Last week the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis heard arguments in the case filed by Planned Parenthood challenging the only remaining provision of South Dakota’s informed consent law that have not already been upheld. It represents another phase in a decades long battle over abortion access in the state and could have implications well beyond the borders of South Dakota.
Arguments in the case focused on the provision that requires women to be “informed” of the risk of suicide as a result of abortion. In 2009 a district court ruled unconstitutional portions of the South Dakota law that required doctors to inform women of depression and suicide risks. The Eighth Circuit, in a previous ruling, overturned the district court with exception to the suicide warning requirement of the informed consent law. That remaining portion is what argued last week.
Planned Parenthood argues that the date linking abortion to suicide and suicide ideation is flawed, so requiring doctors to make such statements to patients would be misrepresenting the truth. The studies and data the law wants doctors to convey infers outcomes related to depression and suicide and are unproved.
Since informed consent is, at its core, about educating patients about the risks they will run into if they have a given procedure, the information must be accurate and relevant to be of any value to the patient. The point made by Planned Parenthood is that suicide and suicide ideation risks run the same whether or not a woman chooses to have an abortion, so forcing doctors to disclose this risk bears no relevance to her decision. If informed consent means anything at all, it means arming patients with information that helps makes their decision and informed one and not a reactionary one.
Not surprisingly, anti-abortion advocates see it differently. They argue the state has the right to compel that certain information be dictated to patients as part of informed consent. With the same breath they also argue that they are not trying to tell doctors what to recommend to patients, but that states should have a say in that process.
At least in South Dakota they are candid about the fact that anti-abortion activists want to replace medical judgment with moral and religious judgment.
A decision in the case is not expected until later in the year. In the meantime, the battle for full and equal access to health care services for women marches on.
Photo from steak pinball via flickr.