If a woman is carrying a fetus diagnosed as likely having Down Syndrome, she (and her family) have a complicated choice to make — continue the pregnancy, or end it. The state of Massachusetts is hoping to make that decision easier with additional mandated information about outcomes, life expectancy, and where a woman can go to get more support should she decide to give birth.
But is that a form of coercion? Or just providing full information? It’s a difficult question to answer.
Massachusetts has become the most recent state to pass legislation requiring doctors to give parents who have the prenatal diagnosis “up-to-date, evidence-based, written information” about the physical, intellectual and developmental outcomes of the chromosomal disorder, and treatment options….[T]here’s little doubt that the new approach is intended to make a woman think twice before automatically deciding to end her pregnancy. Previous studies have found that as many as 9 of 10 women choose to abort after they learn prenatally that their baby has Down syndrome. More recent scrutiny of data in three states — Maine, Hawaii and California — adjusted the percentage of women who terminate to 74%, according to an analysis published this year in Prenatal Diagnostics. In other words, it is the majority of women who opt to end their pregnancies.
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The new law specifies that the reading material given to women after a prenatal diagnosis be compiled from professional medical groups including the National Society of Genetic Counselors and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, along with local and national Down syndrome organizations. Studies have found that women often report that the information they currently receive is incomplete, inaccurate, or offensive.
Brian Skotko, co-director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Downs Syndrome program told Time that, “This wasn’t a pro-life bill, and it wasn’t a pro-choice bill. It was a pro-information bill.”
Of course, that statement has been used as the crux of arguments when it comes to any informed consent bill, so how is it that in this case it actually is true? Because unlike cases of informed consent laws, the women are experiencing wanted pregnancies and need to explore all of the options of what their lives will be like whether they carry to term, or if they terminate the pregnancy. Unlike a woman who seeks out a termination knowing she does not want to carry to term and give birth to a child, providing information isn’t a form of coercion, even if it is encouraging a woman to choose a particular path for herself.
The information, which has been vetted by unbiased medical professionals, allows women to be fully informed and make a decision with the assistance of their doctors, who will know about the additional physical issues such as heart problems and other complications. Informed consent bills meant to coerce women out of abortions, on the other hand, provide misleading and inaccurate info to try and convince a woman who has already decided she does not want to be pregnant into carrying to term despite her personal choice.
Providing information is only coercion when it is inaccurate and given only after a woman has already made her choice. The two laws have no relation to one another.