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Study: One in three women receives misinformation when seeking abortion care

Thirty-five percent of women who seek abortion care in the United States receive medically inaccurate information about fetal and embryonic development, according to a study conducted by researchers at Rutgers University, Thomson Reuters Foundation reports.

For the study, researchers reviewed state-issued packets that abortion providers must give to women before an abortion. Thirty-one states require providers to distribute such packets. The researchers examined packets issued by 23 of those states (Malo, Thomson Reuters Foundation, 2/29).

Key findings

The researchers found that 31 percent of statements about fetal and embryonic development in the state packets were "medically inaccurate" (Informed Consent Project findings, accessed 3/1). Kansas, Michigan and North Carolina had the highest percentage of medically inaccurate statements in their packets, according to the study (Thomson Reuters Foundation, 2/29). The rate of inaccurate statements was 44.32 percent in Michigan, 43.40 percent in Kansas and 41.03 percent in North Carolina (Informed Consent Project findings, accessed 3/1).

The researchers also found that medically inaccurate information was "disproportionately concentrated in the first trimester of pregnancy and in the earliest weeks of pregnancy." According to the researchers, 45 percent of statements about the first trimester were inaccurate, 29 percent about the second trimester were inaccurate and 13 percent about the third trimester were inaccurate. In addition, more than half of statements about the second week of pregnancy also were found to be inaccurate (Informed Consent Project finding 2, accessed 3/1).

Further, the study found that most medically inaccurate statements involved particular physical aspects of the fetus, body systems or functions, often used to make a fetus seem more "baby-like" (Informed Consent Project finding 3, accessed 3/1). For example, the study found that an information packet given to women seeking abortion care in Wisconsin included the scientifically unfounded assertion that a fetus at 20 weeks' gestation could feel pain. Similarly, packets issued in North Carolina incorrectly claimed that a fetus between 12 to 14 weeks' gestation had completely developed lips and noses and partially developed nails (Thomson Reuters Foundation, 2/29).

According to the study, 20 percent of statements about fetal viability were also medically inaccurate, including claims that a fetus at 20 weeks' gestation has a "21 percent chance of survival with appropriate high-risk newborn care" (Informed Consent Project finding 3, accessed 3/1).

Cynthia Daniels, the lead author on the study and head of the Informed Consent Project at Rutgers University, said, "Misinformation is a threat to the integrity of the doctor-patient relationship and to the medical system as a whole." She added, "This study shows the problems that occur when politicians intervene into the doctor-patient relationship" (Thomson Reuters Foundation, 2/29).