Friday, February 27, 2009

HHS Rule To Be Rescinded

Today, President Obama announced his intent to revoke the controversial refusal regulation, signed by President Bush in 2008. A move that has been widely anticipated by pundits and activists everywhere, this change has come not a moment too soon.

The nasty refusal regulation – as explained in this C.R.A.Blog post – granted broad authority to health-care workers to refuse to perform procedures that “violate their personal, moral, or religious beliefs.” This policy, finalized in the last days of the Bush Administration, caused a mass outcry, and for good reason; its unspecific, sweeping language could have created major obstacles to obtaining many health services, including family planning, infertility treatment, and end-of-life care.

Luckily, the Obama administration plans to rescind regulation. Said an official with the Health and Human Services Department: “We've been concerned that the way the Bush rule is written it could make it harder for women to get the care they need… we support a tightly written conscience clause. We recognize and understand that some providers have objections about abortion, and we want to make sure that current law protects them… we want to be thoughtful about this.”

The anti-choice groups will likely be up in arms about this development. Please show President Obama that he has your support - send him a quick thank-you email today.

Study Examines Spontaneous Pre-Term Births among African-American Women

Spontaneous pre-term births, also known as premature births, are births that occur before the 37th week of pregnancy. The leading cause of stillbirths in the US, pre-term births occur in 12-13% of all pregnancies. African-American women experience a higher rate of pre-term births at 17-18%.

Building on the knowledge that family history is a risk factor, a recent study has linked these births to genetic elements. The study’s findings – that, while “no single gene” accounts for pre-term birth, there are a number of genes that may be associated with it – support earlier research suggesting that genetic factors affect pre-term birth susceptibility.

It's great to see researchers addressing this important distinction in pre-term birth rates among women of color. We hope that with more research like this, the disparities in reproductive health care access that disproportionately affect women of color will be better understood and addressed.

More information can be found here.

Update: Bristol Palin’s Statement Attacked

In a not-terribly-unpredictable turn of events, teenage Bristol Palin’s candor on Fox News – she asserted that abstinence-only sex education is “not realistic at all” – has been unequivocally denounced by her mom’s evangelical base. The National Abstinence Education Association, an organization with conservative cred and a history of exploiting the Palin pregnancy to further the abstinence-only myth, issued a condescending and inaccurate statement:

“While Bristol’s story makes for an interesting human-interest story, her comment should not be the basis to form public policy on the complex issue of teen sex especially if we look at the facts regarding the teen sexual activity… The fact is most teens are abstinent. There are millions of teens for which abstinence is not only realistic, but is their chosen lifestyle. An honest look at the statistics confirms this fact… The cold hard fact coming out of Alaska is that not all teens choose abstinence but we should be encouraged by the fact that the majority do!”

Even putting the erroneous “facts” (debunked here by Jodi Jacobson) of this statement aside, the backhanded dismissal of eighteen-year-old Bristol is simply repugnant – and this from a right-wing base that, not too long ago, showed proper ire at the “gotcha” media’s coverage of the Palin family. Where is that ire now? And of course, it would be admirable of Palin to come out in her daughter’s defense, and perhaps even admit that there ought to be some change in her own hard-line views.

In the meantime, we can only admire Bristol’s gutsiness – the very fact that she has not retracted or apologized for her comment is a credit to her – and hope that her honesty manages to make a statement of its own. Geoffrey Dunn puts it best: “If Sarah Palin's evangelical base really wants to confront teen pregnancy, they'd be smart to listen to Bristol Palin and others in her shoes and absorb some of their real-life wisdom.”

Thursday, February 26, 2009

What do tatoos and abortions have in common?

Last week, Delegate Sue Kullen (D, 27-B) introduced a bill to require parental consent for teenagers who want a tattoo or body piercings. Her bill quickly turned into a coded discussion of abortion rights when Delegate Gail H. Bates (R, 9-A) moved to include “invasive surgical procedures” to the legislation. Democrats argued the new amendment changed the bill, while Republicans said parental consent was fundamental to both issues. Everyone can agree teens should seek adult help for difficult choices. However, legislatures cannot create healthy communication where it does not exist. Teens who do not want to tell their parents about an unplanned pregnancy often have good reasons for not involving a parent.

Maryland already has a parental notification law that achieves both parental involvement and protectionof teens, . This requires a minor to notify a parent or guardian before having an abortion. The parent or guardian does not have to agree with the choice, but must be informed. Exceptions may be made if the minor is mature and capable of giving informed consent, the doctor thinks the minor will suffer physical or emotional abuse, notification will not help, the teen does not live with a parent or guardian, or reasonable effort to give notice has been unsuccessful. Click here for more information about parental notification.

Eighty-one percent of women seeking abortions turn to their parents for support, according to the Guttmacher Institute. While parental involvement is desirable for most teens, legally mandated involvement in the form of parental consent or notification may not be to a minor’s benefit in all cases. Mandatory parental involvement can also be a disincentive for sexually active adolescents to seek care. Confidential services that allow teens to talk candidly with health professionals is critically important. Parental consent laws can endanger teenagers who are not lucky enough to have a supportive parent to help them with an unplanned pregnancy. Fortunately, this amendment was voted down on a procedural rule with a 103-35 vote. Check out more information at The Baltimore Sun’s Maryland Politics blog.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ultrasound Bill Defeated!

Anti-choice Senators Bryan Simonaire and Janet Greenip’s bill requiring healthcare providers to offer an ultrasound, a print out copy of the ultrasound, and a chance to listen to a fetal heartbeat to women seeking an abortion was defeated. SB-195 failed in the Senate Finance Committee by a 9-2 vote. Senators Simonarie and Greenip said their bill would decrease abortion rates, when really all it did was cut away at a woman’s right to choose in Maryland. Conversations between a woman and her healthcare provider are private, and should be kept free from politics. This bill was nothing more than an attempt to interfere with women’s medical decision-making. Contact your Senators and thank them for voting against SB-195 and keeping it that way!

Senator George W. Della, Jr. District 46
(410) 841-3600, (301) 858-3600

Senator Nathaniel Exum District 24
(410) 841-3148, (301) 858-3148

Senator Robert J. Garagiola District 15
(410) 841-3169, (301) 858-3169

Senator Delores Kelley District 10
(410) 841-3606, (301) 858-3606

Senator Allan H. Kittleman District 9
11 Bladen St., Annapolis, MD 21401

Senator Katherine A. Klausmeier District 8
(410) 841-3620, (301) 858-3620

Senator Catherine E. Pugh District 40
(410) 841-3656, (301) 858-3656

Thomas McLain (Mac) Middleton, District 28
(410) 841-3616, (301) 858-3616

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Bristol Palin says abstinence-only education is "not realistic"

Bristol Palin, eighteen-year-old daughter of staunchly anti-choice Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, surprised many in a recent interview with Fox News. Bristol, mother to newborn son Tripp, said abstinence is the best solution for teens to avoid pregnancy, but that it is "not realistic at all."

Half of all American teenagers have sex. Abstinence should be a part of all sex education curriculum, but abstinence-only education simply doesn't work. Teaching comprehensive sex education programs and making birth control accessible are key to protecting against sexually transmitted infections (STIs)and preventing unplanned pregnancies. Injecting politics into sex education isn't going to keep teenagers safe and informed. If teens don't learn in school about safe sex, they will simply pick up incorrect information from their friends or the media.
Currently, Alaska has no mandate for sex education curriculum in public schools, but received $752,346 in abstinence-only funding in 2007. Also, Alaska is one of twenty-six states with increased teen pregnancy rates according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Hmmm, just a coincidence? Absolutely not.

Even more alarming is the fact that Alaska is not alone. For the first time in 15 years, 2005 to 2006 saw an increase in national teen pregnancy rates according to the Centers for Disease Control. Astonishingly, Maryland has the 13th highest teenage pregnancy rate of any state. Anti-choice politicians, like Sarah Palin, are continually trying to chip away at a woman's right to make decisions about her own body by restricting access to birth control, supporting abstinence only education, and opposing emergency contraception. But the message from Bristol Palin is clear. Preaching abstinence-only to teenagers doesn't stop them from having sex. Check out the full story and watch the interview on

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Ultrasound Bill Hearing Today

Today the Maryland Senate Finance Committee will hear testimony regarding SB 195. This legislation would require abortion providers in Anne Arundel County to offer an ultrasound, a print copy of the ultrasound image, and the opportunity to listen to a fetal heartbeat to any woman seeking an abortion. This legislation is nothing more then a thinly veiled attempt to dissuade women from choosing abortion. Today is crucial. Inform your legislators that you strongly oppose any legislation that would infringe on the doctor-patient relationship. Let's leave the medical decisions to doctors, not politicians. Contact your legislators today and urge them to oppose SB 195!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Anti-Choice Ultrasound Bill Introduced in Annapolis

Maryland is one of eleven states considering ultrasound legislation for women having abortions according to this Washington Times article. While Maryland’s bill may seem less draconian than bills in places like Nebraska, Texas and Indiana, it is still nothing to ignore. The bill moving forward affects abortion providers in Anne Arundel County and would require abortion providers to offer women an ultrasound, a print out of the ultrasound image, and, if developed, an opportunity to listen to the fetal heartbeat.

This bill is a clear intrusion on the doctor-patient relationship and is a thinly veiled attempt to imply that abortion providers somehow withhold information. It seems like anti-choice forces in the Maryland legislature are merely trying to insert politics into the practice of medicine.

It is imperative that decisions about medical procedures, including ultrasound, be made by medical professionals, not politicians. Ultrasounds should only be given when medically justified as they are not without risk. Ultrasound technology has been linked to the possible effects of growth retardation, problems with speech development or dyslexia. A 2006 study of field mice with ultrasound exposure found the mice experienced disrupted brain cell activity. For humans this could mean epilepsy, autism or mental retardation. The bottom line? These decisions should not be made in the Maryland legislature, but left to doctors and their patients.

The political motivation behind this bill is clear. Singling out abortion in this way is purely political. This legislation is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to dissuade women from choosing abortion. We urge the Maryland legislature to reject this unnecessary intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship.

Proposed by state senators Bryan Simonaire (District 31) and Janet Greenip (District 33), Senate Bill 195 was first introduced near the end of January and would go into effect, if passed, in October.

Contact Senators Simonaire or Greenip to let them know you oppose Bill 195:

Bryan Simonaire
James Senate Office Building, Room 414
11 Bladen St., Annapolis, MD 21401
(410) 841-3658, (301) 858-3658
1-800-492-7122, ext. 3658 (toll free)
fax: (410) 841-3586, (301) 858-3586

Janet Greenip
321 James Senate Office Bldg
Annapolis, MD 21401-1991
(410) 841-3568, (301) 858-3568
800-492-7122 x3568 (toll free)

Friday, February 6, 2009

Glamour Gets it Right

In the recent article “Abortion: The Serious Health Decision Women Aren’t Talking About Until Now”, Glamour opens the door to discuss abortion in a way that is respectful of the real experiences of women. Although 1 in 3 women have an abortion before the age of 45, the stigma surrounding abortion prevents many women from sharing their experiences. Unfortunately, this leads numerous women to feel isolated during a potentially difficult time. For too long the anti-choice movement has successfully over simplified the abortion debate by failing to acknowledge the range feelings women experience when confronting unplanned pregnancies. However, when women share their stories, these complexities cannot be denied. Glamour effectively portrays a broad range of abortion experiences without slipping into anti-choice rhetoric. It is extremely important for women to have the space to safely share their experiences, privately or publicly.

As with many situations in life, women who have had abortions take comfort in knowing that they are not alone. Hopefully, this article will incite conversations recognizing the complexity around unplanned pregnancy and abortion, helping to de-stigmatize these issues. Exhale, an organization mentioned in the article, serves women who have abortions, as well as their partners, friends and family. They respect the cultural, social and religious beliefs of all callers. To share your experience call 1-866-4 EXHALE (1-866-439–4253) or visit

"Personhood" Amendment Dropped in Annapolis

While the Maryland General Assembly certainly has a pro-choice slant to it, it doesn't stop anti-choice lawmakers from introducing ridiculous legislation like this zinger. Anti-choice Delegate Don Dwyer has introduced his Personhood Amendment (again) that would define a fertilized egg as a person. It is quite similar to the ballot measure that failed overwhelmingly in Colorado this past election.

This certainly won't make it onto the ballot in 2010, but never forget that there are zealous opponents to choice out there who won't quit!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Quick and Quippy: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The Huffington Post just reported that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been hospitalized for pancreatic cancer.

She's been an amazing advocate for the right to choose (read her dissent on Gonzales v. Carhart here.)

So Justice Ginsburg, we wish you a speedy recovery and the best of health!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Rumors of Mikulski to Head HHS Spread

Maryland’s very own Senator Barbara Mikulski is rumored to be in the running for Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). While we are disappointed to see the very well qualified Senator Tom Daschle withdraw himself from consideration for the position, the buzz on Capitol Hill about who will head the department now includes Maryland’s amazing Senator Mikulski. Mikulski, one of many skilled and experienced candidates for the position, would be a secretary for pro-choicers everywhere to cheer about. A member of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, Mikulski is firmly pro-choice and has a long history in the Senate of fighting for women’s health issues.

Mikulski has voted against putting teens at risk with harmful parental involvement measures, voted against banning safe abortion procedures, and has rejected unfair bans on abortion care for military women. Mikulski also voted to increase funding for sex education and family planning and has worked throughout her political career to make health care coverage more equitable, especially for low-income women. Senator Mikulski has earned a 100% pro-choice rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America.

HHS works to protect and assist Americans with health-related services. Agencies within HHS include the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Whoever becomes Secretary of HHS will greatly impact women’s health care issues in the years to come as policymakers grapple with both the economy and health care reform.

Senator Mikulski would be a wonderful choice out of the many capable and qualified contenders to head up Health and Human Services. Check out the Baltimore Sun’s politics blog, MD Politics at: for more information.