Texas Law Ensures Women's Right to Know - and a Booklet Spells It All Out
AUSTIN, Texas — Pro-lifers are celebrating a new law that is taking effect in the new year, calling it a breakthrough in pro-life legislation after a months-long battle regarding the content and tone of a new brochure called A Woman's Right to Know.
The booklet's frank discussion of abortion could save lives, they say.
“This is the strongest, most-truthful brochure of its kind in the country,” said Elizabeth Graham, executive director of the Texas Right to Life Committee.
Beginning Jan. 1, any woman seeking an abortion in Texas is required to wait at least 24 hours after making an appointment and receiving the 21-page brochure. The bill was passed by the Texas Legislature last spring and signed into law by Republican Gov. Rick Perry.
Abortion advocates view the bill as a step away from what they call “a woman's right to choose.”
“We believe a mandatory delay in receiving an abortion is an unfair burden for women,” said David Seldin, director of communications for NARAL Pro-Choice America in Washington, D.C.
Similar so-called informed-consent laws were passed in Minnesota and West Virginia last spring, and at least 20 other states enforce laws that require informational brochures and 24-hour waiting periods for abortions.
The Texas brochure contains 18 vivid, full-color photos of an unborn child beginning at four weeks’ gestation. Each photo shows two weeks of developmental progress up to and including the 38th week of gestation. Each picture is accompanied by descriptions of the baby and explanations of what the child might be doing.
“The hands can make a fist with fingers,” says a bullet-pointed item that accompanies the 10-week photo.
The brochure was published by the Texas Department of Health, which brought in six physicians to devise content. State health officials appointed two of the physicians while legislators who sponsored the bill appointed four. The legislators took recommendations from the Right to Life Committee on which physicians to appoint, and the writing process commenced in June.
“It became a brutal fight, trying to get this document to reflect the legislative intent,” Graham said.
Others close to the battle who did not wish to be quoted said staff members at the health department tried to water down the booklet in an effort to make abortion appear safe to the mother and painless to the child.
“It wasn't an easy task,” admitted Doug McBride, spokesman for the Texas Department of Health. “We had no delusions about the fact that we were in one of those situations in which we could not possibly make everyone happy, and we stood a good chance of making nobody happy. It's obviously a very emotionally charged issue.”
Fighting about the wording of the brochure became so intense at one point, Graham said, that legislators who supported the bill asked the governor'd office to intervene.
“Higher-ups in Texas government finally stepped in and told the Department of Health that the document needed to reflect the intent of the legislation, which was to inform women truthfully about abortion,” Graham said.
McBride would neither confirm nor deny that the health department had its hand slapped for trying to dilute the brochure to such a degree that the governor stepped in.
“That may be the case,” McBride told the Register. “Again, this was obviously a hot-button topic — a red-flag issue.”
Seven pages of the brochure are devoted entirely to the physical risks to women who undergo various types of abortion procedures, and “death” is listed as a possibility associated with each procedure. Breast cancer is also listed as a risk that might be enhanced by abortion.
Another section explains the emotional trauma faced by women who get abortions.
“Some women have reported serious psychological effects after their abortion, including depression, grief, anxiety, lowered self-esteem, regret, suicidal thoughts and behavior, sexual dysfunction, avoidance of emotional attachment, flashbacks and substance abuse,” the brochure states.
Two paragraphs that describe the dilation and extraction method of abortion — a late-term procedure done after 16 weeks’ gestation — describe how the doctor grasps the child'd foot with a tool and delivers the all parts of the baby except for the head.
“While the head is kept in the birth canal, scissors are used to make a hole in the back of the head, a tube is inserted, and suction is applied,” the brochure states. “The contents of the unborn child'd skull are suctioned out, the bones of the head collapse, and the child is delivered dead.”
Mary Spaulding Balch, director of state legislation for the National Right to Life Committee in Washington, said little is known about the effect of the laws that establish waiting periods and standardized information.
“What we do know is that in these states a woman is no longer making a decision in an informational vacuum,” Balch said. “Without this, you have a woman who'd in a crisis situation making a decision without sound, objective information. This takes her out of the pressure situation for 24 hours and gives her noninflammatory, unbiased information with which to make an informed choice.”
Seldin of NARAL said it'd offensive to women to suggest they seek abortions without having informed themselves about the risks and realities of the various procedures. He said many of the new informed-consent laws are in states that have one or two clinics. The result is that some women have to travel great distances for abortions.
Though the jury is out on what effects informed-consent laws will have on overall abortion trends, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that in 1992, the first year one such law was enforced in Mississippi, about 1,210 fewer abortions were performed in the state.
The study found that the number of Mississippi women who traveled that year to the neighboring states of Tennessee and Alabama to receive abortions climbed by only 228.
“In Texas we are expecting an immediate reduction of 15% to 20% in the number of abortions,” said Graham of Texas Right to Life. “Long term we're expecting an even higher reduction of 40% to 50%. When women are told of the risks, and they think about the possibility of causing their child pain and are given time to think about it, things change.”
Wayne Laugesen writes from Boulder, Colorado.
- January 4-10, 2004