News Abortion

Anti-Choice “Medical Experts” Play Increasing Role in Abortion Legislation Testimony

Robin Marty

They aren't always doctors, but they play them in your legislature.

As anti-choice state legislators introduce more and more abortion restrictions, the testimony for and against such bills is becoming increasingly important in influencing final votes. In some cases, such as the recent Indiana medication abortion law hearing, the divide between real science and anti-choice “science” is clear when anti-choicers are unable to find even one practicing medical professional to show up to defend the bill, while opponents are able to recruit numerous doctors to discuss its problems.

To combat the fact that anti-choice “science” isn’t accepted by the general medical profession, anti-choicers now are working feverishly to stack their testimonies with “experts” who engage in one-sided debates to give the appearance that they represent true mainstream medical thought. As part of his ongoing attempt to restrict abortion access to low-income women, Alaska Sen. John Coghill recently video conferenced national medical professionals to testify in a recent committee hearing; they all claimed abortion is never medically necessary and is harmful to a woman’s physical and mental health. His “experts” included Priscilla Coleman, who, along with David Reardon, is responsible for most of the studies claiming abortion is harmful for women, many of which have either been debunked or are based on self-selected biased samples; Dr. John Thorp, who works with Matercare International, a “nonprofit international organization of Catholic health professionals” and who testified against so-called partial birth abortion in 2006; and Susan Rutherford, who is most active as a “Christian physician” and spokesperson against assisted suicide in Washington state.

In a clear reminder that these people don’t actually represent mainstream medicine, Rutherford was questioned about why her belief that abortion causes cancer contradicts that of the rest of the medical profession. The Anchorage Daily News reported:

[Sen. Bill Wielechowski] asked Susan Rutherford, a maternal-fetal medicine doctor at EvergreenHealth Medical Center in Washington, whether she had written a paper linking abortion to breast cancer.

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No, she said.

Do you believe there’s a link? he asked.

“You know there’s some compelling evidence that it could be,” Rutherford said. She mentioned a pro-choice breast cancer expert who found an increased risk, particularly for women who had abortions as teens.

That contradicts the National Cancer Institute, Wielechowski said.

There are flaws in medical literature, Rutherford responded.

As the only Democrat on the committee, Wielechowski was left with the formidable challenge of rebuking all of the experts during the hearing. Medical experts testifying against new rules about what constitutes a “medically necessary abortion” will not be heard until Monday, a ploy that will allow the legislative record to appear to give equal weight to both sides of the issue, despite the fact that one argument is waged by a handful of religious medical professionals and the other supported by facts and the medical establishment.

The anti-choice movement has become highly adept at managing the public record through a variety of means, regardless of how far in the minority their medical experts are. In New York state, where anti-choice advocates are fighting a rare case of legislators trying to reaffirm reproductive rights access, an unnamed faith-based doctor’s group has been positioning itself as speaking for all doctors in opposition of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Reproductive Health Act. According to NBC News, members of the group who spoke out against the proposal at a press conference were “doctors of different faiths who deliver babies and work with women after abortions, [and who] said its opposition to the governor’s bill is based on medical experience, not their religious beliefs.” Yet the speakers’ backgrounds contradict the claim that there is no religious agenda at play—from Dr. Miriam Grossman’s fixation on abstinence until marriage and traditional gender roles to Dr. Anne Nolte’s work at the National Gianna Center for Women’s Health and Fertility, a family planning and alternative infertility clinic that follows the “ethical and religious directives for Catholic health-care services.”

How “medically sound” are these doctors’ beliefs? Nolte told the National Review Online that when it comes to a later abortion, it is probably safer for a woman to undergo an unnecessary cesarean section to potentially save the fetus than to have the abortion. “The risk of physical complications from a surgical abortion increases, the later in pregnancy that these procedures are performed. If the ‘termination’ of a pregnancy after 24 weeks is required to protect a woman’s health, this can be accomplished by inducing labor or performing a c-section—options that are safer than late-term abortion when a woman’s life or health is truly at risk and that preserve the life of the infant,” she told NRO’s Kathryn Jean Lopez.

Missing from Nolte’s analysis isn’t just the risks that come from any surgery, especially when it may not be necessary, but the additional risks that could come from future pregnancies and surgeries due to having a prior c-section.

These are the voices of medical “experts” disagreeing publicly with the standards of care that the vast majority of health professionals follow. Whether women or families wish to follow their medical advice or directives is a choice that should be left up to them. But to allow them to not only have equal weight when it comes to discussing issues surrounding a woman’s health, but create and support legislative bills that will enforce their beliefs on all medical practitioners and their patients isn’t “allowing both sides to be heard.” It is enforcing religious beliefs contrary to medical best practices.

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