The XX Factor

Bonkers Iowa Bill Would Allow Women to Sue Abortion Providers for “Abortion Regret”

In Iowa, a new bill would punish abortion providers if patients had regrets 10 years later.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The “pro-life” coalition is getting preposterously creative with its legislation. In Iowa, a new bill would allow women to sue their doctors for malpractice up to 10 years after their abortion—not because they suffered physical injury (those rare cases are already covered under existing malpractice law), but because they experienced regret.

The bill, introduced by state Rep. Greg Heartsill—a Republican who is also a man—would license “pain and suffering” malpractice lawsuits for abortions even if the patient had signed an informed consent form. The woman filing the lawsuit would not need to have experienced medical issues stemming from the abortion. She would need only to decide after the fact that she’d made the wrong choice, and her provider would have to answer for a perfectly performed surgery—to the tune of steep fines and possible jail time.

This bill breaks new ground in dumbassery, assuming as it does that any witch doctor who dabbles in the dark art of abortion must also practice prophecy and mind-reading. But it is caked, too, in the idiot dirt of the old ground. By embracing a narrative of abortion regret—which the American Psychological Association does not recognize as a condition and which the Guttmacher Institute characterizes as extremely rare—Heartsill and co. are advancing the myth of the fickle woman who doesn’t know her own mind. They’re implying that in the moment of decision-making, a stranger still has a better grasp of a woman’s psychology than she does.

Of course, as my colleague Amanda Hess points out, some women do feel anguish after an abortion, and they should have access to the mental health care and supportive communities they need. (And, ideally, their personal stories would not be fed into the Republican agenda machine nor silenced by the Democratic one.) But the Iowa bill is more cynical than that: It is clearly more interested in intimidating and hassling abortion providers than protecting patients. As Wonkette notes, “[T]he more difficult and expensive it gets for women to access safe, legal abortions, the more likely it is that they’ll seek out shady or unlicensed operators who actually will do harm.” Other ill effects for women of a law that bullies doctors into performing fewer abortions include: the burden of unwanted pregnancy, the dangers of childbirth (which by far exceed those of a kosher abortion), the emotional stress of adoption, and the lacerating responsibility of raising a kid you don’t want.

Though Heartsill’s proposal gets points for sheer inventiveness and occult flair, it is preceded by a depressing inventory of anti-choice legislation in the past few weeks. In Missouri, three bills requiring women to wait 72 hours before an abortion, rather than 24, are working their way through committee. A fourth stipulates that both parents consent to a minor’s abortion, even in cases of medical emergency, neglect, abuse, incest, or assault. West Virginia’s House of Representatives just passed a 20-week abortion ban, with extra language obligating doctors to submit detailed reports to the state Division of Health for every procedure performed. And last year, Iowa presaged its entry into the reproductive rights wars by allowing the governor to personally approve each Medicaid abortion. Let’s hope Gov. Terry Branstad can read tea leaves.