For once, lack of evidence stops an anti-choice law

21 Oct 2015 03:01 am
Posted by: Donna

Evidence pyramidIllustration and explanation: Chelsea B. Polis, PhD

Pro-choice forces won two victories in Arizona last week. One was the federal court striking down a ban of off-label use of abortion medication (known to be safer than the original FDA protocol) and the other was the court blocking a new law requiring doctors to give abortion patients dubious information about the possibility of “reversing” a medication abortion.

It gets even better with the latter decision, per Jessica Mason Pieklo, Senior Legal Analyst for RH Reality Check:

Attorneys for the State of Arizona asked the court to postpone the trial, in part because its primary expert to defend the law lacked the “publication and research background and experience” to be qualified as an expert witness.

Federal courts are required to determine whether an expert is qualified to testify, including whether the expert’s methodology is sufficiently reliable to support the proposed opinions. The court must further decide whether the expert’s proposed testimony will, through the application of scientific, technical, or specialized expertise, assist the court in understanding the evidence or determining a fact at issue.

Dr. Mary Davenport of El Sobrante, California, is the State of Arizona’s principal witness in support of the measure. A member of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians & Gynecologists, Davenport bases her claims that a medically induced abortion can be reversed on a single anecdotal study of six patients, four of whom Davenport claims were able to carry pregnancies to term, despite ingesting mifepristone, by taking a dose of progesterone shortly after ingesting mifepristone.

No other scientific data exists to support Davenport’s claim.

This lone publication is not enough to qualify Davenport as an expert to testify in federal court, nor is it enough for the court to accept as evidence in support of the GOP-backed mandate that doctors tell patients that their medication abortion can be reversed because it cannot meet the court’s requirement that the state put forward evidence based on “reliable methods” that have “widespread acceptance.” Arizona’s anti-choice lawmakers did view it as enough evidence, however, to enact the “abortion reversal” mandate.

H/t to RH Reality Check commenter, epidemiologist Chelsea B. Polis, who provided a link to her post explaining why Dr. Davenport makes a terrible expert witness.

While this legal development on “abortion reversal” gratifies me, as a cranky cynical feminist I am bugged beyond belief at how so many other similarly evidence-free “safety” restrictions on abortion (waiting periods, mandatory ultrasounds, unnecessary hospital admission privilege requirements for abortion doctors, surprise inspections of clinics, etc.) have sailed through Arizona’s and other state’s legislatures and have gotten what amounts to a free pass in the courts and the courts of public opinion. Recall AZ Republic columnist Bob Robb opining on abortion restrictions a few months ago:

I’m generally pro-life and support most legislative restrictions on abortion. I don’t think exploring the limits of Roe v. Wade through litigation is a waste of time or resources.

Many of the Arizona restrictions struck down by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have been upheld in other jurisdictions. Arizona lawmakers shouldn’t be idle simply because Arizona is stuck with the most liberal federal appeals court in the land.

Since many of the recent restrictions have been passed under the guise of “safety” and Robb, an attorney, is surely smart enough to grasp that, the only possible conclusion to draw is that Robb is fine with dishonesty in the service of channeling the female chattel into their proper breeding role.

Except even he demurred at the “abortion reversal” stuff:

That goes beyond regulating what doctors can do or what reasonably constitutes informed consent. It requires doctors to state as a medical fact something many of them believe isn’t true or prudent.

The state has no business telling doctors what medical advice or conclusions to provide. Doctors should have the right to independent judgment and free expression.

In reality, doctors and medical experts were already having their judgment overridden by several of the other laws, and Robb was not bothered by them, but the “abortion reversal” one was plain goofy. Physicians are a group that includes men (important professional men, at that!) and the mere thought of them being forced through such an indignity must have been simply too much for Bob Robb to countenance! Seriously, note the absence of any concern whatsoever for the women who might possibly be harmed by the bogus advice.

Sadly, despite the evidence invariably falling solidly on the pro-choice side, restrictions on women’s reproductive rights will continue (with few noteworthy exceptions). There’s just too much of a vested interest in shaming and controlling women to allow facts and best practices to hold sway

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