Thursday, April 30, 2009

Clinton Maintains Reproductive Rights are Human Rights

For the first time in many, many years, worldwide access to safe abortion has been reintroduced as the serious human rights issue that it is – thanks to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. On Wednesday, Clinton asserted that “[the Obama Administration] happen[s] to think that family planning is an important part of women's health and reproductive health includes access to abortion, that I believe should be safe, legal and rare,” while confronting the legislature’s vocal anti-choice demagogues with concrete data.

The Obama administration has restored funding to both the United Nations family planning fund and US AID, a sign of its evident commitment to reproductive rights; furthermore, one of Obama’s first actions was the repeal of the insidious global gag rule, a policy that impeded women’s access to family planning overseas. There’s no question that Clinton’s affirmative words are supported by the facts of Obama’s first 100 days.

Jodi Jacobsen of RH Reality Check has an excellent blog post on the subject; you can check it out here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pro-Choice Progress: A Primer on President Obama's First 100 Days

By Nancy Keenan, NARAL Pro-Choice America
cross-posted at The Huffington Post

Wednesday, April 29 marks the
100th day of President Barack Obama's administration.

As the political leader of the pro-choice movement, NARAL Pro-Choice America will mark this milestone as yet another reminder of how electing leaders who support the fundamental American values of freedom and privacy does make a difference in the lives of women and their families.

President Obama is leading our country during an especially challenging time and many of our family and friends will discuss what's happened during his first 100 days on a number of fronts. When the topic turns to women's reproductive freedom and choice, we want you to be prepared to share the following signs of change:

• President Obama rescinded the global gag rule, the Bush administration policy that canceled U.S. family-planning funds to many overseas health centers and denied the world's poorest women access to birth control. (January 23)

• President Obama re-funded the U.N. family-planning program, UNFPA, which President Bush had de-funded for seven years straight. Obama also signed legislation into law boosting UNFPA funding to a record $50 million. (January 23 and March 11)

• President Obama signaled his commitment to medically accurate sex education by including it in his first-ever budget outline. (February 26)

• President Obama announced his intention to repeal the controversial, last-minute Bush policy known as the Federal Refusal Rule. The regulation could have allowed entire health-care corporations to refuse to provide medical services - including, potentially, birth control. (February 27)

• President Obama signed legislation into law fixing the birth-control price crisis at college health centers and safety-net provider clinics across the country. (As a senator, Obama authored this legislation.) (March 11)

• President Obama signed legislation increasing family-planning funding for American women by $7 million, and cutting the failed "abstinence-only" programs by $14 million. (March 11)

• President Obama signed legislation increasing international family-planning funding at the USAID by more than $30 million. (March 11)

We have reason to celebrate after reading this list, but let's not forget that we're marking the first 100 days of what will be a long and bumpy road to progress. There will be budget debates, a possible vacancy on the Supreme Court, and more.

As Pulitzer-Prize-winning columnist Cynthia Tucker said at our annual event marking the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision in Washington, D.C. during the early weeks of this administration: "Obama didn't say, 'Yes, I can,' he said, 'Yes, we can.'"

How right she was. We must be Partners for Change to build on the success of the first 100 days--especially because our opposition is going to extreme depths to attack President Obama.

Look at the right-wing attacks on three of President Obama's key nominees: Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas for secretary of Health and Human Services; former NARAL Legal Director, Prof. Dawn Johnsen, for assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice; and Judge David Hamilton for a judgeship on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

What do these nominees have in common? In addition to impeccable qualifications for the respective positions for which they've been nominated, they also have taken pro-choice positions.

Before you sit down to watch the president's press conference on Wednesday evening, I ask you to take tangible action to become a Partner for Change and call on the Senate to reject the divisive political attacks from right-wing groups and confirm these qualified nominees.

The actions we take now will determine what additional points we add to this pro-choice primer in the next 100 days.

Friday, April 24, 2009

FDA Upholds Improved EC Policy

On Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration ruled that emergency contraception (EC) should be available over the counter – that is, without a doctor’s prescription – to 17-year-olds. The statement, which upheld federal judge Edward Korman’s similar decision, eases age restrictions that had outlawed over-the-counter EC access for those 18 and younger.

The FDA’s ruling is a step in the right direction – a symbol of science over petty political pandering. The FDA’s role is to determine the safety of products on the market, and this decision does just that. Even putting aside the fundamental importance of allowing young people access to the reproductive care and options they need, there is clear consensus in the medical community that EC is safe for use by minors. The unjustified restrictions placed on EC were political interference, pure and simple. This ruling is indicative of the Obama administration’s favorable attitude towards science and medicine, an attitude which comes not a moment too soon – after eight years of the Bush administration’s politically fueled “war on science,” it’s high time to give medical and scientific progress the emphasis it deserves.

In his March 23 conclusion, Judge Korman questioned the logic of government-imposed age restrictions on the distribution of EC. Taking the broad safety and value of the medication into account, abolition of these age restrictions is the obvious next move – yet this most recent ruling is, without a doubt, a step in the right direction.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

It would seem that the pro-choice movement has a new ally: Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Astonishing, right? After all, this is the erstwhile vice-presidential candidate who has loudly condemned a woman’s right to choose, stating her opposition to abortion even in cases of rape or incest. Yet in a keynote speech last week – at a right-to-life fundraising dinner, no less – Palin made a poignant argument against anti-choice legislation. Stating that she had twice considered abortion, she described in depth the process that led her to the “decision” to undergo the pregnancies. (This talk of “decisions” is certainly not new to Palin’s lexicon. At last summer’s Republican convention, Palin issued a statement referring to “[pregnant daughter] Bristol's decision to have her baby.”)

Yet, under the legislative initiatives that Palin conspicuously advocates, there would be no “decision” at all. The thought process that she chronicled would be moot – one of the options would be struck completely off the table. Palin, when making the decision she so emphasizes, had the choice of abortion and decided, independently and with much thought, to go another route. It’s wonderful that she was able to make a choice that was right for her; the logical next step would be to allow all women, women who may or may not arrive at a different answer, to make a choice that is right for them. Whether intentionally or not, Palin’s speech contained a clear moral, one that the Post’s Ruth Marcus points out: “Abortion is a personal issue and a personal choice. The government has no business taking that difficult decision away from those who must live with the consequences.”

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Be Alert On The Internet!

One would be hard-pressed to find a child of the ‘90s who didn’t get any of their sex education from the Internet – Wikipedia, WebMD, or good old Google. Unfortunately, cyberspace isn’t always trustworthy, and much of that “sex ed” may have been incomprehensive or just plain wrong. According to a recent study from Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital and the Stanford School of Medicine, these sites are riddled with misinformation and omissions – even the ones reviewed by doctors!

Six myths perpetuated by these sites:

1. Emergency contraception is not available for minors or Emergency contraception is readily available to minors. Fact: It’s neither. Only those 18 and older can buy it over the counter, but minors can obtain it with a prescription, or – in 9 states, not including MD – directly from authorized pharmacists. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently considering whether to lower the age from 18.

2. Emergency contraception causes an abortion. Fact: It doesn’t. Its effects are completely different from those of RU-486, the “abortion pill.”

3. IUDs are not safe for use by adolescents. Fact: IUDs have been proven to be absolutely safe for use by adolescents.

4. The Pill causes you to gain weight. Fact: Modern oral contraceptives have not been proven to cause weight gain; a review of 47 control trials was unable to provide evidence for the claim.

5. Adolescents don’t need a Pap smear until much later in life or Adolescents should have a Pap smear by age 18. Fact: Young women should get a Pap smear 3 years after their first sexual intercourse or at age 21.

6. Herpes can only be transmitted through sexual intercourse. Fact: Actually, you can get herpes, and a couple other STIs like HPV, from kissing or skin-to-skin contact.

If you’d like more information on these reproductive health facts, the study identified the following sites as the most reliable sources for accurate information:
TeenWire, from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Go Ask Alice, produced by Health Services at Columbia University.
Center for Young Women’s Health, from Children’s Hospital Boston.
TeensHealth, from the Nemours Center for Children’s Health Media.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Global Poverty – A Woman’s-Eye View

Nahomie Nercure of Haiti only wanted two children. Yet now, as she struggles to afford her family’s most basic needs, she is now pregnant with her tenth. Though she didn’t wish to have so many children, she felt she had no choice – the confines of traditional gender roles, a lack of sufficient family planning information and counseling, and a local clinic that “seemed scornful of poor women” all barred her from getting the contraception she needed.

The New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof explores this heartbreaking case, and its implications for family planning and anti-poverty initiatives, here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Prince George’s County Reports Second-Highest STI Rates Statewide

According to County Health Officer Donald Shell, Prince George’s County now has the second-highest HIV/AIDS and STI (sexually transmitted infection) rates in the state, trailing only Baltimore City in both categories. As reported by the Washington Post’s Ovetta Wiggins, the county had 5,240 reported HIV/AIDS cases in 2007, the most recent year of data available. There has also been a noticeable surge in STIs, including syphilis.

A number of factors might be at fault, as Shell pointed out. Proximity to DC (with its 3% HIV/AIDS rate) puts county residents at greater risk, as does lack of health care – about 151,000 residents do not have health coverage. Shell proceeded to attribute the majority of the infection rate to “blatant disregard” for safe sex practices, especially among the county’s college-aged men and women.

All of these factors need to be taken into consideration to create a multifaceted, effective strategy to address this issue. The serious lack of health coverage is of concern because it means that thousands of people may not be getting information about HIV and other STIs, screening, and treatment. All of these components are necessary to prevent HIV transmission. Given the risk of transmission amongst young adults, information about preventing the spread of HIV (such as through comprehensive sex education), and how to get tested and treated is critical. It is clear that unprotected sex is a major factor in these epidemics, and it is crucial that everyone, old and young, take responsibility in order to protect themselves and their partners.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Bureaucracy Goes Too Far In Fairfax County

This just in: a Fairfax County student has been suspended for 2 weeks and is under serious consideration for expulsion. Her crime? Possession of birth control pills.

The teenager (whose name has not been released) was caught discreetly taking her pill during Oakton High School’s 25-minute lunch break. According to school officials, this constituted a serious violation of the school district’s zero-tolerance policy on drugs. An honor roll student and talented athlete, she was nonetheless given the maximum permissible suspension; her case was referred to a panel of school officials, who are now deliberating the possibility of expulsion. This punishment, as per the Fairfax County Handbook of Student Responsibilities and Rights, is equivalent to the one she would have gotten had she brought a gun to school.

Even putting the debatable effectiveness of such zeal aside, this ruling by school officials is nothing short of ridiculous. Though Fairfax County mandates that the school nurse administer prescription drugs, this is a highly impractical rule that few students follow. In overcrowded Fairfax County schools, many students must wait more than their allotted 25 minutes in the lunch line, even without the complication of a visit to the nurse’s office. By the time the nurse (a relative stranger, incidentally, with whom a teenager might not be comfortable) administered her medication, the student would be unable to buy lunch during her lunch break, let alone spend time with friends. And yes, it may have looked like she was popping a different drug – a Ritalin, perhaps, which is explicitly forbidden in schools when not given to the school nurse beforehand. However, it is easy enough to learn, once a student has been caught, that the medication is in fact a birth control pill, and alter judgments accordingly. Perhaps it would be wise for officials to take these factors into account, discussing a change in timing with the student or implementing a new system in the nurse’s office, rather than irrevocably marring her record and exposing her private choices to her peers.

From the Washington Post article on the subject, it would seem that the student was behaving in a mature manner in regards to her own health and safety. And in a school system so plagued with teen pregnancy worries, it seems counterintuitive to penalize a young woman for making informed, responsible choices.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Greater Numbers Seek Family Planning In Recession

When we think of the recession, we mostly think of its direct implications – its effects on our workplaces, its drain on our pocketbooks. But this economic crisis appears to have another, even more personal repercussion: family planning centers and clinics are serving record numbers of patients.

In these hard times, there is a widespread need for every service that family planning clinics offer: birth control, breast cancer screening, Pap smears, STI testing and treatment, and abortion. Many women, unable to support a new baby, have come in for abortion procedures. Planned Parenthood of Illinois reported its highest ever number of abortions. Other women cannot afford contraceptives and hope to find free or affordable birth control at the centers. And some women simply need help keeping their families fed and clothed – enough that Planned Parenthood has started setting food, formula and diapers in the reception room for those in need.

As we worry about our own financial stability, it is easy to forget about the needs of others. This news from the family planning centers is a reminder of the staggering importance of the work that Planned Parenthood and health care providers do – and a reminder that we cannot cease to support them in their mission to provide women with the compassionate care they deserve.

To learn more, listen to or read NPR’s fascinating piece on the subject.