One of the many contentious issues in the abortion debate is whether women planning the procedure should be "fully informed" of the risks. Pro-lifers think they should; pro-choicers think they shouldn't. Or at least the government shouldn't prescribe what doctors must say to patients.
Who can argue against patients having a chance to give their informed consent prior to surgery? But pro-choicers do because they see a government mandate as an intrusion on a woman's unfettered right to opt for an abortion. They also see it as a pro-life scheme to reduce abortions. Pro-lifers see callousness in the opposition, suggesting that pro-choicers are willing to jeopardize women's health on the altar of ideology. Conventional wisdom holds that never the twain shall meet.
On my way to researching another issue, I discovered some interesting materials that suggest otherwise. Nadia N.Sawicki, an assistant law professor at Loyal University in Chicago, makes a remarkable effort to try to find common ground in an article in the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy. Aptly entitled "The abortion informed consent debate: More light less heat," Sawicki examines the subtle and not-so-subtle differences that she hopes can be bridged by a detailed description of the legal ramifications. She said:
By emphasizing a more nuanced understanding of informed consent, this Article aims to defuse and civilize the heated debate surrounding the new breed of abortion disclosure requirements. More importantly, it offers critics the opportunity to bolster their challenges to some of the most problematic provisions, such as those requiring disclosure of disputed factual information, those requiring disclosure of nonmedically material information in the clinical context, and those requiring patients to view information or images against their will. Finally, it encourages critics to shift their emphasis from informed consent-based arguments towards potentially more persuasive arguments grounded in public policy and constitutional theory.
I won't try to do the injustice of summarizing the complex legal questions involved; I'll leave that to you. But while doing the same research, I discovered a practical effort to settle the question. Michigan has an on-line informed consent document that must be read and signed 24 hours before any abortion. It's quite detailed and includes pictures of fetuses at various stages of development. There are things in it that both sides will dislike. (I fear that will be become a pro-forma document that isn't read.) But it's a start.
Find it here.
What was the research that I was doing? Digging into a story about the Michigan attorney general suing to shut down in apparent violation of state law an abortion clinic that is run by a non-physician. One story about it is here.