America’s abortion research academy—UCSF (University of California, San Francisco)—has produced another study claiming that yet another category of pro-life legislation is ineffective, or even has harmful consequences. This time, according to authors Sarah Roberts, Elise Belusa, Sarah Combellick, Lauren Ralph, and David K. Turok, the offending law is Utah’s 72 hour waiting period.
The law, researchers acknowledged, “did not prevent most women who presented for information visits from having abortions” but had, they asserted, “burdened women with financial costs, logistical hassles and extended periods of dwelling on decisions they had already made.”
However, when UCSF conducted its three week followup, the data shows something UCSF did not wish to highlight. There were women who did change their minds about abortion after their counseling sessions and three-day wait, who were still pregnant and no longer seeking abortion.
The study, “Do 72-Hour Waiting Periods and Two-Visit Requirements for Abortion Affect women’s Certainty? A Prospective Cohort Study,” appeared in the April 5, 2017 edition of the journal Womens Health Issues. Four of the five authors–Roberts, Belusa, Combellick, and Ralph–are of the Bixby Center at UCSF, while the fifth–Turok– is of the University of Utah.
Researchers had 500 women who showed up for an initial appointment at an abortion clinic complete a survey indicating their “certainty” about their abortion decision. Three weeks later, researchers sought to conduct phone interviews with those same women to determine what they had done, whether there had been any changes in their “certainty,” and the factors they may have affected that change.
According to the study, 63% of patients reported no change in their “certainty” because of the information they received in their initial visit. Seventy-four percent said that the waiting period had no impact on their “certainty.”
The researchers also said that of those changing, more reported increasing “certainty” than decreasing “certainty” due to either their information visit or their additional wait time. And most of the changes that occurred were among the 8% who had been “conflicted” about their decision at the beginning.
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A few important caveats are worth noting right off the bat. Not all 500 of the women completed the final survey – just 309 did the follow up.
This means that the results being touted are of those who were still available, still open to researchers after that first visit where they received the state mandated right to know information. We don’t know how many of these missing women chose not to have abortions after getting the information and thinking about it for 72 hours.
But it is not unreasonable to think that those who went through with their abortions, whose minds were not changed, may have been more likely to take a phone call from the abortion researchers conducting the study than those who did not.
It also is important to note that these researchers were hardly neutral, objective observers. They made it a point in their initial inquiry to determine these women’s “abortion knowledge.” How? By checking to see whether or not they believed what researchers called “common abortion myths” – that childbirth is safer than abortion, that abortion causes depression, that abortion is linked to breast cancer, or infertility, or that most women experience regret after abortion.
Despite the fact that the reality of abortion’s detrimental physical and psychological effects is well documented, researchers made awareness of or belief in such things an indicator of a woman not being well grounded in her decision. The study doesn’t directly say how this “lack of knowledge” impacted a woman’s decision, or whether there was anything said or done in the initial survey or in the counseling session to directly or subtly undermine these claims.
However it does seem to indicate that women who believed the researchers’ version of risks (that abortion is safer than childbirth, that there are no special risks of breast cancer, infertility, depression, etc. associated with abortion) were much more likely to be “certain” of their decisions after their “information visit.” No real surprise there.
Utah requires information on such risks, information about fetal development, and alternatives to abortion be included in its pamphlet. But if clinic staff echoed the research team in dismissing state information or minimizing or denying risks, it may have unjustifiably contributed to hardening their decisions.
Despite the pressure and the sales pitches, there were women who did change their minds. The UCSF team says that 8% of the patients they interviewed told researchers the information session and the 72 hour wait period made them less certain of their decision to abort.
Given the numbers of patients remaining in the study till the end, that means that somewhere between 24 and 25 women were influenced by the information they received and found that the additional period of reflection moved them away from abortion.
Other reports by the same authors using the same data (Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 12/16; Contraception, 3/17) found that 11% of women were still pregnant at the time of the three week follow up survey, a few still seeking to abort, but most of those indicating they were no longer seeking abortion.
The UCSF team wants to claim that the majority of those patients reporting reduced certainty were women already displaying what it called “high conflict” scores. These were women, UCSF says, who indicated on their first survey that they did not know or were unsure about the options available to them (unclear from the context whether this referred to alternatives to abortion or just different abortion methods) who gave some indication they were less likely to stick with their initial decision.
While UCSF data does appear to show more patients in the high conflict group becoming less certain, it also showed there were still some in the “low conflict” group who also indicated less confidence after the counseling sessions and waiting periods.
That researchers would admit that required counseling and waiting periods would affect anyone at all is itself remarkable. Abortion advocates routinely insist women have already fully considered their options and made up their minds so that such informed consent laws are unnecessary.
What does UCSF propose to do about this? To jettison right to know and waiting period laws (of course) and to allow the abortion clinic staff to identify those “high conflict” patients and then recommend delays and reconsiderations as the staff sees fit. Your salesperson shall decide whether or not you need their product.
Given that their own data showed decreased certainty among even some low conflict patients, this hardly seems a wise choice.
Supporters of abortion think studies like this one prove that such laws are ineffective and unneeded, but the opposite is true. It would be wonderful if every woman were given full and unbiased information about fetal development, abortion’s risks and alternatives to abortion that are better for both mother and child, without the industry’s spin and denial, and great if that changed every abortion determined woman’s mind. But even in its imperfect implementation, it does change some minds and save some lives.
The authors say that these “laws presuppose that women are conflicted about their abortion decision and require health care providers to treat all woman seeking abortion as if they are conflicted.” They argue that the demonstration that conflict is rare makes the “logic behind singling out abortion… difficult to accept.”
But the reason for these laws is because this is a unique decision; it is one that involves deliberately killing another human being. With such profound consequence hanging in the balance, the least that can be done is to make sure the mother knows what abortion involves, what the life affirming alternatives are, and is given a bit more time to think about it.
Some women consider that information and choose to let their babies live. And even this study from high-profile pro-abortion researcher advocates proves that.