South Dakota's 'Informed Consent' Abortion Law Doesn't Go Far Enough
Shouldn't informed consent be required of everyone who will be making decisions in matters of life or death?
South Dakota's pre-abortion informed consent requirements are incomplete. Those doctors should be required to provide more warnings during this last-minute disclosure session.When I first read the story about South Dakota's "informed consent" law backed by anti-choice zealots, I was appalled. Imagine requiring doctors, prior to performing an abortion, to "read to each patient, pausing to make sure she understands and signs each page" of a consent form that reviews the potential side effects and risks of having an abortion: it could make her suicidal, cause her psychological distress, and/or cause infection, infertility and even death.
This questionable law is being reviewed right now by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis. Meanwhile, let's give it the benefit of the doubt. Let's overlook for the moment the law's most egregious flaws: Its violation of patient privacy and doctor-patient privilege and its potential chilling effect on a patient.
Instead, for purposes of this discussion, let's accept that the points covered by South Dakota's form are not altogether misleading. In fact, they should have already been reviewed as possibilities by a woman considering an abortion—confiding, one hopes, in a spouse, parent, friend, counselor, or clergyperson. Would there really be all that much harm done by laying out the potential consequences to the woman one more time? Let's say the answer is "no."
The real problem with this South Dakota law is that its pre-abortion informed consent requirements are incomplete. Those doctors should be required to provide more warnings during this last-minute disclosure session.
Let's have every South Dakota woman seeking an abortion acknowledge that she knows, if she bears a normal child, that the cost of raising that child to the age of 18, in today's dollars, will average $190,528—not counting the costs of her prenatal medical care and delivery, and postnatal follow-up care.
She should be informed, if she is to continue the pregnancy, of exactly how much financial support she can realistically expect from anti-abortion advocates and their organizations, and from government sources like Medicaid and social services (and be told how long she can expect those sources of aid will continue).
She will be asked to provide information about her sources of family support, if any. She will be required to affirm that she knows she may be an outcast of her family if her pregnancy goes forward.
Let's also make sure that the woman is informed of the potentially horrible effects on the fetus if she has been taking mood-altering drugs or medications while pregnant, and describe to her in detail the medical and behavioral problems that could afflict a newborn whose mother is a drug addict or alcoholic.
By leaving out these other important factors a woman needs to consider in deciding to have an abortion, South Dakota's legislators have tipped their hand, revealing that this law is based on a particular religious viewpoint.
South Dakota's Failure to Protect Its YoungIt's rather charming, though, for South Dakota's legislators to seek to protect mothers-to-be and their fetuses. It shows that life is valued. Somebody cares.
Why stop with protecting 'the unborn'? South Dakota should set the pace by protecting military recruits.But again, that laudable sentiment is incomplete. Shouldn't informed consent be required of anyone who will be making decisions in matters of life or death? Where's South Dakota's law mandating full disclosure to its young people who are considering signing up to go to war? South Dakota's one of 10 states providing the largest proportion of "high-quality" recruits for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wouldn't you think those legislators would want to similarly protect "the best and the brightest" of their young men and women?
Such an informed consent form would include, in addition to making sure the would-be recruit is aware of the value and noble tradition of serving his or her country, requirements to hear about, and initial each in turn, points such as the following:
Advance this Informed Consent Idea to the U.S. CongressWhy stop with the young and the vulnerable? Let's take this informed consent idea to the very top.
Imagine if, prior to voting to approve the Iraq debacle, members of Congress had been required to listen to the potential risks and side effects down the road. The narrator (the Vice President? nice touch!) would have had to pause to let each point sink in: So many military and civilian deaths expected. So many grievous woundings. So many lives lost or irretrievably broken. The financial, social, military, diplomatic, moral costs of the war. The conflicts of interest among those in the Bush administration pushing for the war.
And they'd have had no "I didn't know, things happened so fast" excuse; there would have been a two-hour waiting period before the floor vote.
Now there would have been a fitting use for an informed consent requirement.
Alice Cherbonnier is the Managing Editor of the Baltimore Chronicle.
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This story was published on April 16, 2007.