Saturday, March 10, 2012

THE LEGAL WORLD : Abortion Counseling -- Hinders or Helps?

Every state requires a woman’s consent for an abortion. Most importantly that consent must be an “informed” consent. The decision must also be voluntary. No woman can be forced to undergo an abortion; not even age is seen as a factor in these circumstances. If she is 16 and though seen as a minor in the eyes of the law, if she wishes to keep her baby, she can. End of discussion.
Now, for those who want to have an abortion, there are certain regulations that they need to follow. For example, 34 states require that women receive counseling before they undergo the procedure. Out of the 34 states, 25 also mandate that the women wait 24 hours between the counseling and abortion date. The way counseling is given depends on the state. Some states require hand outs that describe the procedures and side effects (both emotional and physical). Others simply need to offer these hand outs and the women choose whether to read it or not. The point is that the government has made it a requirement to expose these women to all the information that is available and needed to know about abortion. Sounds reasonable, right? You give the woman the information-she decides what to do-the procedure is either postponed, done, or becomes non-existent. If only it were that simple.
 The information that has been given to these women is both erroneous and immaterial. The government and a substantial number of doctors have made it so that the information provided is more influential rather than educational. Pamphlets exaggerate the physical and emotional side effects of undergoing an abortion. Some include information about abortion procedures that do not necessarily pertain to these women and are often times more of a scare tactic. For example, according to the Guttmacher Institute (a non-profit organization dedicated to helping women and their reproductive health rights) the pamphlets and brochures handed out have details about abortion procedures that are done after the second trimester, when 90% of the women who enter abortion clinics undergo abortions during their 12th week of pregnancy. The excess of information is only there to overwhelm these women.  
Some states have even jumped the gun, claiming that abortion is associated with breast cancer! The clinics tell their patients that abortion procedures increase the chances of them having breast cancer. It seems that the farther along a woman is in her pregnancy, the more doctors imply that she is at risk of developing some form of disease or emotional condition. For the record, the National Cancer Institute rejected the idea that breast cancer is linked to abortion. Some brochures have even expressed the notion that women can suffer from post abortion traumatic stress syndrome. Again, this is unfounded. No major mental health organization has recognized this as a legitimate disorder. Clearly, these are efforts to deter women from aborting their fetuses (a fetus, for those of you who do not know, is a term used to describe “a developing human infant from approximately the third month of pregnancy until it is delivered”). Also, as I mentioned last week, technology is starting to be used as means of pressuring women into backing out of an abortion. Once hearing the fetus’s heart beating, a woman may suddenly be scared of ending a life, or too worried about the negative stigma associated with having an abortion. Not to mention the fact that some states require a 24-hour waiting period between an ultrasound and an abortion; it’s enough to make a woman doubt her initial decision and drive her to make one she might not want, but will choose in order to coincide with society’s expectations of her.
So, as far as informed consent is concerned, women need to be careful. I don’t mean to say that some of the things written on the brochures and videos aren’t true, but that’s just it. Not everything that is said to a woman is 100% true. We need to keep in mind that the government is involved, and with it comes a hidden agenda. Abortion clinics are open. Women can come and go as they please. But, there are certain obstacles that they have to pass in order to abort a fetus. We’re no longer living in a time where we can decide to have an abortion and actually have it, all in one day. Now, women need to plan a schedule, visit clinics to make sure that they are healthy to undergo the procedure, and wait 24-hours after the counseling takes place. There are too many moments in the entire process in which a woman can change her mind. But, it shouldn’t be because she’s scared into believing her decision is wrong. Or pressured into thinking she’ll be chastised by society for doing what she thinks is best. A woman should change her mind because deep down she feels it’s not the best decision for her and her fetus. It’s true that you should be well informed when making a decision. That goes for everything in your life, especially a life-altering decision such as this one. But when the facts are mixed with another person’s version of the facts, that’s where I draw the line.

The Woman Behind the Legal World Section:
 Christina Ontiveros is an undergraduate at UC Berkeley. She is double majoring in Legal Studies and Anthropology, and is an excellent and dedicated student. She is passionate and loyal; we can all count ourselves lucky that one day she might just be our lawyer! 

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