Thursday, July 31, 2008

Not So Happy Birthday, Humanae Vitae

This past Friday, July 25th, marked the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, an encyclical written by Pope Paul VI at the height of the 1960s sexual revolution concerning reproductive issues. The letter, sent to bishops worldwide, affirmed the Roman Catholic Church’s official position forbidding voluntary sterilization, abortion, and any method of artificial contraception. Humanae Vitae also addressed sexual relations between married couples, stating that sex should be mainly for procreation, although natural family planning is acceptable.

Pope Paul VI wrote that the use of artificial contraception would contribute to the “general lowering of moral standards” and would increase the danger of men reducing women to “being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of [their] own desires.” While this may sometimes be true, isn’t it possible that women could use men as “mere instruments”? Most likely the Church is actually afraid of people of both genders using sex as a “mere instrument for the satisfaction of [their] own desires.”

Pope Paul IV’s strongest argument in Humanae Vitae was that this teaching has been consistent throughout the Church’s history and that it is not within his power to change it. However, if the pope doesn’t have the power to change the direction of his own church, who does? His arguments clearly highlight the Church’s backward thinking and their attempts to limit the reproductive rights of women.

The clearly controversial Humanae Vitae signified the first time in the 20th century that Catholics and clergy around the world openly criticized and questioned the teachings of the Church. In addition to the voiced opposition, thousands of Catholics left the Church. Catholics leaving the church for this reason is a clear signal that there are many faithful Catholics worldwide that support the use and distribution of contraception methods for women and men. Being Catholic doesn’t mean you have to be impractical.

Forty years later on Friday, more than fifty Catholic groups published an open letter in Italy’s largest newspaper, Corriere della Sera, calling on Pope Benedict XVI to lift the Church’s ban on artificial contraception. The letter to the Vatican said the ban “has had a catastrophic impact on the poor and powerless around the world, endangering women’s lives and leaving millions at risk for HIV.” Obviously these things are not what the Church wants to promote, so instead of condemning the use of contraception, the Church should perhaps be attempting to prevent the spread of HIV and working to decrease the rate of poverty.

One group who supported the letter in the Italian newspaper was the US based Catholics for Choice, a group whose name may sound like an oxymoron to some.

When thinking about the traditional beliefs of Catholicism, many people naturally assume that all Catholics are anti-contraception. Organizations like Catholics for Choice confirm to the public that there are many Catholics in the United States who do care about and support the reproductive health and safety of women and men--even when the Vatican and current pope do not. According to the Gallup Polls, more than 75 percent of Catholics in the U.S. believe that the Church should allow use of contraception.

While it seems apparent that the majority of Catholics support the use of contraception, in 1993, Pope John Paul II reaffirmed the Church’s position on artificial contraception in his encyclical, Veritatis Splendor and then again on Friday, Pope Benedict XVI also showed his support for the forty-year old publication. He claimed that the key message is love and called Humanae Vitae “a gesture of courage”. The current pope also said it is “a sign of contradiction but also of continuity of the Church’s doctrine and tradition…what was true yesterday is also true today…in light of new scientific discoveries, its teaching is becoming more current and is provoking reflection.”

With the 40th anniversary of the Humanae Vitae encyclical and so many Catholics in support of contraception use, it is now time for the Vatican to retract the content regarding voluntary sterilization, abortion, and contraception use. The Vatican does not have a good track record for admitting their mistakes, so this may be too much to ask for, at least for the time being. Hopefully, however, the letter written by Catholics worldwide will be a catalyst in the realization that contraception is not evil after all, but necessary.

Catholics and contraception use will always be a hot topic—any comments about this?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

My Purity Belongs to Daddy

Over the past few days, the feminist blogosphere has called out Time Magazine on its fawning coverage of the abstinence movement’s “purity balls.” Nancy Gibbs’ article discusses the Father-Daughter Purity Ball, an event in which girls ranging in ages from four to late teens pledge their virginity to their fathers. That’s right - an entire ceremony dedicated to controlling girls’ sexuality, with plenty of creepy patriarchal overtones. One would think that reasonable people would shudder at the creepy thought of four years olds pledging to stay “pure” until marriage; apparently these dads think their preschooler’s virginity needs to be “protected”-- before they can even tie their shoes or use a cup without a lid.
The purpose of the event is explained by purity ball founder Randy Wilson, who wrote a pledge for fathers to make, promising “before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the areas of purity.” The demure-sounding “areas of purity” message is very simple—Daddy owns his daughter’s sexuality until she marries, at which point her husband takes over.
Purity balls make it clear that girls’ self-worth and value in the eyes of other people – particularly men - depends on their sexuality. Or rather lack of sexuality.
Purity balls also include dinner, dancing, and a ceremony in which fathers and daughters kneel under crossed swords and offer a “purity blessing.”
If fathers really want to be positive influences, they should lobby against abstinence-only sex education, which has repeatedly shown that it doesn’t quite do the job of keeping teenagers chaste. It’s clear: abstinence-only education harms young people more than it protects them. Conversely, comprehensive sex education would protect these girls—protect them from making uninformed and unsafe choices about sex . Fathers need to work to ensure a positive environment for their daughters in which girls are educated, respected, and allowed to make smart, informed decisions for themselves.
These “Purity Balls” are just another way to glamorously lie to young women and girls.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Pharmacy Staff Lacking in Plan B Basics

Since the FDA approved Plan B® for over-the-counter distribution in 2006, women in Maryland have been able to access this crucial medication without a written prescription. However, it seems that some local pharmacy staff could greatly benefit from a Plan B® tutorial. Some people have complained about the lack of accurate information being provided by various Maryland pharmacy staff when attempting to purchase Plan B. Samantha Lewis, a former NPCM intern, reported that she was given conflicting information as to when Plan B® is effective by two different pharmacies. One staff member told her the medication only worked the morning after sex, while a different pharmacy informed her that the medication could work up to 3 days after sex. Isn’t it the job of pharmacists’ to know the in-depth details of how medications work? Don’t we count on them to know how drugs interact and if a certain pill should be taken with food or on an empty stomach? As a result, all pharmacy staff should be prepared to FAQs about Plan B®.

There are several reasons why it is particularly critical for pharmacy staff to know the facts about Plan B®. First, Plan B® is a time sensitive medication. This means that there is a limited amount of time for the pills to be taken and still be effective. It’s really not that complicated: Plan B works better the sooner it is taken, works bests within 72hrs, but could still be effective if taken within 120 hours (5 Days) after sex. Secondly, while many people may have heard of the morning-after pill, most haven’t been educated on the details. So while a young woman may heard about a pill you can take after sex to help prevent you from becoming pregnant, she turns to pharmacy staff to tell her exactly how the medication works and when it should be taken. Finally, anti-choice groups work diligently to spread misinformation to cause confusion about Plan B. Consumers look to pharmacists to provide them with factual, unbiased information. As sources of authority, it’s unacceptable for some pharmacy staff members to not know the basic facts about Plan B®.

Do you have a story about purchasing Plan B in Maryland? Good or bad, we would love to hear about it!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Fight Back Against Bush's Lastest Attack on Women's Health!

Recently, The New York Times reported on a new proposal by the Bush Administration concerning conditions on aid recipients under federal health programs run by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Included in this proposal, the Bush administration found it necessary to redefine abortion as “any of the various procedures — including the prescription, dispensing and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any other action — that results in the termination of the life of a human being in-utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation.” This definition of abortion is incredibly broad and would include many types of birth control and emergency contraception. The National Institute of Health and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists affirm that pregnancy begins when a fertilized egg implants in the lining of a woman’s uterus. Despite the conclusions of the scientific and medical community, the Bush administration is determined to redefine conception to further their political agenda.

In addition, hospitals, clinics, researchers and medical schools who receive funding from the HHS would be required to sign “written certificates” alleging that they will not discriminate against hiring nurses and other providers who do not advocate abortion or particular types of birth control due to “religious beliefs or moral convictions.” The federal initiative would supersede state and local government policies causing direct conflict with state laws requiring hospital staff to offer emergency contraception to victims of sexual assault.

Thankfully, the proposal has caused quite a backlash. Prominent leaders, including Senators Pat Murray and Hillary Clinton have spoken out against the Bush administrations attack on women’s health. Housespeaker Nancy Pelosi has also expressed her concern stating "a sustained pattern of the Bush administration to reject medical and sound science in favor of a misguided ideology that has no place in our government". And enough outraged people visited Pelosi’s website to cause the site to crash.

CLICK HERE to tell your members of Congress that you support their efforts to get the Bush administration to reconsider this terrible idea!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Women on Web and Women Around the World

A recent study by the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology has brought light to the Women on Web website, which allows women to purchase the abortion drugs mifepristone and misoprostol. The pills, (which can be purchased for 55 British pounds, or about 110 American dollars), are only sent to countries where abortion is heavily restricted, or completely banned. Unfortunately, though the intention of the service is to “reduce the number of deaths due to unsafe abortions”, 11% of the women who used the pills had medical complications that required surgery. Sadly, these pills are the safest alternative to extremely dangerous illegal abortion. Though the Women on Web site helps women with their reproductive rights, it’s a frightening reminder of what could happen in the United States if Roe v. Wade is overturned. In the US, abortion restrictions such as mandatory waiting periods, parental notification and consent laws, and late term abortion bans are continually enacted. With these constant attacks on choice, the alternative method of obtaining pills from the Internet may be closer than we think. Without access to safe, legal abortion, women turn to dubious, dangerous termination methods that can cause serious side effects. Outlawing abortion doesn’t stop it from happening- as the Guttmacher Institute proves; the incidence of abortion is the same for women in every country, regardless of whether the procedure is legal. The need for safe, legal abortion is crucial to defending reproductive rights not only in America, but for women all over the world.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Forced Speech! What South Dakota is ALL About!

The infamous Eighth Court of Appeals of South Dakota has removed an injunction against the law that would force doctors to use specific, controversial language during inform consent conversations with patients seeking an abortion. The law mandates doctors to inform all abortion patients that “The procedure would terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being.” While I find many things wrong with this statement, I think the major invasion of free speech is the most alarming. Being forced to say something you don’t believe is just as bad as being restricted from expressing yourself.

Women's Health Report states that the case was sent back to U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier to determine whether or not the law is unconstitutional. During that time, Judge Schreier issued a temporary injunction to prevent the bill from being enforced until ruling on the law from 2005. While the injunction decision was upheld by a three-judge panel of the 8th circuit court, the decision was then reversed by the Appellate Court saying that Planned Parenthood failed to provide evidence that the verbatim statement required by doctors is ideological, untruthful, misleading or irrelevant to a woman’s decision. I’m sure if PP knew that their case was going to be dismissed with a list of adjectives, they would have submitted a few more into evidence. What about intentionally emotionally manipulative? Or unapologetically and inexcusably condescending? Unethical? Biased?

Typically, doctors are told to check their personal beliefs at the door, because it is crucial to receive unbiased information when you are entrusting someone with your health and life. This statement infringes on the fundamental right to receive straight forward, professional care.

Way to go South Dakota for finding a new, revolting way of restricting abortion rights. Because if you can’t beat ‘em, you can always take away a civil liberty or two.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Evasive McCain, Oblivious Fiorina

The AP/ reports that during a campaign stop on Wednesday, McCain avoided answering a question about insurance companies that cover Viagra but not birth control. The former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, Carly Fiorina (an ardent McCain supporter), brought up the subject on Monday while advocating for McCain. She said, “There are many health insurance plans that will cover Viagra but won't cover birth control medication. Those women would like a choice.” Of course, McCain “forgot” how he voted on the insurance issue, telling a supporter "I don't know enough about it to give you an informed answer because I don't recall the vote. ... I don't usually duck an issue, but I'll try to get back to you."
NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan noted that McCain actually voted against a proposal to require insurance companies to cover Viagra and birth control prescriptions. As Keenan pointed out- Fiorina is ignorant of McCain’s consistent anti-choice, anti-women stances. Even McCain seems to be unaware of his voting record. It shouldn’t be too difficult for McCain to recall his consistent anti-choice votes. Perhaps the senator is getting forgetful at the age of 73? Fiorina has previously misspoken about McCain’s policies, like when she said he "has never signed on to efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade." That’s funny, because, again, McCain has been consistently anti-choice and anti-woman in word and deed. Fiorina was at least correct when she mentioned on Monday that “those women would like a choice.” Indeed, women absolutely need insurance plans that cover birth control, but women also have a right to make choices about their own bodies. If Fiorina agrees, she ought to reconsider her support of McCain.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Right to Life, Right to Free Speech

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that the First Amendment rights of pro-lifers trump the right of students to an uninterrupted education. The ruling was in response to a 2003 case, in which pro-lifers from the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform circled a California middle school in a truck emblazoned with graphic images of ‘aborted’ fetuses. Though the truck caused significant disruption to the school day, provoking tears and violence among students, the judges stated that "[t]he government cannot silence messages simply because they cause discomfort, fear or even anger". Constitutionally, the right to free speech is extremely important, as is an undisrupted school environment. However, according to the Appeals Court judges, the right to disturbing, disruptive “speech” is more important than the safety and education of children.

The Center’s executive director justified the “free speech” by claiming that “students who are old enough to have an abortion are old enough to see an abortion.” That’s ironic, considering that the same people who are rabidly anti-abortion also oppose comprehensive sex education in middle and high schools. Affordable birth control, scientifically accurate information, and honesty repeatedly prove to be a lot more effective in reducing teen pregnancy than lies, manipulation, and misinformation. If pro-lifers really want to prevent abortions, then they should lobby for honest, effective education that teaches pregnancy prevention to the kids that they target.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Frederick County Public Schools Begin Pregnancy Prevention in Eighth Grade

Frederick County Public Schools have approved the measure to add pregnancy prevention and HIV/AIDS education in the 8th grade curriculum. Like Montgomery County Public Schools, Frederick Co has added more comprehensive material to their school-wide curriculum. Kudos to them for realizing that students should be educated on prevention as well as abstinence!