The FDA has mandated that by mid-2013 all cigarette packs sold in the United States must be covered at least 50% with graphic images depicting the negative impact of smoking, including pictures of severely damaged lungs, a man with a stoma, rotted teeth and mouths, and a dead body with a sewn chest. For a slide show of the images, see here. While I generally support the cigarette pack photos, such pictures remind me of my encounters with pro-life abortion protesters and their graphic signs showing aborted fetuses, an awful sight that should be reserved for other venues than street corners where all (including young children) can see.
I am not going to wade into the emotional world of abortion too deeply, but this new FDA mandate reminds me of something that has troubled me for many years about the way we handle abortion in our country. Unlike every other medical procedure and health reviews we do with our doctors, abortion is one where the doctor and patient are silent on a critical piece of information and decision criteria. This information is the image of the (or picture of a similarly developed) fetus she is about to abort.
In the state of New York, abortions are legal until week 24 of a pregnancy. To many of 24 weeks is just a number. The information one should have prior to having an abortion is the “image” of what is inside them. I’m seriously not saying this because I think we should scare women and play with their emotions. I am saying it because they should see what’s inside them, just like they do prior to any other surgery, and then decide whether or not to proceed.
Other than in emergency situations, do orthopedic surgeons ever do knee or shoulder surgery on a patient without showing them an x-ray, MRI, or CAT scan? The doctor shows you what’s there, and tells you what he/she’s going to do, and then if you agree they do it.
One may argue that in the case of abortion, a doctor is even more obliged to show a woman what is inside her given that this is not the removal of cartilage, it is the removal of something far more significant. But let’s stay away from that argument for a minute, and just say that a patient should be informed before undergoing surgery, and they should know what is inside of them and being “removed” from them. Today the opposite happens. A woman (or, sadly, a girl without parental consent) goes into a clinic, says they want an abortion, and after the most tepid of counseling the procedure is done.
I’m not going to post photos here of a 24 week old fetus, but if you’d like to see one you can do so here. (Note, the photo is of a fetus in uterus, not aborted). Do I believe showing a woman at 24 weeks this photo (or, if the fetus is 14 weeks, show a 14 week fetus) prior to an abortion would reduce the number of abortions? Yes, I do. But it would do so for the right reasons. It would be a patient being informed by their doctor of the details of the surgery they are asking the doctor to perform, and then deciding with complete information whether or not they want to proceed.