Why the March for Science Matters to Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice

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Commentary Science

Why the March for Science Matters to Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice

Lynn Paltrow

We must demand that laws and policies affecting people with the capacity for pregnancy be based on science, not myths, misinformation, and prejudice.

Anyone who cares about maternal and reproductive health should demonstrate on April 22 with the March for Science. Organizers describe the event as “the first step of a global movement to defend the vital role science plays in our health, safety, economies, and governments.” This movement is also our movement, because the war on science and evidence-based research is also a war on reproductive health, rights, and justice.

In the context of abortion, legislators have passed scores of laws around the country based on non-science. Many of these laws require health-care providers to inform patients of risks that have no basis in scientific research, such as the claim that abortion increases the chances of breast cancer, suicide, and nonexistent mental health syndromes.

Meanwhile, Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws, which have forced the closure of numerous abortion clinics, are rooted in the unsupported claim that such policies are needed to protect women’s health. In one fortunate example of science winning out, the U.S. Supreme Court in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt in 2016 struck down such regulations in Texas, finding that “there was no significant health-related problem that the [provisions] helped to cure.” Unfortunately, similar TRAP laws remain on the books in many other states. And every year, lawmakers introduce new bills restricting abortion that lack scientific foundation and medical justification.

In another significant rejection of science, more and more federal and state tax dollars are funding fake clinics, also known as “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs), which flagrantly deny truths about abortion, pregnancy, and contraception. According to  NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, which investigated CPCs in the state, such untruths include the claim that “condoms don’t work.” Another untruth, addressed by television show host Samantha Bee in a segment about “gynecological grift,” is that having an abortion will make women unable to get pregnant in the future. CPCs also generally fail to communicate facts about the risks of continuing a pregnancy term.

Roe has collapsed and Texas is in chaos.

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Indeed, science and evidence-based research is also often ignored when it comes to health care during labor and delivery. For example, numerous hospitals disregard the evidence-based research concerning the safety and benefits of vaginal delivery (even after a previous cesarean birth) and, instead promote unnecessary cesarean surgery. In some cases, they force or coerce women into having such surgery. Similarly ignored are numerous studies documenting the value of midwifery and the uselessness of continuous electronic fetal monitoring that limits pregnant women’s ability to move during labor.

Meanwhile, hundreds of women have been arrested and charged with crimes in relationship to their pregnancies due to spurious medical claims and long-debunked tests. For example, women who have experienced stillbirths have been arrested and convicted of such crimes as homicide and neglect of a dependent based on the discredited “lung float test.”  Moreover, hundreds of arrests and convictions of pregnant women and new mothers have been based on the “crack baby” myth and other scientifically unsupported assertions about unique and devastating harm from certain drugs. Such alarmist and discredited claims continue to be used to justify punitive policies that set precedents for punishing women, whether they go to term, have an abortion, or experience a pregnancy loss.

And every day in the United States, child welfare agencies are removing children from their mothers following unconfirmed, nonconsensual drug tests that have no true value for determining either drug dependency or parental ability. As the U.S. Department of Justice explained more than 20 years ago, a “positive test result, even when confirmed, only indicates that a particular substance is present in the test subject’s body tissue. It does not indicate abuse or addiction; recency, frequency, or amount of use; or impairment.”

We must demand that laws and policies affecting people with the capacity for pregnancy be based on science, not myths, misinformation, and prejudice. So, whether you are focused on preserving the right to choose abortion, are an advocate for the rights and dignity of women in childbirth, are fighting inappropriate, family-destroying child welfare interventions, or are just committed to the civil and human rights of pregnant persons—we hope to see you at a March for Science.