Post-Abortion Researcher: Media Getting Missouri Initiative Story Wrong

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 13, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Post-Abortion Researcher: Media Getting Missouri Initiative Story Wrong Email this article
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by Dr. David Reardon Editor
December 13, 2007 Note: The Elliot Institute, a post-abortion research organization with offices in Illinois and Missouri, sent the following statement concerning the new Missouri state initiative helping women avoid forced abortions. You can find out more about this statewide effort here.

Official Statement from the Elliot Institute

Recent news reports have identified the Elliot Institute as sponsoring a petition initiative for the Prevention of Coerced and Unsafe Abortions Act in Missouri. In fact, while the Elliot Institute is supportive of Stop Forced Abortions’ efforts, this effort is being introduced, promoted, and organized by the Stop Forced Abortions Alliance, not the Elliot Institute.

Furthermore, while the Elliot Institute is pleased that Stop Forced Abortions has included portions of its model legislation regarding negligent pre-abortion screening in its initiative, the decision to proceed with the initiative, the exact language of the initiative, lobbying and any and all other activities related to it represent the efforts of the Stop Forced Abortions Alliance.

Personal Statement from David C. Reardon, Ph.D., Director, Elliot Institute

I am a Missouri resident and one of many members of the Stop Forced Abortions Alliance. The Alliance, at this early stage, is primarily made up of women who have had abortions, women and men who are involved in abortion recovery ministries, and those like myself who are already keenly concerned about how often women, every day, are being subjected to coerced and unsafe abortions

My volunteer efforts on behalf of Stop Forced Abortions do not reflect the official position or activities of the Elliot Institute. All of the opinions expressed below are my own personal views. They are not necessarily the views of either the Elliot Institute or the Stop Forced Abortions Alliance, each of which has separate governing bodies.

As a volunteer for the Stop Forced Abortions Alliance, I handled the preparation of the paperwork required for filing the initiative petition with the Secretary of State’s office. As required, I properly identified another member of Stop Forced Abortions, Paula Talley, as the official contact person for the public record and all communications.

By mutual consent, the members of the Stop Forced Abortions Alliance agreed to not issue any public statements prior to publication of the initiative by the Secretary of State. Ten days before publication, while in theory it was only available to the Secretary of State and the Attorney General, Planned Parenthood and NARAL issued news releases attacking the initiative and misrepresenting it as a ban on abortions being sponsored by the Elliot Institute.

It is evident that these pro-abortion groups were given access to the initiative language prior to the general public by an officer of the Missouri government. From the ballot language assigned to the initiative by Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, it appears that Secretary Carnahan has worked closely with Planned Parenthood to develop a coordinated effort to spin this initiative as a “ban” on most abortions.

In fact, the initiative does not ban a single abortion. The words “ban”, “illegal”, “prohibit”, and “fine” are not found in the initiative. Neither I nor Stop Forced Abortions are advocating for a ban on abortions.

Instead, the initiative merely closes a loophole in the law that protects abortionists from liability for ignoring or abetting coerced abortions and will make it easier for women to hold abortion providers accountable for negligent pre-abortion screening and counseling.

I am the author of over a dozen peer reviewed medical journal articles documenting that abortion is associated with higher rates of suicide, psychiatric hospitalization, substance abuse, depression, anxiety, sleep disorders and other negative mental health effects. I also know that there is universal agreement within the research community that there are identifiable subgroups of women who are greatest risk of emotional difficulties after an abortion. A major subgroup of these high risk patients includes women who are pressured, coerced, and in some cases literally forced by violent efforts into unwanted abortions.

It is my belief that the vast majority of Missouri citizens, even those who believe that abortion should be readily available to women, would agree with the Stop Forced Abortions Alliance that no abortion should ever be the result of coercion.

Furthermore, I believe that most people agree that doctors should act like doctors, even if the procedure is “just” an abortion. In other words, most people assume that abortion doctors have an obligation to give their patients good medical advice. But clearly, a doctor cannot give good, informed medical advice if he or she has not first evaluated the patient for statistically validated risk factors that reliably identify women who are at the greatest risk of abortion complications or other unsatisfactory results.

In theory, abortion industry publications acknowledge the importance of psychosocial screening for coercion and other risk factors. In practice, however, proper screening is seldom done because most abortion providers, seeking to keep prices low, offer only assembly line counseling…ten minutes and let’s move on. (An extended analysis of this problem is included in a law journal review article I authored entitled “Abortion Decisions and the Duty to Screen.” A copy is available at

In my opinion, such one-size-fits-all counseling is clearly negligence. Unfortunately, loopholes in current law protect abortionists from liability for this kind of negligence. As long as the patient does not suffer significant physical injures, neither the woman or her survivors will have standing in court to recover damages related to negligent screening, no matter how severe her psychological injuries may be … even if she commits suicide.

This loophole has led to widespread abandonment of pre-abortion screening and counseling. While abortion may be legal, far too often it is practiced with the ethics of the back alley. As long as the woman has the money, the abortionist will do the abortion, no questions asked.

The current situation is exactly analogous to this: A woman walks into her doctor’s office and says, “I have a lump in my breast and need a mastectomy.” The doctor says: “Sure, jump up on the table and we’ll take it right off.”

That is not practicing medicine. That is a prostitution of medical skills, simply doing whatever a patient asks. Certainly physicians must listen to their patients and seek to respect their desires, but they must also evaluate whether a patient’s self diagnosis and prescription of treatment is well informed, ill informed, or even dangerous. It is for this very reason that the Supreme Court, in Roe v. Wade specifically rejected the idea that women had an unlimited right to abortion.

True medical ethics require assessing the patient for risk factors and treatment options for two reasons. First, so the doctor can give her a reasonable medical recommendation. Secondly, so she can be informed about risks and alternatives about which she probably did not know when she initiated the request for an abortion. Perhaps, after proper evaluation, the recommendation will indicate that an abortion does not expose her to undue risks. But perhaps it will not. No doctor should ever ignore the steps required for proper screening and assessment because without these it is impossible to give informed medical advice. Without these, the doctor is not a physician but rather a technician…doing what is requested rather than what is advisable.

These are undisputed points in every area of medicine except among abortion providers. In the abortion industry, the obligations of the doctor to screen for risk factors and give good advice have been abandoned in a favor of a model that assumes “the patient knows best.” And even in cases where the patient voices her belief that abortion will cause her grief and guilt and is “my only choice” because she is being pressured by her parents, partner, employer or others, most abortionists will still do the abortion anyway because any consent, even coerced consent, is “good enough.”

This is the background in which the Protection for Coerced and Unsafe Abortions Act should be understood. It does not ban abortions. It merely seeks to put into statute what the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade already affirms: “basic responsibility” for the abortion decision rests with the physician (see page 153). It is the doctor’s obligation to assess the patient, and in consultation with the patient, determine if the abortion is advisable or not advisable.

In other words, this initiative does not reverse or even challenge Roe. All it does is seek to enforce the expectation of Roe that abortionists would act like real doctors and actually do the screening and counseling necessary to give informed medical advice so that women would not be exposed to unwanted, unsafe, or unnecessary abortions.

Also, as suggested in Roe, this initiative does not rely on the coercive powers of the state but instead leaves all these matters between the woman and her doctor. If the doctor fails to provide proper screening and counseling, only the woman or her survivors can hold the abortionist accountable and only in civil court where she must prove that there was negligent screening.

The obligation that doctors should accept “basic responsibility” for ensuring that any abortions performed are safe and medically advisable are measures that the Supreme Court anticipated and people of good will on both sides of the abortion debate will clearly support. The only people who could oppose the reasonable provisions of this initiative are those who care less about women than they do about the profits of the abortion industry.

Indeed, the fact that Missouri’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, is loudly proclaiming that this initiative for right to redress in cases of negligent screening is a “ban” on most abortions speaks volumes.

In fact, if abortion is as safe and beneficial as Planned Parenthood and others are constantly assuring us, and if they are in fact providing the quality of screening and counseling they claim they are, this initiative will have no effect on abortion rates.

If only a few women are being coerced into unwanted abortions, this initiative will help those few and there would still not be a significant decline in abortion rates. The only way this measure will result in a precipitous decline in abortion rates is if abortion is much more dangerous, and much more frequently coerced, than Planned Parenthood has ever before admitted.

In my opinion, that Planned Parenthood is calling this initiative a “ban” reflects their first hand knowledge that most of the abortions they perform involve coercion and other risk factors that expose their patients to unwanted, unsafe, and unnecessary abortions.

It is also striking that Planned Parenthood has made the very risky political decision to portray this initiative as a “ban” in a very pro-life state where the majority of voters might very well be willing to pass a true ban on abortion. In essence, Planned Parenthood’s characterization of the Prevention of Coerced and Unsafe Abortions Act virtually guarantees high voter support for the initiative from pro-life voters.

From this observation it seems clear that while Planned Parenthood is prepared to dig in to stop a “ban,” they are even more concerned about a battle to protect women from negligent screening. With the former, they can at least count on the support of most pro-choice advocates. But with the latter, they are seriously afraid that most pro-choice voters will agree with the common sense view that abortion providers should be liable to screen for coerced and unsafe abortions. If voters were educated about the way the Prevention of Coerced and Unsafe Abortions Act actually protects women’s rights, perhaps 80 to 90 percent of voters would support it.

After all, there is no excuse for forced or unsafe abortions. On the other hand, with over 60 percent of women who are having abortions reporting that they felt pressured to abort by others, there is obviously a lot of money to be made in forced or unsafe abortions.

This initiative represents a contest between profits and safety. Those who are chiefly concerned about protecting abortion industry profits will continue to frame this initiative as a ban.

They are doing so because a ban is something abortion providers can clearly understand…and debate. Issues regarding proper screening and accountability for giving reasonable medical advice are concepts that abortion providers refuse to understand…and refuse to debate.

/s/ David C. Reardon, Ph.D.