Women de­serve to know their op­tions

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Carolyn Sufrin and Stacey Leigh Ru­bin Dr. Carolyn Sufrin (csufrin@jhmi.edu) and Dr. Stacey Leigh Ru­bin are OB/GYN’s with the Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity School of Medicine.

Search­ing for a Bal­ti­more ZIP code on the na­tional preg­nancy help web­site, “Op­tions Line,” gen­er­ates a list of sev­eral preg­nancy cen­ters across Bal­ti­more. While the site claims to pro­vide “in­for­ma­tion on all your op­tions,” some­thing is clearly miss­ing: None of the preg­nancy cen­ters listed of­fer abor­tions; many do not even of­fer con­tra­cep­tion coun­sel­ing.

These preg­nancy cen­ters in­stead use pur­posely vague ad­ver­tis­ing to tar­get women who may be con­sid­er­ing an abor­tion or in­ac­cu­rately por­tray the avail­abil­ity of abor­tion ser­vices, di­rectly in­ter­fer­ing with women’s ac­cess to ser­vices. A 2006 study found that up to 87 per­cent of cen­ters pro­vided false or mis­lead­ing in­for­ma­tion on the health ef­fects of abor­tion in their writ­ten ma­te­ri­als, web­sites and coun­sel­ing. In Mary­land, this false in­for­ma­tion has ranged from link­ing abor­tion to breast cancer to claim­ing that abor­tion is le­gal through all nine months of preg­nancy. These state­ments are un­sci­en­tific and/or in­ac­cu­rate and may en­cour­age women to de­lay seek­ing abor­tion ser­vices un­til it is too late.

Shouldn’t this in­ten­tion­ally de­cep­tive ad­ver­tis­ing and in­for­ma­tion for women who are preg­nant or who could be­come preg­nant be against the law? The Bal­ti­more City Coun­cil thought so. In 2009, the coun­cil passed an or­di­nance to re­quire all “lim­ited-ser­vice” preg­nancy cen­ters to tell clients up front if they do not “pro­vide or make re­fer­ral for abor­tion or birth-con­trol ser­vices.” How­ever, this com­mon sense pro­vi­sion, which has been tied up in lit­i­ga­tion since 2009, was re­cently struck down in U.S. District Court.

As OB/GYNs in Bal­ti­more City, we are deeply con­cerned about the ef­fects this re­cent rul­ing will have on the health and well-be­ing of Bal­ti­more’s women, par­tic­u­larly those who are most vul­ner­a­ble.

With­out the pro­tec­tions of this or­di­nance, women are left sus­cep­ti­ble to false ad­ver­tis­ing and de­cep­tive coun­sel­ing. When preg­nancy cen­ters do not truth­fully in­form con­sumers about the scope of pro­vided ser­vices, women who are young, poor and less ed­u­cated suf­fer the most. These women are more likely to ex­pe­ri­ence an un­in­tended preg­nancy and of­ten do not have an es­tab­lished re­la­tion­ship with a health care provider or the health care sys­tem. As they seek help dur­ing a stress­ful life event, they are easy vic­tims for mis­lead­ing ad­ver­tis­ing.

Teenagers are also par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to de­cep­tive op­tions coun­sel­ing. We know that teenagers of­ten take longer to sus­pect preg­nancy than adult women and longer to con­firm a preg­nancy once sus­pected. When they come to cri­sis preg­nancy cen­ters, teenagers are more likely to be far­ther along in their preg­nan­cies, leav­ing lit­tle time to make an in­formed de­ci­sion about their health and fu­ture. Fam­ily plan­ning ser­vices are time-sen­si­tive, and de­lays in ac­cess­ing in­for­ma­tion can lead to in­creased health risks and poorer health out­comes.

In many preg­nancy cen­ters, women are also kept in the dark about con­tra­cep­tion. Nearly half of preg­nan­cies in the U.S. are un­planned, but many preg­nancy cen­ters fail to of­fer con­tra­cep­tion coun­sel­ing and ser­vices, miss­ing a crit­i­cal win­dow of op­por­tu­nity to help women pre­vent fu­ture un­wanted preg­nan­cies. Other cen­ters of­fer con­tra­cep­tion coun­sel­ing but in­clude false in­for­ma­tion about the ef­fi­cacy and health ef­fects of var­i­ous con­tra­cep­tive op­tions. Women de­serve to know whether con­tra­cep­tion ser­vices will be of­fered when they walk in the door for a preg­nancy test and that the in­for­ma­tion pro­vided will be med­i­cally ac­cu­rate.

We should be clear: cri­sis preg­nancy cen­ters can pro­vide a va­ri­ety of valu­able ser­vices to women, in­clud­ing spir­i­tual coun­sel­ing and par­ent­ing classes. But women seek­ing con­tra­cep­tion, op­tions coun­sel­ing or abor­tion ser­vices should be em­pow­ered to un­der­stand what is — and is not — of­fered at these cen­ters and, like any other con­sumers, have all the in­for­ma­tion to make an in­formed de­ci­sion.

In­formed con­sent is a deeply held eth­i­cal frame­work in the med­i­cal field. It in­volves en­sur­ing that ev­ery pa­tient knows what his or her op­tions are, has an op­por­tu­nity to ask ques­tions, and can opt-out of a med­i­cal pro­ce­dure if they de­sire. This is no dif­fer­ent.

Women de­serve to re­ceive ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion about which op­tions are on the ta­ble and to make choices that re­flect their pri­or­i­ties and unique sit­u­a­tions. With­out these pro­tec­tions, ex­pe­ri­ences of dis­hon­esty and co­er­cion can dam­age a woman’s re­la­tion­ship with the health care sys­tem for life

Bal­ti­more City needs to be able to pro­tect our women and their right to make fully-in­formed, au­ton­o­mous de­ci­sions about fam­ily plan­ning and preg­nan­cyre­lated care.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.