Pro-choice only for infant formula

A conservative columnist writes at Townhall: Bloomberg to New Mothers: You Really Should Be Breastfeeding, You Know:

Apparently, carrying a baby for nine months just isn't hard enough. Don't you think new mothers deserve a lecture about how to feed their baby.....just hours after they endure hard labor and are still in the hospital? New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has moved from his sugary drink ban onto the breasts of new mothers. That's right, Michael Nanny Bloomberg is now asking hospitals to lock up and strictly regulate baby formula. He wants nurses and doctors to give mothers who ask for formula as an alternative to breastfeeding a "talking to" about how breastfeeding is better for their baby.

Conservative website The Blaze joins in:

Mayor Bloomberg…has gone a step beyond banning sugary sodas and trans fats…. Now, it seems he is also trying to regulate breast milk.

…Bloomberg is actually pushing hospitals to keep their baby formulas “behind locked doors” so that new mothers will be more likely to breastfeed.

The conservative Project 21 puts forward a mother who objects:

Mayor Bloomberg's latest, his Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, is part of Bloomberg's mode of reducing choice for New Yorkers and continuing to chip away at the free market.

According to a CBS report, the initiative will help hospitals educate mothers on the benefits of breastfeeding over baby formula. The program is also sponsored by the World Health Organization which recommends that mothers breastfeed for six months.

As a mother who breastfed her children for an extended period of time, I completely support breastfeeding our babies; however, that is entirely a mother's choice and one which should be made in cooperation with the baby's pediatrician and her own physician.

Mayor Bloomberg is now playing the role of pediatrician and neo-natal specialist. While it is great to encourage breastfeeding, the reality is that some women may not want to breastfeed their baby and is simply their choice. The government should not force them to do it.

And so forth.

Meanwhile, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all babies be fed exclusively on breast milk for the first 6 months, and complementary breastfeeding and solid foods for the next 6 months or more. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for the first 2 years.  "Infant feeding," the AAP explains, should not be considered as a lifestyle choice but rather as a basic health issue." 

The AAP feels so strongly about the matter that they urge physicians not to give promotional material about formula to pregnant women.  The Surgeon General has also weighed in strongly in favor of breastfeeding, and against allowing direct marketing of formula to new mothers.  The Surgeon General, building on a code of behavior agreed to by the formula industry, observes, "Displays of posters, products, or decorations from these companies in a health care professional’s office or in a hospital or clinic leave the impression that clinicians favor formula feeding over breastfeeding. Given the health consequences of not breastfeeding, clinicians should not implicitly promote infant formula by providing venues for its advertisement."

Bloomberg's policy simply follows the recommendations of the AAP, the Surgeon General, and other public health and parenting experts.

On the other hand, conservatives are celebrating a court's ruling in favor of a law in South Dakota requiring that women seeking an abortion be told that abortion raises the risk of suicide – a claim which is factually false.

At the conservative New Republic, this is celebrated as "good news":

The South Dakota informed-consent law is the first to require that women receive information about a greater risk of suicide. The effectiveness of this law remains to be seen. The latest research on informed-consent laws shows the most effective laws appear to be those that raise the costs of the abortion — by requiring two separate visits to the abortion clinic. That having been said, the fact that the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the South Dakota law is evidence of the good work pro-lifers have done over the past several years documenting the health risks of abortion.

At Townhall, we're told:

South Dakota is doing everything it can to let downtrodden pregnant women know there are better, healthier options than abortion.…

What South Dakota lawmakers understand is that a woman who chooses to have an abortion needs to be aware of the incredibly grave consequences associated with that decision.

And yet this policy, which inserts the state between a doctor and a patient, requiring doctors to say things that aren't true in hopes of dissuading women from having a legal medical procedure. The widely-respected Guttmacher Institute explains:

The court decision on the South Dakota law requiring that women be informed of their increased suicide risk should they obtain an abortion is contradicted by the overwhelming weight of the highest quality scientific evidence available:

  • In December 2011, a systematic review commissioned and published by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (funded by the UK Department of Health, and carried out by the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health at the Royal College of Psychiatrists) concluded that "rates of mental health problems for women with an unwanted pregnancy were the same whether they had an abortion or gave birth," that an "unwanted pregnancy was associated with an increased risk of mental health problems" and that the "most reliable predictor of post-abortion mental health problems was having a history of mental health problems before the abortion."
  • An August 2008 report by the American Psychological Association (APA) Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion concluded that "the best scientific evidence indicates that the relative risk of mental health problems among adult women who have an unplanned pregnancy is no greater if they have an elective first-trimester abortion than if they deliver the pregnancy."
  • A comprehensive review of the scientific literature, conducted in 2008 by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, likewise found that "the highest-quality research available does not support the hypothesis that abortion leads to long-term mental health problems." The Johns Hopkins review also found a "clear trend" by which "the highest quality studies had findings that were mostly neutral, suggesting few, if any, differences between women who had abortions and their respective comparison groups in terms of mental health sequelae. Conversely, studies with the most flawed methodology found negative mental health sequelae of abortion."

Laws such as South Dakota's, which are grounded in spurious research rather than the best-available scientific evidence, not only represent a gross intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship, they also endanger the health and rights of women, by intentionally misinforming them on important medical matters. It is highly unfortunate that, even when widely recognized as such within the scientific community, discredited studies can have far-reaching consequences.

And, of course, they make hypocrites of conservatives.  Apparently it's OK to pass laws requiring doctors to misinform patients and to reduce the quality of the health care they provide, but not to enact policies making it easier for doctors to encourage new mothers to adopt practices which have been shown to significantly improve their own health and the health of new babies.


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Are South Dakota doctors allowed to tell their patients that what they are required to tell them about increased suicide risk, etc. is a government lie? Or is speech in conflict with the law itself a violation of the law?