“Unlicensed Doctors”: Politicians Swinging Stethoscopes
Let’s take a look at sex and state legislatures.
Never a good combo. Lawmakers venture into murky waters when they attempt to deal with the mysteries of human reproduction. The results are generally short of scientific. Once, when I was covering the Connecticut House of Representatives, a bill introduced at the behest of professional musicians, “An Act Concerning Rhythm Machines,” was referred to the Public Health Committee under the assumption that it was about birth control.
That was a long time ago, but a definite high note. Normally when these matters come up in a state capitol, the result is not chuckles.
New Hampshire, for instance, seems to have developed a thing for linking sex and malignant disease. This week, the State House passed a bill that required that women who want to terminate a pregnancy be informed that abortions were linked to “an increased risk of breast cancer.”
As Terie Norelli, the minority leader, put it, the Legislature is attempting to make it a felony for a doctor “to not give a patient inaccurate information.”
And there’s more. One of the sponsors, Representative Jeanine Notter, recently asked a colleague whether he would be interested, “as a man,” to know that there was a study “that links the pill to prostate cancer.”
This was at a hearing on a bill to give employers a religious exemption from covering contraception in health care plans. The article Notter appeared to be referring to simply found that nations with high use of birth control pills among women also tended to have high rates of prostate cancer among men. Nobody claimed that this meant there was scientific evidence of a connection. You could also possibly discover that nations with the lowest per capita number of ferrets have a higher rate of prostate cancer.
Bringing the prostate into the fight was definitely a new wrinkle. But it’s getting very popular to try to legislate an abortion-breast cancer link. I suspect this is at least in part because politicians in some states are being forced to stretch to find new ways to torture women who want to end an unwanted pregnancy. It’s sort of like gun control — once your state already has guaranteed the right to wear concealed weapons into bars and churches, you’re going to have to start getting really creative to reaffirm a commitment to the Second Amendment.
Last year, South Dakota — which has a grand total of one abortion provider — instituted a 72-hour waiting period, plus a requirement that the woman undergo a lecture at one of the state’s anti-abortion pregnancy counseling centers.
This law is tied up by litigation. While they’re waiting, the legislators have improved upon their work, requiring the doctor to ask his patient — who may have already traveled for hours, waited for three days and gone through the counseling center harangue — questions including what her religious background is and how she thinks her family might react to the decision to end the pregnancy.
“South Dakota has taken the I.R.S. audit model and applied it to women’s reproduction,” said Ted Miller of Naral Pro-Choice America.
But about this cancer business.
“Now we’re seeing why legislatures getting into the practice of medicine is dangerous,” said Barbara Bollier, a Republican state representative in Kansas, where a bill requiring doctors to warn abortion patients about the breast cancer connection is pending.
Bollier is a retired anesthesiologist, who also formerly taught bioethics. If you wanted to have a résumé guaranteed to drive you crazy in the Kansas State Legislature, she’s got it.
We had a very interesting discussion over the phone about good science — what makes a reliable study, and how an early suggestion of a possible connection between abortions and breast cancer was overtaken by larger, better studies that showed no evidence of a link whatsoever. All of this has been shared with the Kansas Legislature, to no effect whatsoever.
Bollier has her finger on the moral to all this. When faced with a choice between scientific evidence and their personal and political preferences, legislators are not going to go with the statistics. I have warm memories of the committee of the Texas House of Representatives that last year rejected a bill to require that public school sex education classes be “medically accurate.”
Let’s refrain from discussing how the people who are preparing to legislate medical science are often the very same ones who scream about government overreach when health experts propose taxing sugary beverages.
Just try to envision yourself in a doctor’s office for a consult. Then imagine you’re joined by a state legislator. How many of you think the situation has been improved? Can I see a show of hands?
By: Gail Collins, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 16, 2012
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