Coercive abuse in the abortion context—that is, threatening or intimidating a woman or girl into having an abortion— poses serious risks to women’s health. This abuse violates a woman’s rights to physical and emotional health, her freedom of conscience, and her legal right to freely choose what course to take with her pregnancy. Sadly, the only opportunity of “help” often comes in the form of reproductive health centers.
Thus, states should enact legislation to help protect women from coerced abortions. Such legislation can take various tracks, from enumerating specific criminal penalties for persons who force a pregnant woman to have abortion to requiring mandatory reporting when an abortion provider encounters such circumstances.
Currently at least 16 states maintain some form of coercive abuse prevention laws, with Nebraska set to strengthen its law this session with LB 1032 (a committee hearing scheduled for this Friday, February 27). If enacted, the measure will require abortion providers to post signs with the following statement:
Notice: It is against the law for anyone, regardless of his or her relationship to you, to force you to have an abortion. By law, we cannot perform an abortion on you unless we have your freely given and voluntary consent. It is against the law to perform an abortion on you against your will. You have the right to contact any local or state law enforcement agency to receive protection from any actual or threatened physical abuse or violence.
Importantly, such a requirement directly comports with Supreme Court jurisprudence on informed consent.
In the last 22 years, the U.S. Supreme Court has explicitly expressed its approval of informed consent laws. Informed consent laws have repeatedly been upheld as constitutional, withstanding multiple legal challenges.
In both Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992 and Gonzales v. Carhart in 2007, the Supreme Court affirmed “the principle that the State has legitimate interests from the outset of pregnancy in protecting the health of the woman.” This includes an “interest in ensuring so grave a choice is well-informed.” The Court also stated, “[a]s with any medical procedure, the State may enact regulations to further the health or safety of a woman seeking an abortion.”
In upholding a comprehensive informed consent law in Casey, the Court viewed informed consent regulations as protecting not just the woman’s physical health but the woman’s psychological health as well. The Court held that such regulations reduce the risk “that a woman may elect abortion, only to discover later, with devastating psychological consequences, that her decision was not fully informed.”
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In Gonzales, the Court reaffirmed its support for comprehensive informed consent regulations. After noting that “[w]hether to have an abortion requires a difficult and painful moral decision,” the Court stated that “severe depression and loss of esteem” can follow.
Measures like Nebraska’s LB 1032 manifests the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence on informed consent. Quite simply, a woman’s consent is not informed—nor is it voluntary—when coercion exists. She has a right to know that no one can force her to have an abortion and that help is available for her if she finds herself in such a situation.