Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ruling Eases EC Age Restrictions

A federal judge ruled the FDA must allow 17 year olds to purchase Plan B without a prescription (morning after pill) in the next 30 days, according to a New York Times article. Federal Judge Edward R. Korman ruled that the FDA succumbed to political pressure from the Bush administration when it set an 18 year old age limit for teenagers obtaining Plan B over-the-counter and further advised the FDA reconsider having any age restrictions for EC.

Emergency contraception, a concentrated dose of regular birth control pills, can prevent pregnancy if taken within 72-120 hours after unprotected sex, contraception failure, or sexual assault. It has a success rate of up to 89 percent. Despite what anti-choicers want you to believe, emergency contraception is not the same as the abortion pill (also known as RU-486, Mifeprex, or mifepristone) and does not harm an established pregnancy. Although Plan B has been available by prescription since 1999, the FDA did not approve the medication for over-the-counter status until 2006.

There is no valid medical or public health argument to restrict young women’s access to EC. According to the Guttmacher Institute, teens are more likely than adults to experience contraceptive failure, 25% of teens fail to use contraception the first time they have sex, and more than three-quarters of teen pregnancies are unplanned. There are a multitude of issues impacting a teen’s ability to access reproductive health care, including ineffective abstinence-only education, being unfamiliar with their legal right to obtain confidential services, and being too embarrassed or ashamed to discuss their sexual health with parents or other trusted adults. Removing medically unjustified age limitations is a commonsense way to reduce unintended teen pregnancy.

While anti-choice groups like Concerned Women for America and the Family Research Council are sure to attempt to undermine Korman’s ruling by spreading misinformation, falsely stating that the rate of teen sex will increase and that teens will use EC as a substitute for ordinary birth control. These statements are unfounded. Studies have shown that EC does not increase promiscuity or irresponsible sexual behaviors among teens. Will these anti-choice organizations ever learn that a woman’s right to choose her contraception is a private, medical decision and one that should be based on facts, not ideology? That’s unlikely, but at least we can applaud the fact that the political beliefs of a small sector of the population are no longer dictating health policy.

Poor Pontiff-ication

On Tuesday, March 17, Pope Benedict XVI kicked off his first trip to Africa with a stop in Yaounde, Cameroon. The proclamation he made there has already become a worldwide talking point and a source of major contention – that proclamation, of course, was the one in which he contended that “you can’t resolve [the AIDS epidemic] with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, it increases the problem.”

Well, except that condoms don’t increase the problem. Rather, they are potentially life-saving devices, and a crucial part of the war against AIDS. According to the Washington Post, 22% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa is infected with HIV/AIDS. That’s a very worrisome statistic; condoms have the power to reduce it over time. Condom usage can be – and, in many cases, has been – the single thing that prevents the transmission of AIDS between partners. Yes, condoms can break, or be worn incorrectly. But condoms are critically effective much more often – and certainly, in any case, safer than unprotected sex with an infected partner.

The Pope advocated, instead, abstinence only. Abstinence is obviously the most effective way to prevent the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, but it simply is not always feasible or realistic. Condoms save lives, and this vital fact cannot be superseded by ideology.

Ultimately, the Pope fails to acknowledge cultural realities that affect the ability to have safe sex. Numerous civil wars and conflicts, political corruption, persistent racism, and gender inequality are just a few factors that contribute to the impracticality of the Pope’s mandate. Denying life-saving information is not moral. The moral thing to do would be to save one partner from ignominy and the other from infection by doing as health workers, even staunchly Catholic ones, have done: dispensing condoms widely and often.

It’s not “pro-life” to warn people away from condoms – rather, it’s a foolish, dogmatic move with the power to prevent the saving of lives. Perhaps it’s time for Pope Benedict to listen to the wisdom of his flock, nearly all of whom advocate condom use. That, not the blind rigidity of the pope’s comments, is pragmatic, applicable morality.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Understand Your EC!

How much do you know about Emergency Contraception (EC)? Had you heard, for example, that EC is available over-the-counter to men and women over 18? Did you know that, if taken within five days after sex, EC can prevent unintended pregnancy? Were you aware that EC is not only effective but totally safe? If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” don’t worry – you’re not alone. EC is considered the “best-kept secret in women’s health” – which is where the Back Up Your Birth Control National Day of Action comes in.

On March 25, activists all over the country will hold EC awareness events, blog about EC, write op-eds, hand out materials, and more. There’s no question it will be a lot of fun, not to mention a good source of information about this important resource.

And college students, take note: you can register for the Campus Challenge! Think of a creative and entertaining EC awareness campaign to be implemented on the Day of Action, and you could win $500.

So make sure to look out for events or information sessions near you, and maybe even organize a couple of your own. See you on the 25th!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Abortion Ban in Maryland Legislature

Our state capital is many things: lively, intellectual, attractive. But most of all, Annapolis is historic – many of its roads are still cobblestone, and a number of buildings in the center of town date back to Annapolis’s founding in the 17th century. In short, parts of Annapolis seem like a time capsule; a visit to last Friday’s hearing on the retrograde “personhood” amendment only reinforced that colonial-era feeling.

House Bill 925, described here, would effectively outlaw all abortion procedures and challenge Roe v. Wade. It’s fairly obvious why the passage of the “personhood” amendment would be a tremendous step back for women’s rights. Not only does it take a crucial option for women off the table – or force them to seek potentially fatal illegal abortions – but it could have other disturbing and confusing implications. A woman who suffers a miscarriage could be in danger of conviction for manslaughter. One who drank a glass of wine before knowing about her pregnancy could be accused, as Prof. Jessica Berg points out, of child abuse and endangerment. This amendment would be a pretty big step on the way to creating a Maryland where pregnant women are treated as little more than tote bags for babies, where their every move is scrutinized for possible criminal repercussions, where they are not granted enough respect to make decisions about their own future. That’s not a Maryland that any of us want to see.

A woman can choose to have an abortion; she can also choose adoption or motherhood. The battle we fight now is the battle to allow her to find her own answer, whatever that answer might be. Take action against this dangerous bill - contact legislators and let them know this amendment is wrong for women and wrong for Maryland.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Update: Affordable Birth Control Is Back!

On March 10, 2009, the Senate passed the FY 2009 Omnibus spending bill; this budget plan, already passed in the House, awaits President Obama’s expected approval. The plan contains a much-needed provision called the Affordable Birth Control Act, or ABC. A correction to a 2007 semantic error that forced pharmaceuticals to raise the price of birth control at family planning clinics and college health centers, the ABC is explained here. Its long-awaited ratification will be incredibly helpful to women across the country who saw their birth control from college health centers and safety net clinics rise exponentially in price.

Thank you, United States Congress, for rejecting the repugnant claims of Sen. Jim DeMint and others. Thank you for helping women everywhere, particularly those most in need, to claim control over their own bodies -- and thank you for putting common sense and ethics before intrusive, twisted ideology.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

ABC Not So Easy, Thanks to DeMint

By now, everyone knows that we’re mired in a pretty bad recession; some politicians, writers and journalists have even started labeling it the next Great Depression. The last thing we need is a floundering government legally unable to function – right?

Apparently, some far-right politicians disagree. In a move motivated purely by ideology, twisted data and a yen for political clout, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and others are raising objections to the FY 2009 Omnibus spending bill – based on its “earmark” for the Affordable Birth Control Act, or ABC, which would allow pharmaceutical companies to offer inexpensively priced drugs to college health centers and family planning clinics. This had been done without complaint until 2007, when a change in the law accidentally influenced access to birth control at these centers.

While opponents characterize this sensible provision as an earmark, the reality is that it is a no-cost provision. No federal funds are attached to the ABC – it’s a semantic correction to an earlier piece of legislation. All it does is fix a typo of sorts, making access to birth control much easier for women in need. And the anti-choice politicians opposing this legislation would do well to bear in mind that adequate and reliable birth control = fewer unintended pregnancies = fewer abortions. If Sen. DeMint and his allies were serious about lowering the abortion rate, they would support this provision. In actuality, they are against family planning, an extreme position out of step with most Americans.

Women need the ABC and they need it now. Across the country and here in Maryland, birth control prices on college campuses and safety-net clinics are skyrocketing. Until 2007, women were able to purchase birth control at the average price of $10 a month. Now birth control prices have shot up as high as $55 a month on some Maryland campuses, making it difficult for countless women to afford.

And the FY 2009 Omnibus bill is on a deadline. If it is not passed by Friday, March 6 – at the writing of this post, that’s tomorrow – the government will have to operate on a “continuing resolution,” drastically reducing its capacity to operate. And during a monetary crisis like this one, we need a government that can work for us, not one fatally crippled by the misguided rhetoric of misguided politicians.