These 14 "experts" have been making junk-scientific claims about abortion, according to a new RH Reality Check report. And Congress and voters are taking them at their word.
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If you follow feminist news at all, you’ve noticed that over the last several years, reproductive-rights activists have been playing Whac-A-Mole with state-level initiatives to restrict access to legal abortion. From TRAP laws to proposed Constitutional amendments that would grant fertilized eggs more rights than the women carrying them, abortion opponents have been busily drafting—and passing—terrible legislation all over the country, with the express purpose of subverting Roe v. Wade and banning abortion through the back door. Or back alley, as it were.
Last week, RH Reality Check published the results of an investigation into the folks behind this strategy, and it’s as riveting as it is enraging. Reporters Sofia Resnick and Sharona Coutts liken the corruption, deception, and junk science behind these laws to misinformation campaigns by Big Tobacco and climate-change deniers. All three lobbies employ the same methods:
They create nonprofits, staffed with die-hard ideologues, and set about producing and promoting bogus science, to build the illusion of dissent or doubt over conclusions drawn by peer-reviewed scientific or medical research. They develop their own “research findings” to suit their ideological views. Then they deploy scare tactics, all with the goal of passing laws that suit their agenda.
Abortion opponents, say Resnick and Coutts, have created “what might best be called the ‘False Witness’ industry,” a group of so-called experts willing to testify to unproven, anti-scientific claims about abortion. Among these are:
· Dr. Angela Lanfranchi, a surgeon who will say that abortion causes breast cancer (it doesn’t), and who is evidently known for a lecture called “The Pill Kills.”
· David C. Reardon, whose background is in electrical engineering—his Ph.D. in biomedical ethics came from a diploma mill that’s since gone belly-up. He’s big on spreading the myth of “post-abortion syndrome,” and has “made claims about the mental state of rape and incest victims, asserting that abortion will compound the trauma already suffered, and that women in these situations actually want to continue their pregnancies, whether they realize it or not.” His work was cited by the U.S. Supreme Court in Gonzales v. Carhart.
· Dr. Byron Calhoun, a Vice Chair at West Virginia University’s department of obstetrics and gynecology, who “does not separate his fundamentalist Christian worldview from his professional practice.” Apparently, his fundamentalist Christian worldview doesn’t prohibit lying through his teeth, because he told the West Virginia Attorney General he sees patients with abortion complications “probably at least weekly,” even though the hospital where he works could find only find evidence of a few documented cases in the entire year before that letter.
· Michael J. New, a political scientist who claims that restricting abortion will lower the rate of abortion, despite a large body of evidence that it merely drives abortion underground, creating much greater risks for women who need to terminate pregnancies. His research in this area has been challenged by his peers.
There are 14 rogues in the “False Witness” gallery, and Sharona and Coutts have painstakingly documented their relationships to each other, to anti-choice advocacy groups, and to various state laws abridging women’s reproductive freedom. I highly recommend reading through all of it. No matter how thoroughly discredited their work is, it continues to have a real-world impact.
Reardon’s claims about the link between abortion and mental illness, for instance, “helped frame a 2005 South Dakota law that requires doctors to give women warnings about depression and suicidal ideation, despite the fact that medical evidence does not support any of those claims.” New, who has testified before Congress that parental notification laws create a “strong disincentive” for teen girls (not boys, you’ll note) to have sex at all, laid out the death-by-mosquito-bite strategy behind these laws at the 2012 Value Voters Summit:
Require the woman to see an ultrasound, or require two trips to the clinic. That raises the costs; that stops the abortion from happening. You can lengthen the waiting period. Don’t be like the other states that do 24, 48, 72 hours. Do it for nine months—that’ll stop abortions in your state. I guarantee it.
Yes, that will indeed stop legal abortions, which is what we’re seeing all over the country, as laws designed by liars and supported by junk science take effect. Days after Tennessee voters approved a Constitutional amendment allowing laws that restrict abortion, a representative pre-filed a forced ultrasound bill that “would mandate the ultrasound take place no more than 72 hours and not less than 24 hours prior to the abortion being performed.” The point is not, of course, to help women “realize that it’s not just a blob of tissue, it’s a life,” as Rep. Rick Womack claims. It’s to increase the cost, time commitment, and general inconvenience of an abortion, in hopes that the pregnant person will be forced to continue the pregnancy, just as New described.
Sometimes, even a liar will tell you the truth. It’s too bad more legislators can’t tell the difference—or else they don’t realize grown women are more than just blobs of tissue.
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