Over at the main page, Patrick posted about a couple of abortion bills that are making their way toward becoming laws in Kansas and Arizona. According to this post on the ACLU Blog of Rights, from which Patrick quoted, the laws would protect doctors from lawsuits if they deliberately withheld information from prospective parents that might have led to an abortion. That I find the prospect of such a law horrifying should go without saying, but I’ll speak to that in a moment. What I’m really curious about is what those laws really say.
If you follow the link chain starting in that ACLU post, you get to a couple of articles about the Arizona law. The first is a post at The Raw Story, headlined “Arizona Senate approves lying to women to prevent abortions,” which reveals:
The Arizona Senate on Tuesday approved a bill that would allow doctors withhold information about prenatal problems if it could make the decision to have an abortion more likely.
Republican state Sen. Nancy Barto introduced the measure to protect doctors from so-called “wrongful birth” lawsuits.
Barto claimed that a doctor could still be sued if there was evidence of wrongdoing.
“If a doctor intentionally or knowlingly withholds information then a lawsuit could be appropriate,” she said. [emphasis added here and below]
Unless Barto is grossly misrepresenting the language of her bill, it seems that it doesn’t actually allow doctors to lie. Clicking through a link in the Raw Story post, you get this article from the Arizona Capitol Times:
The Arizona Senate has approved a bill that would shield doctors and others from so-called “wrongful birth” lawsuits.
Those are lawsuits that can arise if physicians don’t inform pregnant women of prenatal problems that could lead to the decision to have an abortion.
The bill’s sponsor is Republican Nancy Barto of Phoenix. She says allowing the medical malpractice lawsuits endorses the idea that if a child is born with a disability, someone is to blame.
Barto said the bill will still allow “true malpractice suits” to proceed.
Again, from what I can see, the bill wouldn’t allow doctors to withhold information intentionally, but would protect them from litigation if parents feel something should have been detected but wasn’t. Assuming that true malpractice really isn’t covered by the bill, I’d actually be inclined to endorse it. I don’t understand how it would infringe on anyone’s reproductive rights, at least as reported.
So what about that Kansas bill? From the ACLU post (also quoted by Patrick), there’s this:
[P]oliticians in Kansas are giving pregnant women and their partners something new to worry about. Buried in a sweeping anti-abortion bill is a provision that would immunize a doctor who discovers that a baby will be born with a devastating condition and deliberately withholds that information from his patient. That’s right. If the bill passes, a doctor who opposes abortion could decide to lie about the results of your blood tests, your ultrasound, your cvs or your amnio. Lie to you so that you won’t have information that might lead you to decide to end your pregnancy or that might lead you to learn more about your child’s condition so that you are prepared to be the best parent you can be to your child. [emphasis in original text]
But does it really allow for doctors to withhold information deliberately? Given that the Arizona bill seems to have been misrepresented in that regard, I am somewhat skeptical about the Kansas legislation as well. Here’s what the Huffington Post (itself a source of questionable neutrality) has to say:
A Kansas House committee is scheduled to take up a bill Wednesday that would exempt doctors from malpractice suits if they withheld medical information to prevent an abortion. The measure would also take away tax credits for abortion providers, remove tax deductions for the purchase of abortion-related insurance coverage and require women to hear the fetal heartbeat. The bill includes several provisions, which passed in other states and now face federal lawsuits. The bill would also require women be told about potential breast cancer risks from abortions, even though medical experts discount such a connection.
Among the most contested provisions of the bill is the section that would exempt a doctor from a medical malpractice suit if a woman claims the physician withheld information about potential birth defects to prevent her from having an abortion. In addition, a woman would not be able to sue if she suffers health damage from a pregnancy as a result of information withheld from her to prevent an abortion. A wrongful death suit could still be filed, however, if the mother died.
The Kansas bill looks to be quite sweeping in its restrictions, but I still have trouble seeing where doctors are given sanction to deliberately withhold information from their patients. Which makes me wonder if the ACLU post is misrepresenting what both the Kansas and Arizona bills say. I cannot seem to find the full texts of either bill online, and if anyone knows how to do so and can throw me a link in the comments I’d be much obliged.
Maybe I’m impossibly naive, but I have a very hard time believing that even the staunchest opponent of abortion would specifically allow doctors to lie to their patients. OK, sure, there’s probably a lunatic or two out there who would, but is there a critical mass of said lunatics in both the Kansas and Arizona statehouses? Lying to your patients is flagrantly unethical, and I sincerely hope that every doctor who takes care of pregnant women in those states would recoil from doing so. Respect for a patient’s autonomy is a cornerstone of medical ethics, and it flies in the face of everything I was taught in medical school to do what these reports claim would be allowed. What would follow? Withholding information about painful or progressive illnesses because you feared the patient would opt for euthanasia?
If I’m wrong to be suspicious about whether those bills really say what’s being reported, I truly would want to know. No doctor who would lie to his or her patients deserves to take care of anyone, and no state should allow for it under any circumstances (with the obvious exception that small children should be given information judiciously). I simply can’t believe that either Kansas or Arizona would.
[Update: Thanks to sonmi451 for finding what appears to be the text of the bill in question, which is posted in the comments below. To my inexpert reading, it looks like a pretty stupid, poorly-written bill. It does seem pretty clear that intentional or grossly negligent omissions on the part of medical providers would still be subject to a tort suit, which belies the way it’s being presented in some of the links I mention above. But it doesn’t stipulate what kind of omissions are protected, since to my mind any omission of relevant medical information is evidence of negligence. Any lawyers in these parts who’d like to offer an opinion *polite cough* are explicitly invited to do so.]