Women Are Getting Misleading Information About Abortion -- but Here's the Truth

By law, hospitals and women's health clinics require patients to read informational literature on abortions before undergoing the procedure. On such a controversial topic, it seems like an okay trade-off -- women can get a safe and legal abortion as long as they read the warning label first. It's not great, but it's fine. What's not fine is that in many places, these documents go too far in an effort to scare women off: A recent study found that as much as one-third of the information in abortion packets is untrue.


The study focused on fetal development (it didn't get into physical and mental side effects), so all of the inaccuracies identified are specific to the fetus size and the stages of its development.

The inaccuracies and the language (using terms like "unborn baby" instead of "fetus") leave the sense that the women's fetus is more baby-like than it actually is. Telling women things like "your unborn baby can cry by the time it's sixteen weeks," even though that's totally untrue, humanizes it in a way that complicates an already complicated decision -- and can cause confusion regarding the choice a woman has already made.

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So, in an effort to correct this, researchers conducting this study collected available abortion literature from each state and pulled out all the facts the packets presented about fetal health and development. Then they gave this all to a panel of specialists in embryological and fetal anatomy, and told them to rate the information on two scales: one a measure of accuracy, and the other a measure of how misleading it is.

But they kept the panel blind. The experts were told the information came from literature at medical health facilities, but to keep bias out of it, the researchers didn't tell them that it had anything to do with abortion.

They found that one-third of the information was either inaccurate, misleading, or both. Here are 10 of the most resoundingly false statements spread in abortion literature -- and the truths behind them. 

  1. The head has formed at week two.

    The truth: At week two, there's not even a fetus yet. Technically, day one, week one for a fetus is the day you start ovulating during the month you get pregnant, so at week two, your egg is still an unfertilized egg. It's only 1/200th of an inch wide.
  2. Arm and leg buds are present at week two. 

    The truth: Arm and leg buds won't start forming for another month -- usually they appear around week six.

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  3. The stomach and intestines start forming at week two.

    The truth: A very basic digestive system starts forming around week eight, but the tube that become the intestines and the part that becomes the stomach won't move into the fetus's body until week 13
  4. Brain activity can be recorded from week four.

    The truth: The paper that originally states this fact dates back to 1964, and it's not a study at all -- it's a convention speech transcript. "Brain waves" won't show up on an EEG until at least 28 weeks.
  5. The brain develops into five areas and some cranial nerves are visible at week four.

    The truth: This brain development does happen, but not until week six or seven.

  6. Fingers, toes, ankles, and wrists are completely formed at week six.

    The truth: It'll be a full 12 weeks before fingers, toes, ankles, and wrists are completely developed.

  7. Hiccups begin at week nine.

    The truth: Fetuses do hiccup, but not until week 23.

  8. The vocal cords are active and the fetus can cry at week 16.

    The truth: By the third trimester, babies will open their mouths, depress their tongues, and gasp irregularly, which makes researchers think they're silently crying. But it won't be until at least week 28.

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  9. The fetus can blink at week 16.

    The truth:
     Fetuses can't even open their eyes until the third trimester and, therefore, cannot blink at week 16.

  10. About 81 percent of fetuses can survive outside the womb at week 24.

    The truth: This one's a little complicated, because at this age, no fetus would be able to survive outside the womb without medical help. But with incubators, breathing tubes, food tubes, and more, a small percentage of babies can survive as young as 22 weeks, though it's not common, and of those who survive, most are born with handicaps. At 24 weeks, about 19 percent will survive, and the survival rate won't be as high as 81 percent until at least week 28.


Image via iStock.com/Pamela Moore

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