Monday, August 30, 2010

New Ruling Puts Funding for Stem Cell Research In Peril

In a surprising decision, Federal Judge Roy C. Lambeth ruled that the Obama administration’s rules for funding stem cell research violated the Dickey-Wicker amendment, which prevents the federal government from funding any “research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death.”  The Obama administration has been providing funding for life-saving research that uses embryonic stem cells which have already been created without government funding.

The impact of the ruling is unclear and the Obama administration is expected to appeal.  However, the result could be even more restrictive than the rules that governed stem cell research under President George W. Bush.  Bush’s rules allowed the government to fund research as long as the cells came from one of the 21 existing stem cell lines.  While embryonic stem cells and choice may seem like completely separate issues, they overlap.  Personhood USA is pushing measures in 31 states, including Maryland,  that would declare personhood at conception, effectively banning abortion and imperiling stem cell research.  Like abortion, stem cell research also comes under attack in the Maryland Legislature each year. 

This ruling is a tremendous set-back for the research community.  Stem cell research holds the promise of helping millions of Americans suffering from diseases like cancer, diabetes, Parkinsons, ALS, spinal cord injuries, and Alzheimers.   Let’s hope that people can see beyond the politics of the issue and focus on saving and improving people’s lives.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Virgnia's Attorney General Has a New Way For the State to Limit Choice

Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia’s anti-choice Attorney General, has issued an opinion that would allow the state to classify abortion clinics as ambulatory surgery centers, essentially applying hospital style regulations (commonly known as TRAP regulations) for one of the safest medical procedures provided in the United States.  To comply, clinics would have to make significant changes to their sites and protocols at a huge expense.  Enactment of such onerous, unjustified regulations could force 17 of the state’s 21 clinics to close.  Currently only 57 percent of Virginian women have an abortion provider in their county, a number that would plummet if 17 clinics were to close.  

Cuccinelli tried to enact stronger regulations when he was a legislator.  The Virginia legislature has rejected these attempts in the past and now Cuccinelli is using his position as Attorney General to, in the words of Del. David L. Englin (D-Alexandria), “do an end run around the General Assembly.”  

Those who want to impose stricter regulations claim that they are concerned for the health of women.  However, abortion clinics are already regulated by the state of Virginia.  They follow the same safety guidelines as plastic surgery centers and doctor’s offices.  Less than one third of one percent of all abortions result in a serious complication.  It is an extremely safe and simple procedure. This move is a thinly veiled attempt to limit abortion under the guise of protecting women.  Abortion is a part of reproductive health care.  Limiting access only endangers women’s health. 
While the opinion opens the door for more regulation of abortion providers, permanent changes to their classification require the approval of Board of Health.  Eleven of its members were appointed by former Governor Tim Kaine, a Democrat.   Hopefully, if the matter comes before the Board, they will recognize this opinion for what it is and reject this attempt to further limit women's ability to make their own choices about their health reproductive care.  

Here's what Rachel Maddow's excellent take on what's happening in Virginia.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Are You Ready to Vote?

The weather has not been particularly kind to Maryland this summer. Exhausting heat, flooding, and downed power lines make one yearn for fall. After all, autumn brings us turning leaves, light sweaters, and voting.

Voting? Yes, it’s that time again. Here in Maryland, the entire General Assembly is up for grabs, not to mention the governorship and key countywide races. This represents a great opportunity for the pro-choice community. While Maryland is on the surface a blue state, every year anti-choice bills are put forth by delegates and senators who don’t represent the best interests of women. 2010 represents our chance to change this and make sure that the politicians we send to Annapolis represent our values.

If you haven’t registered to vote, you only have until August 24th to register for the primary election. Get a copy of the form as well as info on how to fill it our and where to send it at the Maryland Board of Elections website.

Once you’re registered, one of the most important things to do is make sure that your registration is up to date. This is especially important if you’ve moved or changed parties since the last election. You can make sure at the Maryland Elections Center website. There you can also verify where you will go to vote.

Think you’ll be out of town or unable to reach the polls on Election Day? You can request an absentee ballot. Another great option for Marylanders this year is the opportunity for early voting. Find out more information here.

Nothing can change if you don’t vote! Here’s a quick calendar of important dates to know:

August 24 - Voter registration for Primary Election ends

September 3-9- Early Primary Election voting

September 14- Primary Election Day

September 27- Voter registration for General Election re-opens

October 12- Voter registration for General Election closes

October 22-28- Early General Election voting

November 2- General Election Day

Check out our website for more information on what makes this election so important and who is pro-choice. You have a chance to make real change happen in Maryland this fall. Take advantage and exercise your right to vote!

Ella® is Approved!

Last Friday, in a victory for reproductive health, an FDA panel approved a new form of emergency contraception (EC), ella®.  Ella®, which has been available in Europe for over a year, reduces the risk of pregnancy up to five days after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure.  While Plan B®, the only other brand of EC available in the US, can also be taken up to 5 days after sex, it is most effective within the first three days.  In comparison, ella® works just as well on the fifth day as on the first. Unlike Plan B®, which is available without a prescription for women and men 17 and older, ella® will be available by prescription only.  While this may be an advantage to some women whose insurance will only cover prescription medication, it presents yet another obstacle in terms of availability, especially for women who have no health insurance or whose insurance doesn’t cover EC.  

It should come as no surprise that anti-choice groups are lining up in opposition to the approval, but the truth of the matter is that Ella’s® approval means that women have another safe and effective option when making choices about their reproductive health.  Increasing access to more and better forms of birth control is an effective strategy in preventing unintended pregnancies and most people support it. Thankfully, the FDA agrees.

Friday, August 13, 2010

It's about intersectionality.

Judge Vaughn Wagner’s groundbreaking decision overturning California’s Proposition 8 was more than a detailed takedown of each of the arguments against marriage equality.  It also illuminates the fact that marriage is a constantly evolving institution, and that it has evolved rapidly over the past several decades as old gender roles have been replaced with a larger sense of gender equity.

Linda Greenhouse has a great piece in the New York Times this week that talks about how Judge Vaughn’s analysis of the change in gender roles shows that he is not redefining marriage from the bench- society has already done it.  By adopting ideas such as no-fault divorce and abandoning the idea that women could not individually own property, Judge Vaughn argues that we as a society have already moved marriage away from its “traditional” role so treasured by Prop 8’s supporters.   

What does this decision have to do with reproductive rights though?  Plenty.  Over at RH Reality Check, Jessica Arons illuminates the connections.  The underlying tone of Judge Walker’s decision is that the state has no compelling interest in telling people who to marry.  In doing so, he cites Loving v. Virginia, which declared unconstitutional laws that prevented people not of the same race from marrying; Griswold v. Connecticut, which established the right of married couples to seek out birth control; and Lawrence v. Texas, which decriminalized consensual sodomy.  Taken with the Prop 8 decision, connecting these dots has a huge impact on reproductive freedom.  Being able to choose who you want to marry or have sex with, and if and when you want to have children, are fundamental rights. Our laws should reflect that the personal sovereignty that is the bedrock of American values.

The argument over Proposition 8 hits at the intersection where certain individuals have their behavior controlled by the state, for supposedly moral reasons held by the minority of Americans.  It’s a fight that those in the civil rights, LGBTQ and reproductive justice communities are well acquainted with.  When decisions like Perry v. Schwarzenegger come along, we can all rejoice at the victory for individual rights.  And the backlash against it reminds us that there is still more work to be done.

Monday, August 2, 2010

It’s a No-Brainer.

In these economic times, it should not be difficult to imagine yourself as a young woman struggling to make ends meet for you and your partner on a single salary of less than $36,425 per year.  Now imagine you are standing at the pharmacy counter at the grocery store, tabulating in your head the cost of your birth control compared the food in your cart plus your rent and utilities. When your budget is stretched that thin, what item do you cut out? More than likely, you’re going to leave your prescription behind.

For roughly 250,000 women in Maryland, this is a daily reality.  Despite living in poverty, they are not eligible to access Medicaid’s family planning services, which include gynecological care, contraceptives and STI screening.  Under current law, women (with incomes at or below 250% of the poverty level) must become pregnant before they are eligible for these services under Medicaid.  Clearly, this is not the most effective way to prevent unintended pregnancy.

An article in the July 30th Gazette highlights the problems with this policy.  In the recent Kids Count study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Maryland has the 42nd worst infant mortality rate in the country, at 8 per 1,000 live births.  This can be attributed to a lack of access to gynecological care pre-pregnancy and a lack of access to prenatal care.

Fortunately, as the Gazette points out, Maryland legislators are pursuing a solution.  The Family Planning Works Act, sponsored by Delegate Heather Mizeur (D-20) and Senator Catherine Pugh (D-40), would expand Medicaid’s family planning services to any woman whose income is at or below 250% of the poverty level.  This expansion would reduce the number of births that Medicaid has to pay for, saving the state millions of dollars.

As we’ve mentioned before, NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland is proud to support this common sense measure and testified on its behalf this past February.  This summer alone, we have collected nearly 500 signatures from fellow Marylanders who support this bill.  Seventeen other states, including Mississippi and Virginia have made similar changes to their Medicaid programs.  Sign our petition to let your elected officials know that you expect them to support this measure in the next session, regardless of their party.  An idea that both helps women and saves the state money is a win-win proposition for all of us.