Rewire News: How Pseudoscience “Infiltrated” Public Policy in 2016

Photo: (CC) Mary Helen Leonard
By Amie Newman |

2016 may come to be known as the year when the importance of facts in United States’ political dialogue died a slow death. But a lack of facts has never stopped anti-abortion rights advocates and legislators from pushing for policies that restrict access to safe and legal abortion.

In an effort to document the damage caused by misinformation, Rewire has catalogued a list of times, throughout the year, when “junk science infiltrated public policy.”

Probably the most well-known effort in 2016 to use pseudoscience to affect public policy involved the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress. This group was behind the effort to discredit Planned Parenthood by shooting a series of “secret” videos and editing them together to create a false narrative about Planned Parenthood selling fetal tissue (and killing live babies). The videos prompted the U.S. House of Representatives to create a committee to investigate whether these actions were happening. According to Rewire, the investigation based on bogus facts continues:

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In May, for example, the panel subpoenaed an abortion provider and community first responders, based on the unfounded assumption that hospital transfers indicate medical wrongdoing. The panel’s investigation will continue into 2017.

Forcing health care providers to replace medically-accurate facts with myths in pamphlets given to women who seek abortion care is perhaps the most insidious infiltration. Rewire reports on the Texas health department’s efforts to revise a booklet on abortion, based on the state’s anti-abortion “Right to Know” law:

Far from simply informing patients of factual risks of this medical care, the state’s pamphlet has for years pushed falsehoods that abortion causes mental illness and breast cancer, despite consensus among the major medical institutions to the contrary. Among the newest updates in this booklet is the unfounded claim that fetuses are capable of feeling pain at 20 weeks.

The Rewire article also addresses the flaws in “fetal anesthesia laws,” the claim that medication abortion can be reversed, and other myth-mongering tactics designed to make abortion inaccessible to women who need them.

Anti-abortion legislators and activists, emboldened by the support of our President-elect and Congressional leadership, are likely to push for even more anti-abortion rights policies over the next several years. We’ll need resources like Rewire to debunk the myths and spread accurate information. And we’ll need all of us who believe in women’s autonomy to fight diligently for reproductive rights and justice.

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