Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Update on Health Care Reform Debate

It doesn't take more than a glance at the local newspaper or the TV news to know that the health care debate is heating up. If you're not tuned in to the debate already, you should be. Reform of the health care system is going to affect everyone. Abortion has become a big issue in health reform, and today's debate in the Senate Finance Committee showed it. Senators
voted down an anti-choice amendment from Republican Senator Orrin Hatch (Utah) to force women participating in his health insurance exchange to buy separate abortion care. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) was right to call the measure “offensive.” Abortion is a safe, legal medical procedure. Nearly one in three women will have had an abortion by age 45. Restricting access to needed health care creates huge obstacles for women with the fewest resources and creates unnecessary stigma. Fortunately, it was defeated 13-10.

The defeat of this amendment has good implications for health care reform, since the Committee plans to stop debating about coverage and start debating how to finance the plan. However, the whole of Congress is still arguing about abortion care and how it should be funded. The New York Times reports:
At least 31 House Democrats have signed various recent letters to the House speaker,Nancy Pelosi, urging her to allow a vote on a measure to restrict use of the subsidies to pay for abortion, including 25 who joined more than 100 Republicans on a letter delivered Monday.

Representative Bart Stupak of Michigan, a leading Democratic abortion opponent, said he had commitments from 40 Democrats to block the health care bill unless they have a chance to include the restrictions.

One of the reasons the Hatch Amendment didn't pass in the Senate Finance Committee despite the threats of a vocal anti-choice contingent of legislators is that the Senate Finance Committee bill does not provide federal funds for abortion beyond the strictures of the infamous Hyde Amendment, 33 years old today. The Hyde Amendment only allows federal funding for abortions in instances of rape, incest, or when a woman’s life is endanger and excludes coverage for medically necessary abortions. Abortion care would be covered under some insurance plans, but private dollars (from premiums) would be used to pay for it. Furthermore, nobody would be forced to pay premiums that provided for abortion care, because everyone would have the option of getting a plan with abortion care coverage or without. The Center for American Progress has an excellent summary about this issue.

We should not single out abortion care from the rest of health care. But the Hatch Amendment represents another level of discrimination- saying women do not deserve abortion care at all. The right to choose is meaningless without the ability to access care. Denying coverage of abortion in the new health care plan will be a major step backwards for women's health, yet the promise of health reform is to improve health care for the entire nation. Tell your representatives to protect women’s health care including abortion care in health reform.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Recession is Limiting Women’s Access to Family Planning Services

A study released Wednesday confirms many suspicions- the economic downturn has had negative consequences for women seeking family planning services. Losing their jobs or health insurance has driven many women to delay gynecologic visits, skip birth control pills, or stop paying for contraceptives altogether. These women may be saving money in the short term by skipping pills or visits, but they are putting themselves at risk for an unintended pregnancy, which will only result in more costly options. Nearly half of the women in this survey wanted to delay having children, often voicing concerns about caring for the children they already have.

For a more in-depth look, you can view the full report- “A Real-Time Look at the Impact of the Recession on Women’s Family Planning and Pregnancy Options” or read the Guttmacher Institute’s news release on the study.

Hopefully, this news will encourage legislators to push health care reform into policy and ensure that the new plan provides increased access to family planning services. Like most prevention methods of health care, family planning saves money in the long run. In fact estimates show that every dollar spent to provide services in the nationwide network of publicly funded family planning clinics saves $4.02 in pregnancy-related and newborn care costs to Medicaid. Women realize that delaying childbearing makes sense in this economy, but many women are not being given the means to do it. The government, legislators, and the health care industry should ensure that women who want to prevent pregnancy have access to the birth control they need. Health care reform should make preventative health care services like family planning more affordable and accessible for everyone, and especially for low-to-middle income families.

If you are like 23% of the women surveyed and are having a harder time paying for birth control than you have in the past, you should read Deborah Kotz’s blog. She interviews Laura Lindberg of the Guttmacher Institute about ways to save money on birth control pills.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

New Study Links High Teen Birth Rates With Conservatively Religious States


This week a study was released that links high teen birth rates to conservatively religious views. Researcher Joseph Strayhorn looked at the relationship on a state level and found that the more conservatively religious a state is, the higher the teen birth rate tends to be. The authors of this article, as well as many other expert researchers in the field, hypothesize that lower levels of contraceptive use in conservatively religious communities is contributing to a higher teen birth rate.

Of the top 10 most religious states listed in the study, seven got an “F” in reproductive rights protections from NARAL Pro-Choice America in 2009. The other three got a “D” or "D+" on their state report card. Hopefully, more studies will examine factors, like religiosity, that may contribute to reproductive rights protections, sex education curricula, and availability of contraceptives and reproductive health services. Policies affecting these issues may contribute to an elevated teen birth rate and are also likely to be influenced by dominating religious views. Although these trends may exist, it is important to provide teenagers with options that are free from ideological influence, such as scientifically supported sex education and access to medically approved contraceptives.

Maryland ranks 36th out of 51 for teen birth rate. While Maryland is better off than over half the country in the teen birth rate, not using contraception raises other health issues for teenagers. Maryland has the high rates of HIV/AIDS and STIs compared to other states. We can battle these poor health outcomes by making contraceptives more affordable and available and by teaching and encouraging teenagers to use them.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Back Up Your Birth Control!- Know Your Options for EC

This summer, we saw some great steps forward for access to emergency contraception (EC). Just in case you haven’t been following our coverage of it or got overwhelmed by the updates, this is a breakdown of what happened this summer and what it means for EC access. It is important to be up-to-date on the issue because there is no guarantee that your pharmacist will be or that he/she will give share the current information with you.

In March of this year, Judge Edward R. Korman of Federal District Court in New York ordered the FDA make Plan B® available to 17-year-olds and urged them to reevaluate the age restriction on emergency contraception. Korman chastised the Bush administration for ignoring science and basing this policy on “political and ideological” influences.

On April 22nd 2009, the FDA announced that over-the-counter access for Plan B® would be extended to 17-year-olds, while younger people would still have to get prescriptions from their doctors. However, this did not immediately make EC more accessible, because the medication could not actually be sold to 17-year-olds over the counter until the pharmaceutical company changed the labeling.

As of September 16th 2009, newly labeled Plan B® pills are available in stores for men and women 17 and older over the counter. Women who are 16 and younger still need a prescription, which can be obtained from a doctor, family planning clinic or health department.

But they’re not the only EC pills available now. You can now get a generic version of Plan B®, called NextChoice®. The generic form has the exact same chemical composition and has the same age restrictions as Plan B®. The good news is that you could save 10% or more on EC.

If you prefer simplicity to saving money, there is another option available. Plan B One-Step® requires you to take only one pill instead of two. Plan B One-Step® works the same as the original Plan B®, and it is available with the same age restrictions. Soon enough, Plan B One-Step® will replace the original Plan B® in stores, but you will still be able to get the generic two-pill formula.

It is always good when women have more options for contraceptives, especially when they are cheaper options. However, one must remember that just because the FDA approves these medications does not mean every pharmacist is knowledgeable of the recent changes or every pharmacy will have all three types of EC in stock. Now that you know what is available, you can advocate for yourself and demand that your pharmacy provide it or refer you to a pharmacy that does.

Make sure you visit your local pharmacy and back up your birth control today!

Don’t forget about all the other things you should know about EC, like how it works, when you need it, and where to get a prescription.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Abortion Compromise in Health Care Reform

Recently, the President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Cecile Richards, wrote an article in The Baltimore Sun defending health care reform to anti-abortion supporters. Her message was clear: under the new plan, government funds will NOT pay for abortions. Richards wrote this article to “come to the defense of [the anti-choice movement’s] first victim -- the truth.” Well if truth is the first victim, the next 150 million victims are women in America.

The pro-choice community has been on the defensive in the health care debate; we’ve been working to debunk the myths that the health care reform opposition has been spreading about abortion. In the midst of all the damage control, a very important point has been ignored- abortion care IS health care. Moreover, reproductive health care is the most integral necessity for women’s health overall. The media has been allowed to politicize a medical procedure, injecting ideology into the health and safety of women. The anti-choice movement has been successful in blocking access to health care from the women most in need by isolating abortion care from mainstream medical practice. The need to address false claims about health care reform has stifled an important conversation about how including access to comprehensive reproductive health care in the reform would dramatically improve the quality of life for women across the country.

However, the need for compromise is understood. Health care reform is necessary in order to help the 46.3 million uninsured people living in the United States, so some common ground must be found. The New York Times recently ran an article about opponents and supporters of abortion rights supporting a “truce on abortion” in the health care debate. Both sides realize that using health care reform to push their agenda just will not work-- it will only stall the reform. They are agreeing to keep the “status quo” on abortion policies, but defining that “status quo” brings another standoff. The anti-abortion groups are insisting that the public option should not cover abortion at all, as the Federal Employees Health Benefits program does not. On the other hand, the pro-choice movement believes that offering plans that cover abortion care is essential to ensuring that women who have health insurance now do not lose coverage, and women who cannot afford to pay for private plans will not be denied access to reproductive health care.

It is important to find middle ground on abortion in order for health care reform to move forward. However, it is also important to remember that some points cannot be compromised. Women have a fundamental right to reproductive health and abortion care, and health care reform cannot change that.

Currently, many legislators are supporting a reform plan that not only denies abortion coverage to women who currently cannot afford insurance, but also will cause women who already have insurance coverage for abortion care to lose it. This is completely unacceptable. If you want to tell your legislators to protect women’s reproductive health care coverage, you can write a letter with the help of NARAL Pro-Choice America.