CINCINNATI — A lawmaker from West Chester has proposed legislation that would require Ohio doctors to tell women seeking abortions that the procedure could lead to depression, suicidal ideation, feelings of guilt and post-traumatic stress disorder – and may even increase their risk for breast cancer.
Critics of the bill say research has disproven that women who have abortions are more likely to suffer those consequences.
House Bill 421 also would require doctors to perform an ultrasound that women can see and hear on anyone seeking to terminate their pregnancies. Rep. Jennifer Gross, R-West Chester, introduced the bill Sept. 16. Her 15 co-sponsors include Rep. Tom Brinkman, R-Mount Lookout, and Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Green Township.
“It’s just making sure that women are well-educated and understand the risks themselves,” Gross said in a phone interview. “Educating women is important.”
But opponents argue that, if approved, the measure will do the opposite.
“This bill is just one in a long string of calculated efforts to scare and manipulate patients out of accessing the care they need,” Kersha Deibel, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region, said in a written statement. “Not only does this bill contain harmful misinformation, like the completely unfounded links to breast cancer following an abortion, it forces physicians to tell their patients this falsehood. Ohioans deserve better. Ohioans deserve the freedom to make the healthcare decisions that are best for them and free of fear or pressure.”
NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio noted in a press release opposing the bill that the American Cancer Society, American College of Gynecologists and Susan G. Komen all have statements on their websites that scientific studies have not concluded that having an abortion causes breast cancer.
A 2004 article in JAMA declared that a “comprehensive analysis of studies from around the world” found no link between having an abortion and breast cancer.
But Meg DeBlase, the executive director of Cincinnati Right to Life, pointed to a fact sheet on the Breast Cancer Prevention Institute’s website that lists studies dating back decades that assert a connection. The American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists also recommends the institute’s work for its perspective.
“Five states already have laws on their books that require abortionists to tell women about their increased risk, potentially, of breast cancer after an abortion,” DeBlase said. “We’re not saying every woman who gets an abortion is going to get breast cancer. We’re just saying that she has a right to know that there’s evidence out there suggesting this link.”
Proposal mirrors other states’ laws
Cincinnati Right to Life has been working with Gross on House Bill 421, she said, and examined laws in other states across the country.
“Twenty-two states across the country have an informed consent law that requires abortionists to tell women about their increased risk of mental health issues from an abortion,” she said.
The ultrasound requirement would bring Ohio’s law in line with requirements in Kentucky, DeBlase said, adding that Kentucky’s ultrasound requirements already have passed legal muster.
“This bill isn’t about abortion,” she said. “It’s not restricting abortion. It’s not addressing that. It’s simply about women’s health care and a woman’s right to know all of the information when she steps into a provider’s office.”
A correlation between abortion and mental health problems is not universally accepted.
A 2000 study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that of 882 women followed for two years after having an abortion, most did not experience psychological problems. Some did, the study found, and those who did tended to be women with a prior history of depression.
Another investigation, published in JAMA Psychiatry in 2016, followed 956 women who sought abortions, including those who terminated their pregnancies and those who were denied abortions. That study found that “compared with having an abortion, being denied an abortion may be associated with greater risk of initially experiencing adverse psychological outcomes.”
“Psychological well-being improved over time so that both groups of women eventually converged,” the study found.
But DeBlase pointed to a 2003 study that found 65% of American women who had abortions experienced symptoms of PTSD.
“The other evidence behind this is, truly, that we have so many ministries dedicated to post-abortive women,” she said. “Why would we need ministries for post-abortive women if they were not suffering from mental health challenges?”
Hearings on House Bill 421 have not yet been scheduled, but DeBlase said her organization is hopeful for its passage.
“Our objective is to get this assigned to committee and get hearings as soon as possible,” she said.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To reach Lucy, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.