Missouri's awful new move to tighten abortion restrictions

The "informed consent" ploy gets worse

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published February 4, 2015 7:28PM (EST)

  (AP/Susan Walsh)
(AP/Susan Walsh)

Because it's not enough to assume a woman seeking an abortion just needs to read up more before making her decision, I mean, throwing in the towel on the whole idea, Missouri lawmakers are moving forward to assure she also now has to watch a video explaining the process as well. But it's not about coercion or subtle intimidation tactics. It's about helping people! Like the blind!

A bill that passed through a Missouri House committee Tuesday would expand upon the state's existing "informed consent" requirement that physicians treating women seeking abortions must present them with written details of the procedure at least 24 hours before it. Promising to "enhance current law," Republican State Representative Linda Black's bill would require women to view "an informational video produced by the Department of Health and Senior services" on abortion. Black claims the measure would help women who are "illiterate or do not learn well by reading," as well as those who have "handicaps."

It's a busy time for abortion foes in the show me state. In the past few days, Missouri has also pondered a bill that would require the state to annually inspect its only abortion facility, Planned Parenthood of St. Louis. as well as two bills designed to beef up its existing parental notification requirements for minors seeking abortions. And late last year, Missouri state Rep. Rick Brattin introduced a bill that would require a woman to get written permission from the man who impregnated her to obtain an abortion, though he said there could be exemptions for rape and incest. But "Just like any rape, you have to report it, and you have to prove it," he explained. "So you couldn't just go and say, 'Oh yeah, I was raped,' and get an abortion. It has to be a legitimate rape…. If you have a father that wants to be a part of that child's life, he should have that right."

When you consider some of the other reproductive restrictions Missouri is mulling, Rep. Black's video informed consent proposal seems almost mild. And the truth is that when done respectfully and accurately, giving patients a clear means of understanding any medical procedure is not inherently a bad thing. Studies of women considering laparoscopic tubal ligation who watched informational videos demonstrated they understood their procedures better, and colonoscopy patients who watched informational videos had higher patient satisfaction than those who didn't.

But it's insultingly disingenuous to act like this is a move to help women who may struggle with written materials to understand anything better. It's a cynical ploy, one that forces all of them into a waiting period, and would insist practitioners have "informed the woman orally, reduced to writing, and shown the woman the video created by the department of health and senior services." She wouldn't have the option to say, "Read the pamphlet, got it." The "accurate information" would include "the immediate and long-term medical risks to the woman associated with the proposed abortion method" as well as "alternatives to the abortion" and "the anatomical and physiological characteristics of the unborn child at the time the abortion is to be performed or induced."

Planned Parenthood of Missouri calls the proposal "video shaming of women who seek abortions" and says it's "medically inaccurate information designed to try to change her mind." It's a shameless and callous attempt at manipulation, a bullying tactic aimed not just as women but the professionals who provide them abortion services. That's all it really is. And anybody can read it quite plainly.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Abortion Informed Consent Missouri Republican State Representative Linda Black