Texas Publishes State-Mandated Anti-Choice "Propaganda" Booklet

Updated pamphlet still rife with medical errors, health advocates say

Texas Publishes State-Mandated Anti-Choice
Source: dshs.texas.gov

Despite thousands of objections from the medical community and pro-choice advocates, the Texas Department of State Health Services this week finalized an error-riddled booklet required for abortion-seeking women.

The ironically titled “A Woman’s Right to Knowpamphlet is chock-full of misleading anti-choice spin, including the scientifically erroneous link between abortion and breast cancer (debunked by the National Cancer Institute), associating abortion with risk of suicide, which is not recognized by the American Psychological Association, and listing non-medical crisis pregnancy centers as resources. A 2003 state law mandates physicians hand the inaccurate booklet to patients considering abortion care.

The health department updated the already long-criticized text with even more untruths this summer, like the notion fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks gestation and – throwing accurate medical terminology out the window – refers to the “fetus” and “embryo” as “your baby.” The pamphlet also encourages women to call 911 if they feel pressured into choosing an abortion. In a statement, anti-choice lobby group Texas Right to Life said “several changes” they requested were included, and thanked the health department for their cooperation.

Reproductive health advocates delivered more than 5,000 comments of opposition to the state health department in July, the Chronicle previously reported. Overall, the health department received nearly 13,000 comments and say they took them into consideration. “We very carefully reviewed the booklet for accuracy and took to heart the feedback we received over the summer,” said Carrie Williams of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission in an email to the Chronicle. “Our focus was on making sure the booklet is helpful, user friendly, and medically accurate, and we carefully studied the medical and scientific research available to us along the way. In the end, it's about making sure pregnant women have access to the information they need to make the best decisions for themselves.”

While some of the language was softened, reproductive health advocates say the booklet continues to drastically mislead women and perpetuate dangerous myths about abortion care. Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said the state is “ignoring the concerns of its citizens and the medical community by playing politics” with women’s health and “interfering in the doctor-patient relationship” yet again. “This pamphlet is riddled with errors and promotes misinformation designed to stigmatize abortion and dissuade women from making their own decisions about their health care.”

Over the summer, Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, a former nurse and vice chair of the bipartisan Texas House Women’s Health Caucus, slammed the booklet as a “propaganda piece.” She continued her criticism of the faulty text on Wednesday. "This latest edition of the 'Woman's Right to Know' pamphlet is yet another example of our Texas health agencies disregarding facts and data, and jeopardizing the wellbeing of women,” Howard said. “The state ignored comments of not just the general public, but also of medical professionals, to compile a document which contains obvious falsehoods, misleading information, and coercive language. This is a disservice to health care providers and their patients, and I am ashamed of the state's actions on this matter."

While legislation specifically targeting correction of the book’s misinformation has yet to be filed (as in sessions past), Howard has put forth HB 262, which would help ensure doctors can’t be penalized or prosecuted for refusing to comply with certain abortion restrictions. The protection would apply if the medical provider believes complying would force the patient to hear inaccurate or inappropriate information (such as the link between abortion and breast cancer), undergo unnecessary procedures, or receive substandard care.

More than 35% of the information in the state-mandated booklet is made up of medical inaccuracies, a panel of experts at Rutgers University found earlier this year. The nonpartisan American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Texas Medical Association, and Texas Hospital Association have all previously supported legislation that fixes the booklet language.

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