed correlation between abortion and breast cancer. The organization wants the pamphlet to explicitly cite “the numerous studies that indicate undergoing an elective abortion contributes to the incidence of breast cancer in women.”
Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University Place) said in a statement that the state should provide the “most accurate science available” to pregnant people seeking an abortion. “As a breast cancer survivor, I am disappointed that DSHS has published revisions to the ‘A Woman’s Right to Know’ booklet that remain scientifically and medically inaccurate,” Davis said.
The link between abortion and cancer has been repeatedly debunked by scientific research.
“Scientific research studies have not found a cause-and-effect relationship between abortion and breast cancer,” according to the American Cancer Society.
A report by the National Cancer Institute explains, “having an abortion or miscarriage does not increase a woman’s subsequent risk of developing breast cancer.”
DSHS spokesperson Carrie Williams told the Texas Tribune that the original booklet was written by a group of agency officials, legislators and public health and medical professionals.
“We carefully considered medical and scientific information when updating the draft booklet,” Williams said.