About a month ago, I was driving through the Pennsylvania countryside on my way back to my hometown of Philadelphia. The route was breathtaking: rolling hills, peaceful farmland and grazing cattle. There were signs for general stores and grandma’s pie shops. It was about as American as apple pie and Uncle Sam. I was about to burst into what I’m sure would have been a striking rendition of “God Bless America” when I saw the billboard. Towering over the land, it had a picture of a blond-haired, blue-eyed woman holding a pregnancy test with the words “Pregnant? Your baby’s heart is already beating.”
Well, that was it for the idealistic American countryside. For the rest of the car ride home, I couldn’t stop fuming. It declares a scientific fact for every woman who drives down I-76 when it’s false for some women and misleading for others. The Mayo Clinic states that a fetus’s heart begins to pump blood at 6 weeks into pregnancy (when the fetus is about the size of a tip of a pen) and women can find out their pregnant starting at around 4 weeks.
Here’s the question I’ve been pondering ever since seeing that billboard: when has it become acceptable, even “American” as in mandated by some proposed state laws, to provide women with medically false, inaccurate or misleading information?
I suppose it’s a trend that we could have seen coming. Over the last few years, the value we place on receiving accurate information appears to have declined. In politics, we see candidates making factual mistake after mistake. An infamous example is Sarah Palin on her “One Nation” tour. “One Nation” is technically supposed to be focused on visiting historical US landmarks in an effort to “revitalize the fundamental restoration of America by highlighting our nation’s heart, history, and founding principles.” However, in June 2011 while in Boston visiting the Old North Church, Palin gave false information on the historic American hero Paul Revere who warned the American colonists that the British were coming saying instead that he warned the British that the Americans were coming and some other confused jargon. Remember that? Of course, I may not know the details of every American hero out there (although I’m pretty sure I could have done a better job with Paul Revere than Palin did) but you can bet that if I was visiting the Old North Church and Paul Revere’s house on a historical tour to raise awareness of United States history, I would have done my homework.
This is just one of many factual mistakes that appear on both sides of the political aisle. We had Joe Biden saying FDR was president when the stock market crashed when it was Herbert Hoover. Christine O’Donnell tried to question her opponent on whether the First Amendment prevents the government from establishing a religion (it does, verbatim). Herman Cain stated that the Constitution mentions “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” when that’s actually in our Declaration of Independence.
These false statements are upsetting not just because they are false, but also because of our reaction to them: we don’t seem to care all that much. Yes, for a few days, the media had a bit of a field day with Sarah Palin. Then it died down and it didn’t seem to affect her popularity with mainstream Americans. Not many people seemed all that horrified that a Vice Presidential candidate had no idea who Paul Revere was and hadn’t bothered to look it up or that a potential presidential candidate of the United States did not know what was in the Declaration of Independence versus the Constitution, two founding documents of our country.
It appears that we also no longer care when women are given medically false, inaccurate or misleading information. This is occurring more than people seem to realize: not only on billboards but also in crisis pregnancy centers and even in the offices of medical providers. In some cases, it’s state mandated.
A proposed 69 page anti-choice bill in Kansas would exempt doctors from malpractice suits if they withhold medical information from their patients in order to prevent an abortion, even if that medical information could have prevented a health problem for the mother or the child. The bill also requires medical providers to tell women that abortions increase the risk of breast cancer, which is not supported by current medical research according to both the National Cancer Institute and the American College of Obstetrician and Gynecologists.
Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPC) are also culprits in disseminating scientifically inaccurate information to women when they are at their most vulnerable. In general, CPCs are established to counsel pregnant women against having an abortion and have a history of giving women wrong, biased information including factitious physical and mental risks associated with abortion. A statement from Planned Parenthood states, “Crisis pregnancy centers often pretend to be real health care providers – but many are not. These fake clinics often trick women with false advertising.” A few years ago, Myra Duran, at the time a junior at UCLA, visited just such a center and wrote about her experience in a Huffington Post article where she stated, “Policy makers need to understand how CPCs intimidate and misinform women. Over the past eight years, the federal government pumped millions of dollars into CPCs as part of various abstinence-only-until-marriage initiatives.”
As the daughter of a biology teacher and a physician, I’ve grown up believing that I am entitled to scientifically accurate medical information especially as it pertains to my body. Is that a crazy expectation for me to have as a citizen in the United States in the year 2012?
I’ve been privileged to have access to education and a decent knowledge of medicine. And yet, I think that even I would hesitate to question a medical professional. How many women out there have been or will be misled by information from a health care provider or a place that claims to be a health care clinic? I would like to believe, and I know that many people do believe, that when women and men are in the offices of our medical providers we will get accurate medical information. That no one will try to mislead us with false statements to advance their own agendas. Medical professionals see individuals when we are at our most vulnerable and we deserve options and facts free of judgment and speculation. If more laws like the one in Kansas are considered, this will no longer be the case. Medical professionals will have to lie and perform unnecessary procedures, such as ultrasounds prior to abortions in Virginia, based on a political mandate.
It’s time to start caring. It’s easy to roll our eyes at false information and misstatements when we know better. But then the line blurs. What about those that don’t have access to scientifically accurate information? What if that becomes you? What if, in a few years, all that we’re given is inaccurate? It is disrespectful to the women and men who are receiving this inaccurate information and erodes our reproductive rights. Let’s fight to stop false information from the start and show that we as a society care about truth. It IS a big deal. And, in the end, it’s American to demand the truth and stand up for your rights.