ArticlesVolume 17, Number 1 (2008)

Confronting Misinformation on Abortion: Informed Consent, Deference, and Fetal Pain Laws


In the last few years, the topic of “fetal pain” has become a hot one in many state legislatures. Five states now require that some women seeking abortions be told that their fetus may experience pain, with similar bills cropping up around the country. Even Congress has gotten involved, with the outgoing House of Representatives nearly passing a national fetal pain bill in late 2006. These measures are the latest in a growing body of specific informational requirements for abortion procedures, many steeped in scientific controversy. Nearly all of these measures are titled “Woman’s Right to Know Acts.”, These laws abandon well-settled principles of informed consent-which give discretion to medical professionals to determine what information is crucial for patients-in favor of legislative judgments about what particular facts should be told to patients and how these facts should be shared.