Friday, January 30, 2009

The Economy and Family Planning

Working American families were dealt a blow this week when anti-choice Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) attacked a family planning proposal in the economic rescue package. This proposal could have saved taxpayer dollars and helped to make birth control more affordable for women hurt by job losses.

Current law allows women of reproductive age to become eligible for Medicaid coverage only after they become pregnant or if they have children who are enrolled in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). States that want to expand their Medicaid coverage to allow low-income women to access family planning services must first obtain a federal waiver.

The provision originally included in the stimulus package would have eliminated the waiver requirement, allowing states to directly access Medicaid funds for family planning services that do not involve abortion. Estimates show that every dollar of publicly funded family planning services saves $4 in state and federal dollars. And when the Congressional Budget Office looked at a very similar provision in 2007, it estimated that the federal savings would have totaled $200 million over five years, and $400 million over ten.

The savings comes from preventing unintended pregnancies through increased access to contraception, and through better prenatal and post-natal care. One in five infants born prematurely has ongoing health problems, and a recent Institute of Medicine report estimated that the economic cost of preterm births (including medical, educational, and lost productivity) was at least $26.2 billion in 2005.

Boehner’s attacks on birth control are a reminder that pro-choice electoral successes will not silence anti-choice politicians or guarantee success on issues important to women and their families. Despite our pro-choice gains in the House and the Senate, anti-choice members still outnumber our pro-choice allies.
Our community must and will continue to move forward in improving women’s access to family planning. Although this legislation disappointingly will not deliver needed assistance to the states and families, there will be other opportunities to work with the Obama administration and pro-choice members of Congress to help make birth control more affordable in such a time of need.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Say Good-bye to Bad Policy

President Barack Obama repealed the international gag rule on the third day of his presidency. Set in place by President George W. Bush, the gag rule restricted any foreign organizations receiving U.S. funds to perform abortions, provide counseling, or work to make abortion more legal abroad, even with their own non-US dollars. A long-battled over piece of policy, the gag rule was first inflicted by President Ronald Reagan in 1984 and held in place by President George H.W. Bush. President Bill Clinton later repealed the order but it was once again reinstated in 2001. President Obama’s reversal of the gag rule will allow the United States to provide funds to groups that not only provide abortion care with their own funding, but also offer information and counseling about abortions, a strong and supportive move for international family planning. Obama’s quick break from the gag rule shows a sharp turn from the socially conservative policies of the Bush Administration, and a move towards a friendlier atmosphere for supporters of a woman’s right to choose in America and abroad. With this action, President Obama has declared his support for women’s health, safety and their right to family planning.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Celebrating Roe v. Wade

January 22, 2009 marks the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning criminal bans on abortion. Justice Harry Blackmun wrote the 7-2 majority decision finding that the 14th Amendment's guarantees of personal liberty and previous decisions protecting privacy in family matters includes a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy.

This groundbreaking decision fundamentally altered the state of reproductive rights in America. Women no longer need to risk their lives in order to have control over their futures, nor are they forced to remain silent on life-changing decisions for fear of legal penalty.

On this historical day, a giant leap was made towards granting women their full rights as human beings. Despite this major victory, we must not assume that the struggle for reproductive freedom is over. Even though abortion is legal, real-life access to abortions is still limited. States have passed mandatory waiting periods, imposed restrictions on teenage women’s access to abortion, targeted abortion providers with medically unnecessary restrictions, and attacked public funding for medically necessary abortion care. We cannot allow past victories to blind us from seeing that there is still much to be done before every woman, no matter where she lives or what her income is, can have an equal say in deciding whether or not she is ready to become a mother.

We honor advocates, past and present, who have fought to ensure that women have a voice in deciding their reproductive future. As an issue that is often reduced to political rhetoric, it is important to acknowledge how individual autonomy in making personal decisions has greatly influenced the lives of women. Please share your story of how this decision impacted your life, or the lives of those you love.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

House Passes Bill that Includes Health Coverage for Immigrant Children and Pregnant Women

The Washington Post
recently reported that the House passed a health care bill that includes an expansion of health care coverage to impoverished legal immigrant children and pregnant women. Currently, legal immigrants must be residents of the US for at least 5 years before they can apply for any form of public assistance. The bill, an expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), would qualify over 4 million children for coverage. The 289-139 vote shows clear support for the legislation. A slightly altered form of the bill has been vetoed twice by former President George Bush. President Obama’s strong support of this important legislation will hopefully provide the impetus needed to see the bill through to completion.

If approved by the Senate, this bill will provide much needed care to pregnant women and children of families whose incomes are too high to qualify for Medicaid. However, opponents of the bill argue that the US cannot afford the cost of expanding health care to individuals who promised to live in the US without taking such assistance.

While the $33 billion necessary to sustain the program for 4 ½ years certainly is not something to take lightly, the majority of the revenue will come from the 61-cent cigarette tax increase that is a provision of the bill. With cost out of the way, the real question becomes whether or not America wants to provide health care to a significant group of people in need of coverage. While every American has the right to take their own stance on immigrant affairs, access to affordable health care is a fundamental right that should not be denied.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Controlling the Spread of STI's

The Baltimore Sun recently reported the results of a 3 month long study examining the reinfection rate among individuals who tested positive for a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and were prescribed additional antibiotics to treat their partner(s). The study showed a 41% decrease in reinfection rate, dropping from 3.9% to 2.3%. While this is a low percentage, the reinfection rate is closer to 15% over a 6-12 month span.

There were initial concerns about the safety of providing prescription drugs to individuals who had not been examined by a physician. However, the growing number of STI cases and the reality that many STIs remain undiagnosed provide a compelling reason to support this innovative program.

Fifteen states have already legalized this practice, and while Maryland is not one of the 15, the promising results of the Baltimore study may soon persuade Governor O’Malley to extend the pilot program statewide. Such an action may offer great gains in controlling the spread of STI’s by giving high-risk individuals access to treatment without being hindered by obstacles to receiving medical care.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Beware of Birth Control Chain Letters

With the advent of a pro-choice administration, women across the nation are looking forward to progress in the upcoming years. For those hoping to stifle women’s reproductive freedoms, however, the awaited inauguration of the nation’s 44th president means a call to arms for creating a plan to persuade the American public that accepting anti-choice ideals is the only way to support American freedoms. While most people are all too familiar with the attempts to end legal abortion, the campaign to end access to contraception may come as more of a surprise. And yet, the call to ban oral contraception, condom use, and promote abstinence-only education has been, and continues to be, at the top of many anti-choice agendas. Because medical knowledge, long-term studies, and good-old common sense all conclude that such goals would only serve to increase the rate of unsafe, unprotected sex, those pursuing such an agenda have to resort to groundless scare tactics.

One of the most recent attempts made at scaring the American public took the form of a chain email telling the story of a woman who had a stroke and died at the young age of 31. The email claims that the stroke was a direct result of the woman’s use of a form of oral contraception that prevented her monthly menstrual cycle and thereby led to an accumulation of blood that eventually clotted and migrated to her brain. It appeared to be of little concern to the original author of the email that the woman died in 2006, one year before Lybrel, the purported culprit, was even approved for sale. Apart from that slight miscalculation, the email is still rife with misinformation and medically inaccurate statements regarding oral contraception.

The use of oral contraception poses no significant risks to women’s health. Oral contraception works through a combination of hormones that prevent ovulation, the process through which the ovaries release an egg, thereby preventing fertilization by sperm. When ovulation does not occur, the uterus does not experience the hormonal changes resulting in the uterus shedding its lining, and menstruation is prevented. If the contraception pack includes a series of placebo pills, which do not contain hormones, the change in hormone levels experienced with the placebo pills weaken the uterine lining enough to cause what is known as withdrawal bleeding . Neither menstrual bleeding nor withdrawal bleeding are necessary for a woman’s health as both occurrences are nothing more than the female body’s natural response to fluctuations in hormone levels. Therefore, the concern that blood “builds up” in women’s bodies and will clot if a menstrual cycle is skipped is not supported by medical fact.

It is true that the use of oral contraception can, very rarely, have serious side effects, including blood clots and high blood pressure. Most women can use birth control pills safely; that’s one of the things that make it the most popular method of reversible birth control in the U.S. Certain medical conditions increase a woman’s chance of developing negative side effects while taking oral contraception, including smoking cigarettes, already high blood pressure, obesity, and an existing blood clotting disorder. As with all drugs, women need to speak with their doctors before taking oral contraception to ensure that no medical conditions exist that would increase the risk of complications.

It is essential that Americans do not allow themselves to be swayed by the propaganda of fear. Such tactics only work when individuals are not fully informed of the issues and do no

Friday, January 9, 2009

Abstinence Pledges Unsuccessful at Producing Abstinence Studies Find

According to a recent study highlighted in the Washington Post teenagers who have taken pledges to remain abstinent until marriage are just as likely to have premarital sex and more likely not to use condoms. The study, conducted by Janet Rosenbaum of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, analyzed data collected from about 11,000 students in grades seven through 12. Among the teens surveyed in the study, over half became sexually active before marriage regardless of whether they had taken a "virginity pledge.” In addition, the study found that those who had taken the pledge were considerably less likely to use condoms. Ironically, it seems that abstinence pledges are causing risky behavior.

This study is the latest in a series of studies that have highlighted the problems with abstinence-only approaches. Previous studies have shown that abstinence-only programs are ineffectual at preventing teen pregnancy and STI infections. This leaves us with only one question: why is the federal government continuing to invest in abstinence-only programs? Hopefully, the new administration will limit government funding to curricula based on scientifically sound principles and ideologically-based education will be a thing of the past.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Women and Families Deserve Better

A new
conducted at the University of California, Berkley found that women who took maternity leave after their 35th week of pregnancy were four times less likely to need a caesarean section than women who continued to work until their delivery date. Despite the benefits associated with a natural birth, including less recovery time and a decreased risk of surgical complications, only 28% of U.S. women are opting to take time off before their delivery, according to a recent report from the U.S. census.

This disappointingly low number is not a testament of women’s maternal instincts but rather a reflection of the limited options available to women in the workforce. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) passed during the Clinton administration guarantees new mothers 12 weeks of unpaid leave and ensures that they are able to return to their previously held position. While the legislation was a step forward towards workplace equality, the policy is restricted to organizations employing more than 50 people and can only be used by individuals who have worked at the organization for at least 1,250 hours over the course of a year. Even when women meet the qualifications of FMLA, many are still unable to take a sufficient amount of time off of because they cannot afford to take unpaid leave. While states are able to pass laws mandating that employers provide women with paid maternity leave, the majority of states, including Maryland, have yet to do so. Individual employers may choose to offer paid maternity leave, but only a quarter of the top 100 best companies for working women provided their employees with at least nine weeks of paid leave (“Maternity”).

The consequences of such rigid policies are broadly felt. Families are forced to use sick days, vacation days, and disability leave in order to care for themselves and their children. Working mothers are also pressured to return to work soon after their child is born, despite findings that the sooner a woman returns to work after giving birth, the more likely she is to stop breast feeding her child, thereby preventing him/her from receiving the multiple health benefits of breast milk. Those hit hardest are women employed in low paying jobs, who cannot afford to take time off and have difficulty in paying for quality childcare.

It is time that America comes to realize the value of women in the workforce and as mothers and create legislation mandating that employers provide paid maternity leave to their employees. An ideal world would also offer paternal leave to working fathers. After all, paid leave offers significant benefits to every party involved: less stressed parents, healthy babies, and employers who do not have spend extra money hiring and training employees because of women forced to quit in order to care for their children. An agenda that offers anything less than sufficient paid maternity leave denies the importance of healthy women in the workforce and healthy children at home.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

New York Times Examines Self-Induced Abortion in Dominican Communities

A recent
New York Times article
examinines the number of Dominican women who choose to end unintended pregnancies through unconventional methods. Studies conducted by reproductive health groups uncovered a trend of self-induced abortions. A Planned Parenthood study interviewed 1,200 women, mostly Latinas, in New York, Boston and San Francisco and found reports of women throwing themselves down stairs and drinking homemade potions to terminate a pregnancy.

According to researchers, the use of a prescription drug called misoprostol is the most common method used to induce abortion. Misoprostol, a drug used for ulcers, is also used in conjunction with mifepristone (RU-486 or the abortion pill) to safely terminate a pregnancy. However, the drug can be dangerous if taken without proper instructions. The reasons why women choose to take these potential health risks vary from financial to cultural. Dominican communities tend to be tight knit and conservative, causing many women to prefer the privacy of alternative methods to seeing a medical professional. While some of these methods may be dangerous or ineffective, the information passed from generation to generation is generally trusted more than the medical community.

A lack of medical insurance or uncertain immigration status may also be a deterrent to seeking medical care. It is imperative to let women know that there is safe, private access to abortion care and to make sure that anti-choice forces do impair that access. We must also work to reduce the stigma of abortion so that women do not feel pressured into having abortion without medical guidance and to improve public funding for abortion care.

However, the Times article brings to light another troubling issue, the prosecution of women who have used misoprostol to terminate a pregnancy. This could set a very dangerous precedent. Policing pregnant women is not the solution, improving resources and compassionate, private care is.

Monday, January 5, 2009

26 Reasons Why Pro-Choice People Should Be Happy

Nancy Keenan President of NARAL Pro-Choice America recently posted a blog on the Huffington Post detailing the reasons why Pro-Choicers have cause to celebrate! Ready for some good news?

Check out the Blog “26 Reasons Why Pro-Choice People Should Be Happy” on the Huffington Post!