Monday, July 27, 2009

New Report Highlights Dangers Abortion Providers Face

The Center for Reproductive Rights recently presented a report to members of Congress that documents the constant harassment abortion providers endure and the unfounded legal stipulations imposed on their work, including required waiting periods for women wishing to obtain an abortion and scripts that can frame dialogue between doctors and patients in a biased and medically inaccurate manner. During its presentation, the group argued that human rights protections should apply to the work of abortion providers, preserving their rights to health, equality, life, and privacy. The report is an accumulation of research from a four-month study investigating clinics in Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Though the murder of Dr. Tiller in May put the struggles of abortion providers in the national spotlight, the work and valor of abortion providers has generally been taken for granted. Since the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal, there has been an organized campaign by anti-abortion extremists which has resulted in escalating levels of violence against women's health care providers. In 2008 alone, there were 45 acts of vandalism, 6 incidents of invasion, 7 burglaries, 3 anthrax threats, and 24 bomb threats against abortion providers in the U.S. and Canada, leading to a total of 237 acts of violence and 12,980 acts of disruption committed against abortion providers that year.

It is imperative that the government treat these courageous physicians as human rights workers to ensure their own security and the security of women’s reproductive rights. Between 1992 and 2005, the number of U.S. abortion providers has declined by 25%, and only 12% of U.S. counties even have an abortion provider. The pro-choice movement cannot afford to lose more of the people that make what we fight for possible and designating abortion providers as human rights workers would give them the protection they deserve.

Ryan-DeLauro Bill Seeks to Reduce Unplanned Pregnancies, Foster Common Ground

On Thursday, pro-life Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) and pro-choice Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn) introduced the Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act, which aims to reduce the need for abortion by expanding comprehensive sex education initiatives, making contraception more available, broadening health care coverage for mothers and children, and increasing access to adoption services.

This bill represents a constructive and thoughtful debate over reproductive rights, where lawmakers on both sides of the issue can unify behind commonsense measures to improve women's reproductive health care. Reps. Ryan and DeLauro have demonstrated how reaching across the divide to find common-ground solutions to prevent unintended pregnancy is possible; and their bill includes a number of positive proposals to improve women's access to contraception and to support teen-pregnancy-prevention efforts.

The bill also works to ensure that women who choose to carry their pregnancies to term are given the options and resources necessary to guarantee a healthy pregnancy. This approach contrasts greatly with the divisive and inflammatory rhetoric we see from too many lawmakers and organizations that oppose a woman's right to choose and refuse even to support access to birth control.

Earlier this summer abortion provider Dr. George Tiller was shot and killed at his church in Kansas. It is time for groups opposing legal abortion to put a stop to the inflammatory rhetoric and the use of violence, and instead to embrace a new and more responsible approach to the debate.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Frederick Commissioner Seeks Statewide Abortion Procedure Ban

Commissioner John L. Thompson Jr. has proposed a statewide abortion
procedure ban to the Frederick County Commissioners as they form a
legislative package for 2010. Such a measure would be a waste of valuable legislative time and resources since the bill would seek to ban a procedure that is already prohibited by federal law.

Marylanders want an end to attacks on legal abortion and a focus on common sense ways to prevent unintended pregnancies. Education about and access to contraception are proven ways to accomplish this goal.

A politically motivated and divisive bill like this distracts from very real issues about reproductive health in our state. Maryland has the 13th highest teen pregnancy rate in the country, has an infant mortality rate that exceeds the national average, and ranks in the top 20 for incidence of sexually transmitted diseases. We hope to see legislators address these real issues for women and families next session rather than wage yet another ideological campaign against safe and legal abortion.

If abortion opponents were really focused on reducing abortion, they would support common ground measures to reduce unintended pregnancy, such as the bill introduced by Delegate Mizeur that would increase access to family planning. It is time to stop playing politics with women's health and focus on improving women's health in Maryland.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Appeals Court Upholds Protest-Free Zones

The First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a 2007 Massachusetts law, which sets a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinic entrances, does not infringe upon protestors’ First Amendment rights. The ruling concludes that moving the protests to ensure the safety of clinic employees and patients does not impede on free speech. The provision was originally created as a response to several violent attacks by protestors outside state abortion clinics.

The buffer zone law limits those permitted to walk near the entrance of an abortion clinic to employees, patients, state officials, and pedestrians. Though the Alliance Defense Fund, which defended the plaintiffs in court, argued that the law specifically targets and censors anti-choice activists, the Court asserted that the law applies to protesters of both persuasions and that the legislation was in the best interest of public safety.

It’s ironic that these anti-choice protestors have the audacity to claim their own rights were being infringed upon, when the very goal of their antics is to limit a woman’s right to reproductive health care. No part of the legislation denies protestors their right to free speech or punishes them – it simply requires them to express their views in a manner which preserves the security of clinics and does not hinder access to the services they provide.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Low-Income Women Forced to Carry Pregnancies to Term

In a recent report written by the Guttmacher Institute and Ibis Reproductive Health, approximately 1 in 4 women who are denied Medicaid funding for an abortion are forced to continue their pregnancies. The report also mentions that Medicaid funding restrictions can postpone abortions by 2-3 weeks, as women face challenges in finding money to cover the cost of an abortion.

This is a direct consequence of the unjust Hyde Amendment, which allocates Medicaid funds for abortions only in cases of rape, incest, or when the woman’s life is in danger. While the Hyde Amendment only restricts federal funds, 32 states impose similar restrictions on state funds. Seventeen states including Maryland cover all or most medically necessary abortions and one state, South Dakota, openly defies the Hyde Amendment, refusing to cover abortions in cases of rape or incest.

Low income women are already at the greatest risk of unintended pregnancy because of lack of access to reproductive health care. Every woman, regardless of her economic circumstances, deserves the right to decide when and whether to have a child. The Hyde Amendment is a cruel policy and for over 30 years has been a barrier to care. It is time for that era to come to an end.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Ohio Supreme Court Decides on Two Abortion Cases

In the first of two abortion cases heard by the Ohio Supreme Court, parents of a 14-year-old girl filed suit against Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio, asserting that the clinic failed to properly obtain consent for the procedure and to report suspected sexual abuse. As a part of the suit, the parents demanded access to the medical records and abuse reports of minors who had an abortion at the clinic in the last decade. The court ruled in favor of patient privacy and ordered the records of minors not related to the case to remain secure.

Though this is certainly a case that pertains to abortion, this ruling is clearly based on doctor-patient confidentiality. The parents have the legal right to review their own daughter’s records, but they have no right to review medical documents of other young girls, especially with a matter as personal as abortion. Thankfully, the court’s ruling asserts that the right to privacy shouldn’t be limited to people 18 and older.

The Ohio Supreme Court also ruled on a case involving RU-486, also known as the abortion pill. Their decision upheld state legislation that restricts the use of RU-486 to the FDA-approved label. This law deviates from standard medical practice in that 40-60% of prescriptions are for evidence-based (or off-label) use that reflects more recent studies than those used by the FDA. In the case of the abortion pill, this means that providers are prohibited from providing the medication up to nine weeks of pregnancy or in smaller doses, even though numerous studies have shown this treatments to be safe and effective. Many of these evidence-based uses present significant benefits to patients.

Planned Parenthood rightly argued that this restriction will inhibit women’s reproductive rights. Physicians, not politicians, should be making treatment decisions. There is no justification for treating the abortion pill any differently from other legal medications, other than to place a needless hurdle in front of women and their health care providers.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

House Committee Votes to Lift D.C. Abortion Ban

Yesterday, the House Appropriations Committee opposed an amendment to the 2010 Financial Services spending bill that would continue a ban outlawing use of locally raised funds toward abortion services in D.C.

For the last 15 years, D.C. has been subject to an unreasonable policy that makes it the lone local government whose funds are controlled by Congress. D.C. should be given the authority to allocate funds as they wish with regard to abortion, and this is a major step in making this opportunity a reality. Such an action would alleviate the financial stress low-income women experience in seeking abortion care and broaden reproductive health care options for women in D.C.

The House could be voting on the measure as early as next week. For more information, check out Nancy Keenan’s official statement.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Coming Soon: Generic Plan B

Last Wednesday, the FDA approved a generic version of Plan B, a form of emergency contraception that prevents ovulation and fertilization by thickening a woman’s cervical mucus. The generic version, which will be marketed as Next Choice, will only be available to women 17 or younger by prescription until August 24, when it will be made available to women 18 or older without a prescription as well.

This is significant for consumers in that generic drugs can be anywhere from 30-80% cheaper than the original medication. Any move that broadens the availability of emergency contraception is commendable, especially in these times of financial crisis.