Monday, June 28, 2010

A New Study Undermines Nebraska’s Anti-Choice Law

Remember the heinous, anti-choice bills that were recently passed in Nebraska? You may recall that one of the bills placed a ban on abortion after 20 weeks based on the unsupported belief that the fetus can feel pain.  This ban is the first law in the nation that restricts abortion on a premise other than viability, which contradicts over three decades of judicial precedent set by Roe v. Wade. Nebraskan politicians passed this legislation despite the fact that legal scholars and scientists maintained that there was no reputable scientific evidence to support the claim that fetal pain occurs at this stage in the pregnancy.

Well, it turns out that a recent study by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists further debunks the theory of fetal pain.  The research found that there is not sufficient neurological development for the fetus to feel pain before 24 weeks.  The report also emphasized the fact that it is difficult to say whether the fetus will feel pain after 24 weeks, because the perception of pain is largely a behavior that is learned after birth.  This study provides even more evidence that the justification for the Nebraska law is based more on political posturing than scientific fact.

When it comes to reproductive health, this is not the only time politicians have ignored facts to further their agenda. On issues ranging from comprehensive sex education to late term abortion to expanding family planning services, anti-choice politicians have shown time and again that they are willing to support legislation that contradicts the consensus of medical and scientific communities. Women deserve access to medically accurate information when it comes to making reproductive health decisions, not biased information aimed at restricting and manipulating their options. 

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Who's Really Being Thoughtful about Abortion?

Abortion touches everyone.  The Guttamacher Institute estimates that “one in three American women will have had an abortion by age 45”.  Statistics aside, these women are people we know, our mothers, daughters, friends, and co-workers.  NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland and other pro-choice organizations support every woman's fundamental right to make her own choice about pregnancy and child-bearing.  It is a fundamental tenet to the pro-choice community that women must be trusted to make their own decisions regarding their reproductive health care.  Tracey Brooks weighed in on this issue in an editorial in the Huffington Post.  Brooks states that “every state should value women and families enough to have strong reproductive health care policies.”  Sadly, this is not the case.  A large number of anti-choice legislation targeted at women's reproductive rights has been proposed this year. Even more worrisome, many have been ratified into law.

Anti-choice legislators believe that creating barriers limiting access to abortion care will deter women from seeking abortions.  The reality is that these barriers only increase the cost of healthcare and may jeopardize a woman's health.  According to the Tracey Brooks, “studies have shown that increasing restrictions on access to abortion, such as the newly popular strategy of requiring ultrasounds before abortion, do not serve to change women's minds.”  Besides being ineffective and dangerous, anti-choice laws are offensive because they deem women incapable of making responsible decisions regarding their own reproductive health

Last month, the Guttmacher Institute released a study which showed that the reasons women give for having an abortion “underscore their understanding of the responsibilities of parenthood and family life.”  According to this study:

“Three-fourths of women cite concern for or responsibility to other individuals; three-fourths say they cannot afford a child; three-fourths say that having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents; and half say they do not want to be a single parent or are having problems with their husband or partner.”

Women who seek abortions have made a thoughtful and personal decision.  This decision is a private one, and by basic right belongs to no one but the individual considering the procedure.  Lawmakers must consider this when crafting legislation.  If anti-choice legislators were truly concerned with reducing the number of abortions, they would enact policies that support women and their families – like expanding access to family planning services, increasing access to affordable childcare, guaranteeing a livable wage and equal pay for women, and ensuring that women and men have adequate parental leave after the birth of a child – not policies that undermine women’s integrity and autonomy by restricting their ability to choose what is best for them.

Privacy Victory for Florida Women!

This may be a little behind the times, but it’s never too late to share good news. On June 11th, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed the controversial ultrasound abortion bill. In late April, anti-choice Florida legislators amended H.B.1143 which previously had no relevance to reproductive rights, to include a mandatory-ultrasound requirement. The bill would have required a woman seeking an abortion to receive an ultrasound and an oral description of the ultrasound images before undergoing the procedure except in cases of rape, incest or domestic violence. In addition, the bill would have required women to shoulder the cost of the ultrasound, ranging from $150-$1500.

NARAL Pro-Choice America mobilized activists in Florida, sending more than 1,200 messages to Gov. Crist urging him to veto this unprecedented anti-choice legislation. NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan applauded Crist’s decision, stating that "Gov. Charlie Crist did the right thing by listening to the pro-choice majority in Florida and vetoing this anti-choice bill that the state legislature rammed through at the last minute.” In a letter explaining his veto, Crist explained that the bill would place “an inappropriate burden on a woman seeking to terminate a pregnancy.”

The insertion of such amendments is a prime example of anti-choice politicians’ willingness to disregard women’s health in order to gain political standing without thinking of the real-world ramifications of their actions. “Floridians, like most Americans, are tired of lawmakers using women's reproductive health as a bargaining chip”, says Keenan. Anti-choice advocates introduce hundreds of state bills each year and mandatory ultrasounds for women seeking an abortion is an increasingly popular trend. Anti-choice politicians in Maryland eagerly jumped on the bandwagon and introduced ultrasound legislation in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Thankfully, our pro-choice allies held strong and none of the bills passed. 

But if the past is any indicator, anti-choice activists will continue to live by the adage “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again.” Although the ultrasound bills were successfully defeated in Maryland and Florida this time around, it’s crucial that pro-choice activists mobilize quickly if these bills are introduced again.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

FDA Considers a New Emergency Contraceptive

The FDA’s Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health will meet on June 17th to discuss whether or not to approve a new emergency contraceptive named ellaOne®. Studies have shown ellaOne® to be more effective than Plan B®, the only other emergency contraceptive on the U.S. market. Although Plan B® can help prevent pregnancy if taken up to 5 days after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure, it is more effective the sooner it is taken. In comparison, ellaOne® is consistently effective within a 5 day period after sex. A recent MSNBC article reported that “women who took ellaOne® within five days after sex almost halved their chances of becoming pregnant compared to women who took Plan B®.”

Not surprisingly, anti-choice advocates are up in arms about the introduction of a new emergency contraceptive. Anti-choicers are using the same old arguments they used when the FDA was considering approving Plan B® for over-the-counter status- it will cause girls to become more sexually promiscuous. A LifeNews article even goes so far as to state that ellaOne® “causes abortions.” These claims are false and completely unsupported. A report from the World Health Organization notes that several studies have shown that providing access to EC “does not increase sexual or contraceptive risk-taking behavior.” Further, neither Plan B® nor ellaOne® affect or harm an established pregnancy. Anti-choice advocates continue to use these tired arguments as a means to hinder women’s reproductive freedom.

This new “Plan C” is currently available in 21 European countries. Hopefully the U.S. will be the next addition to this list! One serious down side is that researchers estimate that ellaOne® will cost three times the amount of Plan B®, which is already more than many women can afford (ranging between $30-$60). The approval of ellaOne® will mean very little to most women if it is not affordable.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Abortion Foes Advance Cause at State Level

A New York Times article released yesterday discusses the recent wave of measures implicated by several states which aim to limit women’s reproductive rights. Many of these states are acting on provisions in the new health care plan which allows states to prohibit insurers from covering abortions. In this past year, at least 11 states have passed laws regulating or restricting abortion. Just to name a few:                                                               

*Arizona has passed 4 laws this year which include a ban on coverage of abortion in state employees’ health plan and stricter reporting requirements for doctors who perform abortions.

*Oklahoma has passed 7 laws in the past year. One of the most alarming is a law which requires a woman to undergo an ultrasound and listen to a detailed description of the fetus before receiving an abortion. There is no exception for women who have been sexually assaulted. Another new law protects doctors from being sued by parents for withholding information about fetal abnormalities during pregnancy.

*Nebraska ban on all abortions after 20 weeks.

While pro-choice supporters breathed a sigh of relief with the return of a pro-choice administration, anti-choice activists rallied. It is clear that attacks on reproductive freedom have become more severe. Pro-choice advocates need to remain vigilant to ensure their voices are heard and values are represented.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Burris Amendment to Repeal Abortion Ban in Military Hospitals

Last month, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted 16-10 to approve an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act.  The amendment, introduced by Senator Roland Burris, will repeal the current ban which prevents servicewomen from obtaining an abortion on a military base, even if they use their own money.  Although the Burris amendment will allow women to use private funds to pay for abortion care in military hospitals, it does not change the policy prohibiting federal funding for abortions.
This ban is not only unjust, but puts women’s lives at risk.  By restricting access to abortions, the government deters women from exercising their right to choose.  Vania Leveille, who is a member of the ACLU Legislative Counsel, notes that:
“There are hundreds of thousands of women serving in our military who put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms yet they are prevented from exercising their own reproductive freedom.  Servicewomen stationed overseas are disproportionately affected by this ban. Allowing American servicewomen to use their own private funds to obtain abortion care at U.S. military facilities is fundamental and should never have been questioned in the first place.”
Naral Pro-Choice America, one of the advocacy groups who approached Burris to sponsor the repeal, calls the ban “outrageous and unfair”.  This ban discriminates against military women by denying them their right to a safe and legal abortion.  Women who are courageously fighting for their country should not be denied access to the full range of reproductive health care options available to women in the United States just because they are in a foreign country.
As Burris notes, “It is critical that we provide the highest quality care” which “includes allowing women and their families the right to choose at facilities operated under the Department of Defense.”  NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland commends Senator Burris as well as the Senate Armed Services Committee for helping to repeal this unjust ban!