By Maura Ewing
Friday, September 30, 2011
An appeals court struck a suicide advisory from a South Dakota abortion law, underscoring decades of research finding no link between the procedure and mental health disorders. But the idea of psychological harm remains active in several states.
(WOMENSENEWS)--The appeal of South Dakota's 2005 "informed consent" law on abortion gave pro-choice advocates a sliver of victory earlier this month.
A doctor is still required to tell a woman that an abortion "ends a human life" 24 hours ahead of the procedure, to give her time to reconsider. The court upheld that essential part of the script citing a previous ruling on First Amendment freedom of speech grounds.
But the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis said a section requiring doctors to describe "all known medical risks" of abortion -- including an increased risk "of suicide ideation and suicide"-- must be removed. That frees doctors to use professional judgment when informing patients of the potential risks.
"We are very happy to have the Eighth Circuit confirm what reliable medical professionals have been saying for years," said Mimi Liu, who represented the case as the staff attorney of the Planned Parenthood national office, in Washington, D.C. "It has been a long road."
She said the quashing of the suicide advisory could affect other states considering advisories on a linkage between abortion and psychological distress. "No other state has tried to pass a similar provision since this law was passed in 2005, I suppose in part because of waiting to see what happened here," said Liu.
Planned Parenthood brought the suit against South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds, Attorney General Marty Jackley, representatives from "pro-life" medical groups and two crisis pregnancy centers, run by Christian organizations in the United States and around the world, that encourage women to avoid abortions and carry through with all pregnancies.
The issue, however, has not been completely put to rest in South Dakota.
A re-hearing petition is now making the rounds with Priscilla Coleman, professor of human development and family studies at Bowling Green University in Bowling Green, Ohio, who is on board to provide expert testimony.
In a recent analysis of 22 studies conducted between 1995 and 2009, published by The British Journal of Psychiatry, Coleman found "a moderate to highly increased risk" of mental health problems after abortion, including suicidal behavior.
"I'm hoping that the research will get attention from professional organizations and that evidence-based counseling will make its way into the abortion services available," said Coleman.
The court is expected to make a decision in October on hearing the appeal, which is being brought by Alpha Center and Black Hills, two crisis pregnancy centers. Also, the state may be petitioning for further review, says Planned Parenthood. Petitions are due today.
Meanwhile, much of the script was either upheld or modified.
"We are very pleased that more of the informed consent law was found constitutional," said Valerie Johnson, board member of South Dakota Right to Life. "South Dakotans know that when a woman is given more information about her developing unborn child, she is more likely to choose life for that child."
South Dakota was the first, and only, state to include the risk of suicide in an abortion-specific informed consent law.
But, some states have found other ways to suggest a mental health risk.
"It gets murky when you get into what states have included in their written abortion counseling materials," said Elizabeth Nash, a public policy associate at Guttmacher Institute, the New York-based provider of reproductive health research. "In some states abortion counseling includes a section in the written materials that says something along the lines of 'abortion can be difficult emotionally, some women feel relief while others have negative feelings. If those feelings continue a woman should seek the help of a mental health professional.'"
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