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Disclosure and Coercion

Concealing Relevant Information is "An Act of Coercion"

Melinda Tankard Reist



In this excerpt from her book Giving Sorrow Words: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion, journalist and women's rights advocate Melinda Tankard Reist argues that failing to inform women about the risks and trauma of abortion is a form of coercion:



Concealing information relevant to a woman's decision-making and future health should be recognized as an act of coercion.


Deceptive information presented as fact for example, that post-abortion trauma is a "myth" also acts coercively on a client.


If a woman has an abortion without having been apprised of the facts about potential harm and suffering, she has not chosen freely: the decision-making process has been rendered defective. The normal requirements for informed consent prior to undergoing a medical procedure should not be suspended when that procedure is a termination of pregnancy.

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Informed consent means that, prior to the decision to have an abortion, the patient must be fully advised of all physical and psychological risks associated with abortion, even if the doctor considers those risks minimal.

In 1992, the High Court of Australia in Rogers v. Whitaker stated expressly that every patient must be provided with complete information, including the most remote risk, flowing from or which may flow from the proposed medical procedure. In that case, a specialist was held to be negligent for not advising a woman of a one in 14,000 risk of incurring blindness from an eye operation. She was the one in 14,000.

The ruling effectively means that a decision to undergo a medical procedure is void unless it is made on the basis of relevant information. But in the field of abortion provision, there seems to be an attitude that women need to be "protected" from such information, that they might be confused by material other than that which presents abortion as quick, easy and virtually risk-free.

The U.K. Commission of Inquiry Into The Physical and Psycho-Social Effects of Abortion on Women heard from a Dr. Alan Rogers, Consultant Gynecologist at Marie Stopes Park View Clinic, who said that he was confident he could "tell" when a woman was ready for an abortion. The Commission's report stated: "We were unable to establish how much information is actually given to women at Dr. Rogers' clinic prior to abortion."

A doctor who said he could just "tell" when a woman was "ready" for any other medical procedure, without having first provided her with information about that procedure and its possible risks, would be reminded that the days of "doctor-knows-best" are over.

Other medical practitioners, in Australia and overseas, have noted with concern the dearth of information about risks provided to women considering abortion. Some have called for mandatory reporting of abortion complications.

It is not enough to tell a woman she might "feel sad for a few days" and that such feelings are "hormonal and will pass," which was the reductionist message on abortion after-effects given to most of this book's contributors. She needs to know she might experience what the women in this book experienced—a long-lasting mental and emotional backlash, and, in some cases, significant physical ramifications—even if the clinic staff don't think these possibilities worth mentioning.

Women who leave their beds at night to breastfeed a "crying" (aborted) baby, or who buy teddy bears they pretend are their babies, or who cut themselves with razors, or whose bodies cannot sustain future pregnancies, are suffering what may be described as a form of socially and medically sanctioned repression. The repression began in the clinic or hospital when they were denied information about possible outcomes of abortion, and continued when they were denied a forum through which to address the toll abortion has taken on their lives.

The filtering of information to suit a particular agenda must stop. As one woman wrote to the clinic where her abortion was carried out: "Your biased, one-eyed approach did not serve me well. And now I must live with it, not you."

An informed woman should not be seen as a threat. Women should be made aware of their legal rights to pursue damages for physical/psychological harm suffered of which they were not forewarned.

In an article arguing the need for informed choice, including information about "fetuses, complications, even long-term grief," pro-choice Canadian writer Lindalee Tracey, who has had an abortion, states: "We shouldn't flinch from what it is we don't want to know. No matter how politically inconvenient."




Excerpted from the book Giving Sorrow Words: Women's Stories of Grief After Abortion, by Melinda Tankard Reist. Copyright 2007 Melinda Tankard Reist. Reprinted with permission.



Read more excerpts from Giving Sorrow Words:


Excerpt 1: "This Wasn't Really Counseling At All"

Excerpt 3: "They Didn't Prepare Me for the Horror"

Excerpt 4: "A Conspiracy of Silence"


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