National Partnership for Women & Families

In the News

States Increasingly Passing Antiabortion-Rights Bills Based on 'Junk,' 'Unsubstantiated Science'

States Increasingly Passing Antiabortion-Rights Bills Based on 'Junk,' 'Unsubstantiated Science'

April 22, 2015 — This year's legislative session "is shaping up to be a primer in what abortion rights advocates call 'junk science,'" with state lawmakers across the U.S. passing measures "based on theories that have been called into question or debunked by the wider medical community," the Los Angeles Times reports.

Montana 'Fetal Anesthesia' Measure

For example, the Times notes that Montana lawmakers have sent a bill (HB 479) to Gov. Steve Bullock (D) that would require anesthesia to be administered to fetuses before abortions if the woman is at least 20 weeks pregnant. It would allow women to refuse the fetal anesthesia after being told the disputed notion that a fetus is capable of feeling pain during a surgery or abortion.

However, according to the Times, an analysis of studies on fetal pain published in 2005 in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that "'evidence regarding the capacity for fetal pain is limited but indicates that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before'" about 27 weeks' gestation. It said that there was "little or no evidence" to determine the effectiveness of fetal anesthesia or the safety of the procedure "for pregnant women in the context of abortion."

Meanwhile, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in 2012 said subsequent studies published after the JAMA analysis have not "changed this dominant view of the medical profession."

Medication Abortion 'Reversal' Laws

The Times also cites laws in Arkansas (Act 1086) and Arizona (SB 1318) that will require physicians to tell women seeking medication abortions the medically unproven claim that it might be possible for such abortions to be "reversed" by receiving a dose of progesterone after taking mifepristone.

George Delgado, a proponent of the theory and family physician based in California, defended his research into the procedure. "This hasn't been published yet, but it will be," he said, adding, "You can't call it junk science. It's early science."

However, according to the Times, ACOG has said claims that medication abortions can be reversed are "'not supported by the body of scientific evidence.'"

Similarly, Daniel Grossman, a clinical instructor in the University of California-San Francisco's department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences, said telling women that there was scientific evidence of the possibility of reversing a medication abortion "would be medically incorrect."

Additional Laws

The Times also notes a new Idaho law (HB 154) will require physicians to be physically present when administering medication abortion drugs based on the disputed claim that using telemedicine for such abortions is risky and unproven.

Meanwhile, laws passed in Kansas (SB 95) and Oklahoma (HB 1721) this year "outlawed what is widely viewed as the safest method of surgical abortion in the second trimester."

Advocates Blast Medically Unproven Laws, Measures

Elizabeth Nash, a policy analyst at the Guttmacher Institute, criticized the medically unfounded laws and measures. "We're seeing more unsubstantiated science. The problem is that legislators are buying into it and using it," she said. In particular, she said the bans such as those in Kansas and Oklahoma were "essentially [about] limiting access to abortion after 12 or 14 weeks."

Separately, Rachel Sussman, director of state policy for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said of such legislative efforts, "You cannot exist in a world where you care about women's health and safety and require doctors to tell women things that are medically untrue" (La Ganga, Los Angeles Times, 4/20).