The dangers of state-mandated abortion counseling

Currently, 29 US states require health care providers to use state-approved materials when counseling a woman considering abortion. A new study illustrates how inaccuracies in these state-mandated materials can perpetuate misperceptions about abortion.

The study took place in Utah and measured pregnant women’s level of knowledge about five common abortion myths before and after making an informational visit to an abortion provider. The women showed an improved understanding about four of the five topics after their informational visit.

What was different about the fifth myth—that abortion causes depression and anxiety—and why did more women believe it after their visit?

It was the only one of the five myths that Utah’s state-mandated counseling script inaccurately reinforces. The script debunks the other four myths by providing accurate information. For example, regarding the myth that abortion is unsafe, it states, “The risk of death associated with childbirth is about 11 times as high as that associated with abortion.” The script not only excludes available data regarding abortion's minimal effect on mental health outcomes, but inaccurately emphasizes the potential for psychological harm.

This study shows that people’s understanding of basic abortion facts can be changed. Health care providers are trusted sources of information, and they should not be limited in their duty to give patients accurate information to support patient-centered decision-making. By mandating the use of inaccurate information, states like Utah are undermining both providers and the women who trust them.