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The Hypocrisy of "Informed Consent" Abortion Laws

Written by Angi Becker Stevens for - News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Like most people, I don’t spend much time going through my state’s legislative website, reading the actual language of our state laws. When researching the recently proposed abortion restrictions here in Michigan, though, I felt compelled to read the actual abortion regulations as they currently stand—not just a summary, but the actual word of the law. I expected something cold and formal; legal language offering at least a surface-level impression of impartiality. So I was surprised to find, instead, that even the word of the law is actually dripping with rhetoric—and specifically, that it’s nauseatingly constructed on the premise of being “pro-woman.”

Here in Michigan (and I’m sure similar wording exists in many states), our law reads:

“The knowledgeable exercise of a woman's decision to have an abortion depends on the extent to which the woman receives sufficient information to make an informed choice regarding abortion,”


“The decision to obtain an abortion is an important and often stressful one, and it is in the state's interest that the decision be made with full knowledge of its nature and consequences,”


“The receipt of accurate information about abortion and its alternatives is essential to the physical and psychological well-being of a woman considering an abortion.”

This notion of informed consent is the justification for a 24-hour waiting period, during which time a physician must, among other things, “provide the patient with a physical copy of a medically accurate depiction, illustration, or photograph and description of a fetus supplied by the department of community health at the gestational age nearest the probable gestational age of the patient's fetus.”

In the portion of the text aimed at the department of the community health, strict guidelines are set for the specifications of these “educational” materials, ordering the department to:

“Produce medically accurate depictions, illustrations, or photographs of the development of a human fetus that indicate by scale the actual size of the fetus at 2-week intervals from the fourth week through the twenty-eighth week of gestation. Each depiction, illustration, or photograph shall be accompanied by a printed description, in nontechnical English, Arabic, and Spanish, of the probable anatomical and physiological characteristics of the fetus at that particular state of gestational development,” and to “state that as the result of an abortion, some women may experience depression, feelings of guilt, sleep disturbance, loss of interest in work or sex, or anger.”

On a certain level, I can see where the language is almost difficult to argue with: who wants to challenge the idea of merely informinga woman as much as possible about a medical procedure she’s about to undergo?

The kicker, of course, is that there are no laws regulating the specific information that must be given to a patient before undergoing most other medical procedures, even those which are far more invasive and risky than abortion. As most of us who are concerned with reproductive rights are well aware, this language of “informed consent” merely serves as a thinly veiled attempt at shaming women who seek abortion, a shaming made all the more hypocritical when carried out in the supposed name of women’s health and safety. ... Read more