Texas Senate Bill 25, currently being sent to the House, is a horrible policy rooted in good intentions. SB 25 prevents parents from suing their physician if their child is born with abnormalities or severe health conditions — even if those are discovered during the pregnancy and hidden from the parents.
As it is currently on the books, parents can file a “wrongful birth” claim against their doctor if they can make the case that they were not properly warned about severe health conditions. In legal terms, “wrongful birth” would no longer be a cause of action in malpractice suits.
The concept is clear: Given disproportionately high abortion rates for fetuses with abnormalities and disabilities — such as Down syndrome — some physicians and Texas lawmakers are attempting to curb that trend. If you simply hide medical knowledge about severe health conditions, then parents are less likely to terminate the pregnancy — or so the thought goes.
Although these conditions — and subsequent lawsuits — occur rarely, it’s worth considering whether this will improve medical care or serve as a veiled measure to restrict and reduce abortion. I find it horribly sad to watch the Down syndrome population decline rapidly as expectant parents choose abortion instead of raising a child with unique needs — but this bill isn’t the way to change that cultural problem.
State Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), who authored the bill, argues that SB 25, “does not permit a physician to lie… (or) decrease a physician’s standards of care or responsibilities, period.”
On the other hand, spokespeople for the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws beg to differ. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle: Although this doesn’t exempt doctors from potentially having their medical licensing stripped away if they willfully mislead patients, it certainly muddles their incentives. If this bill passes, doctors will have less incentive to provide full medical disclosure, as the legal stakes are lower for them.
Even from an anti-abortion perspective that mourns the loss of so many children with disabilities from our society, this isn’t a good idea. The consequences are glaringly obvious: With less knowledge comes less ability to prepare. Having a child with a disability or severe medical issue certainly requires great emotional strength, increased attention, specific knowledge and a great deal of financial planning. Early detection of abnormalities can help parents become more prepared to take on the unique challenges that will persist throughout their child’s life. To deny them the ability to prepare as part of a political ploy is incredibly shortsighted.
The way conservative activists have been fighting against abortion has reaped few rewards. We fixate on defunding Planned Parenthood, an organization that serves millions of people annually — many of them being Medicaid recipients and low-income earners who might not be able to find comparable health care elsewhere. We refuse to champion over-the-counter contraceptive access as a smart preventative measure — with the exception of people like Carly Fiorina.
Compared to Planned Parenthood’s brilliant marketing tactics — Care. No Matter What. — and vast political machine, we’re not going to win hearts and minds as we’ve become more focused on restricting abortion and less focused on eliminating the situations that lead to it. Thankfully, some conservatives have begun to realize that different approaches might yield better results.
For those who want truly anti-abortion policy, SB 25 is a bad approach. If we actually care about helping disabled children have the best possible quality of life, their parents need full information and physicians need to foster healthy, honest dialogue where patients don’t have to worry about individual morality getting in the way of medical care. Incentivizing information-withholding in the medical industry is a ludicrous idea. And worse: This doesn’t help children in need have the best possible chance at success.
I desperately hope Texas conservatives will pursue policies that actually reduce unintended pregnancies, help families prepare for challenging situations and change the way we look at abortion without manipulating physician incentives.
Wolfe is managing editor of Young Voices, an op-ed writing organization based in Washington, D.C. She lives in Austin, where she writes about criminal justice, sex policy and libertarian ideas.