Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Anti-Choice Lawmakers Post-Health Care Reform Tack

Check out NARAL Pro-Choice America president, Nancy Keenan’s blog at HuffPo, where she points out the duplicity of anti-choice lawmakers touting a lack of personal freedom and privacy in the wake of the health care reform bill. The hypocrisy is undeniable; these lawmakers want the freedom to choose health care practices in private yet they refuse to extend the same right to women. How ironic that the words they use to describe their opposition to health care reform are identical to the message the pro-choice movement has used for years.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Common-Sense Family Planning Services = Healthier Women and State Savings

According to Delegate Heather R. Mizeur and Senator Catherine Pugh, Maryland family planning services for women are backwards. Presently, the Maryland Medical Assistance Program offers comprehensive family planning services to low-to-middle income women – but only after they have children.  Delegate Mizeur and Senator Pugh recognize how the present policy cheats women out of valuable preventative services and have introduced The Family Planning Works Act to address this disparity.

Ensuring that affordable family planning services are available is proven to be highly effective in allowing women to delay pregnancy until they feel prepared to have children.  The Family Planning Works Act would change the eligibility for receiving family planning services from having a child to an income based requirement.  As previously noted, when times are tough, women make cuts where they can.  For many this means foregoing annual gynecological visits, skipping birth control pills or stopping the use of birth control altogether.  This type of cost-cutting could be avoided if the current policy were corrected to meet the needs of women without children.

Not only would this commonsense legislation provide women with much needed health care, it would also save the state money in the long-run. The National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association estimates 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.” This means investing into family planning services equals big savings for taxpayers.

The program requires an initial investment of $2.3 million, but the projected savings makes this a very wise investment. With an estimated savings of $22 million per year, the measure would pay for itself in less than 2 months. It’s true that the state faces its own financial trouble, which is exactly why it should find the capital needed to implement this cost saving measure. Delegate Mizeur suggests several possible solutions including, budget cuts, temporary tax increases, and private foundation funding. 

Affordable and effective family planning services give women the chance to have healthy children when they are emotionally and financially able.  It also helps prevent unintended pregnancies and, therefore, reduces the rate of abortion.This is a solid piece of legislation that would not only benefit the state economically, but would also improve the health and lives of Maryland women and their families.  That’s why NPCM supports the bill and testified in both the House of Delegates and the Senate. It’s time for lawmakers look at the big picture and find a creative way to fund this proposal. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Today is Back Up Your Birth Control Day of Action!

This is the ninth year that The National Institute for Reproductive Health has designated March 24th as a day to raise awareness about emergency contraception availability and affordability.  The Back Up Your Birth Control campaign wants the FDA to make emergency contraception more affordable and available. Presently, the price ranges from $35-$70, an exorbitant cost for many.  The  campaign also advocates for the inclusion of over-the-counter access to emergency contraception(EC) in state Medicaid coverage.  Currently, the FDA mandates that only women and men ages 17 and older can receive emergency contraception without a prescription.  Kelli Conlin, president of the National Institute of Reproductive Health and NARAL Pro-Choice New York, says “Considering both the high rates of teen pregnancy and the lack of any medical rationale for age restrictions on emergency contraception, it just does not make sense to keep these age restrictions in place.”

In cities and on campuses around the country today, activists will be passing out pamphlets, buttons and stickers with the image of Rosie the Riveter with an "EC" proudly displayed on her bicep.  Here are a few ideas on how you can get involved:

  • Get the facts on EC – Check out this sweet website for everything you could possibly want to know about EC.  Once you have the facts straight, don’t be shy about sharing them with others. 
  • Sign the petition -Encourage the FDA to “end unnecessary age restrictions on emergency contraception”.
  • Raise public awareness – Tweet, post, or blog to educate others about EC.
More ideas on how to raise awareness can be found here.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Abortion Compromise Controversy in Health Care Bill

Watch NARAL Pro-Choice America's Donna Craine explain why the two-check system in the new health care reform bill is unworkable.

Statement on Health Reform

Washington, D.C. – Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, issued the following statement regarding House passage of the health-care reform package. 

"Our mission at NARAL Pro-Choice America is to guarantee every woman the right to make personal decisions regarding the full range of reproductive choices, including preventing unintended pregnancy, bearing healthy children, and choosing legal abortion. We assessed the health-reform package against these criteria, and determined that, because of the egregious abortion-coverage restrictions, we could not endorse this bill. But, because the measure has other very positive provisions for reproductive health, we couldn’t in good conscience call for the bill’s outright defeat and thus deny millions of American women and men the promise of better—although imperfect—access to health-care services that are important to our pro-choice values.

"The legislation includes an onerous provision that requires Americans to write two separate checks if the insurance plan they choose includes abortion coverage. This unacceptable bureaucratic stigmatization could cause insurance carriers to drop abortion coverage, even though more than 85 percent of private plans currently cover this care for women. Our message to our allies in Congress and in the White House is clear: We do not accept this bill as the final word on how abortion coverage will be defined in the new health-care system. We are committed to finding opportunities to repeal these unacceptable restrictions as the new system takes shape. 

"At the same time, we recognize that the bill will bring more than 30 million Americans into a system that includes affordable family-planning services, better access to contraception, and maternity care. It also outlaws some discriminatory insurance-industry practices that make health care more expensive for women. We applaud this tremendous progress, but we will continue to work toward a day when these kinds of achievements can be made without undermining women’s access to abortion coverage. American women should not have to sacrifice their right to choose in order to make progress in other areas of health care. 

"This situation is a reminder that, despite significant pro-choice gains in the last two election cycles, anti-choice lawmakers still outnumber our allies. This is precisely the reason that politicians such as Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) were able to use women’s reproductive health as a bargaining chip. We call on members of America’s pro-choice majority to channel their anger into action and join us in working to elect more members of Congress who share our pro-choice values."

Cross-posted on Blog for Choice

Friday, March 19, 2010

Latino Youths Address Teen Pregnancy in Montgomery County

As reported in the Washington Post, a group of Latino youths in Montgomery County are speaking out about teen pregnancy.  With Hispanic teens being more than twice as likely to give birth as their white or African American counterparts, teen pregnancy is a serious concern. In addition to a lack of education and resources and language barriers, the disproportionate rate of teen pregnancies in the Latino community is also compounded by a lack of discussions about sex with parents who, because of cultural and religious customs, are reluctant to address the issue openly. Teens and young adults are collaborating with adults and media professionals to create a campaign of videos, posters and other media to educate teens, parents and service workers about youth pregnancy.  Fifteen year old Carolina Diaz is one of the teens heading the public service announcement against early parenthood. Last week, she shared her experience of becoming pregnant at 13 years old at a Silver Spring youth center.  In front of numerous youth and social workers Diaz spoke about the tribulations of giving birth too young. The sharing of personal stories is one of the most effective ways to incite change.  Diaz and her group should be proud of their willingness to take on such a controversial subject in an effort to better their community. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

DC Will be First City to Distribute Free Female Condoms

Soon, D.C. will become the first U.S. city to distribute free female condoms. City officials will be distributing them in an effort to stem high HIV infection rates in the District. "Anywhere male condoms are available, female condoms will be available," says Shannon Hader, director of the D.C. HIV/AIDS Administration.

The city accessed the state of HIV/AIDS in 2009 and discovered that at least 3% of district residents are HIV-positive – or 2,984 residents per every 100,000 over the age of 12.  Keep in mind that these statistics only represent people who have been tested, so the numbers may actually be higher.  In Maryland, Prince George's County, which borders the District, has the second-highest rate of HIV/AIDS infection rates after Baltimore.  The most current data available is from 2007 which says that there are 5,240 reported cases of infection in the county. 

 Officials recognize that distributing only male condoms leaves women to rely solely on men for protection.  Female infection rates are particularly high in DC – 58% are infected through heterosexual sex. The availability of a female condom gives women more control and an effective method to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV and unintended pregnancy.

The female condoms have been available in CVS stores for purchase in the District since December.  The city intends to distribute the condoms to health clinics, high schools, social service organizations, and nontraditional places, like beauty salons. The nontraditional distribution and marketing of female condoms has proven to be a cost-effective method of HIV/AIDS prevention in countries like Zimbabwe.

In the past, female condoms have not been as widely distributed in the US because of their higher price in comparison to male condoms.  Female Health Co., the manufacturing company from which DC will purchase the female condoms, has created new version of the female condom, the FC2, which is more comfortable and less expensive.  Also, a $500,000 grant from the MAC AIDS Fund, a subsidiary of MAC cosmetics, helped DC to purchase a greater amount of condoms for more distribution.  

The new distribution program has the potential to help reduce HIV/STI rates in Maryland counties that border DC.  If the proximity to DC is seen as a contributing factor to the high HIV/STI rates in Prince George’s county, one would hope that successful prevention methods would have a similar affect in curbing infection rates.  Furthermore, if the DC program proves successful, perhaps Maryland officials will take the initiative to get a similar program started here. 

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

4000 Years for Choice

Check out this sweet new campaign, 4000 years for choice, created by artist and activist Heather Alut.  The concept of the project is to send postcards (gorgeously designed) in response to women's health clinics being targeted by the anti-choice campaign "40 Days for life".  According to their website, "40 days for life" is "a focused pro-life campaign with a vision to access God's power through prayer, fasting, and peaceful vigil to end abortion in America."  In other words, they protest selected clinics throughout the country for forty days straight.  

Another mission of the 4000 Years for Choice project is to dispel the belief that abortion and contraceptive rights began in the 20th century with the women's liberation movement.  Alut presents an interesting and comprehensive historical timeline that shows women have worked to control their fertility since the beginning of time.  The timeline clearly reveals that women will find a way to maintain their bodily autonomy, even if they have to resort to dangerous and deadly methods.  And women will continue to do so, regardless of the restrictive laws and social stigma promoted by the short-sighted anti-choice movement.  

The supportive spirit of the 4000 Years of Choice Campaign is a great reminder that National Appreciation of Abortion Provider's Day is right around the corner on March 10th.  On a good day, abortion providers must tolerate harassment; on a bad day, they fear for their lives.  Whether  you use one of Alut's beautiful cards or make one of your own, be sure to thank you local provider for their dedication to ensure women's decisions regarding their health care needs are met with the support and dignity they deserve. 

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Montgomery County Failing to Meet Women’s Reproductive Health Care Needs

A study released on January 31st by the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services highlights the need for more reproductive health services for women in Montgomery County.  The study was a collaborative effort of the “Reproductive Health, Education and Advocacy Work Group” which was convened by Councilmember Dutchy Trachtenberg in June 2009. The group is comprised of medical experts and reproductive health advocates, including NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland.

The report identifies two areas of concern.  It states the need for more reproductive health services while also highlighting the disproportionate rate at which women of color receive information about reproductive health care. Alarmingly, only one-third of women eligible for services are receiving the care they need. The report found that there are only six publicly supported family planning clinics in the county.  However, it’s estimated that 30,000 women in Montgomery County are in need of family planning services. In order to adequately meet this demand, Trachtenberg says there ought to be at least 20 clinics in the county. However, any additional clinics will not be proposed until the county’s economic situation has improved. 
Furthermore, the report states that although women of color make up a smaller portion of the County’s population, they have a greater need for publicly funded family planning services. Unfortunately, they are also more likely to be unaware of the services that are available to them.

The limitation of services available coupled with a lack of knowledge of existing services has serious consequences for young women of color. For example, Hispanic and African American teens become pregnant at a higher rate in comparison to White teens.  According to a press release on the report, “Hispanic teens were more than twice as likely to give birth as their White or African American counterparts.”  Out of all pregnancies in Montgomery County in 2007, 3 percent of pregnancies were by White teens, 4 percent by Black teens and 7 percent by Hispanic teens. 

These statistics show a very clear need for practical solutions and immediate action.  The Advocacy Work Group has suggested several measures to correct the lack of services, which includes more education and outreach to inform the public and creating a task force to specifically address the issue of teen pregnancy.  To read all of the proposed measures, go to the press release on the Montgomery County Council website. 

While there is much work that needs to be done to address the lack of comprehensive family services in Montgomery County, it is good to know that Councilmember Dutchy Trachtenberg and the “Reproductive Health, Education and Advocacy Work Group” are working diligently to come up with solutions.