Pregnant people can’t even count on their medical providers to give them reliable abortion information, according to a new study that looked at abortion referral practices among nurse-midwives, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants.
Spend a little time googling abortion, and you’ll soon be inundated with scientifically disproven claims, like that first trimester fetuses feel pain, abortion causes breast cancer, and women often regret abortion. The far-right has waged a misinformation campaign for nearly 50 years, and it’s left even pro-choice people with inaccurate ideas about abortion.
The latest study, published in Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, is just one more piece of evidence that even when women consult medical providers, they may not get accurate health information. The study gathered data from a random sample of Colorado’s advanced practice clinicians—a group including nurse practitioners, midwives, physician assistants, and similar highly trained non-doctors.
The researchers found that, though 81 percent offered pregnancy testing, just 48 percent of practitioners were willing to give pregnant people on all options, including abortion. Sixty-three percent of respondents who did not provide abortion information cited their religious or personal objections, suggesting that a provider’s values may color the completeness or accuracy of information their patients receive. For 64 percent, lack of knowledge also played a prominent role in their decision. And disturbingly, 59 percent reported that institutional barriers, such as bans on discussing abortion, made them unable to discuss the full range of options with their patients.
Thirty-one percent of providers reported referring their patients to crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs). CPCs are non-medical facilities which often receive state funding to provide inaccurate abortion information. They do not offer medical care. Some use extreme tactics, such as telling women they can’t leave or publicizing women’s private information to punish them for seeking information on abortion. A recent Supreme Court ruling protected the ability of these centers to pretend to be medical providers. That ruling struck down a California law that would have required CPCs to disclose that they do not have medical providers on staff or provide medical care.
Other data shows that, when seeking abortion care, pregnant people face an uphill battle, especially when they don’t go to an abortion clinic.
Many states require providers to give "informed consent” statements that contain medically inaccurate scare tactics designed to deter abortion seekers. And state and institutional conscience policies may allow doctors to lie to women about their options, or even their health. A doctor, for example, might tell a woman carrying a baby with terminal defects that the baby was normal. Some Catholic hospitals have ignored women suffering miscarriages until they bled to death or suffered fatal infections, all under the guise of respecting the life of the dying fetus.
The scope of the problem extends far beyond choice. Women need access to quality information to make their own choices. When they don’t have it, a provider is making the decision for them—and the woman may not know that’s what’s happening.