Monthly Archives: September 2010

Study Finds No Mental Health Problems in Teens Who Have Abortions

In a study conducted by Jocelyn T. Warren of Oregon State University et al., young women who have abortions are no more likely than teenagers who do not end their pregnancies to have low self-esteem or become depressed during their pregnancy or five years later.  This study is available online (PDF) and will also be in the December issue of Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health. This nationwide study is the first to examine the potential outcome of depression and low self-esteem in a representative sample of teens who have induced abortions.

It is based on data from 289 respondents to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health who reported at least one pregnancy between the survey’s two waves. Of those 289 individuals, 69 reported an induced abortion.

A prior study conducted in 2008 by the American Psychological Association focused on the effects of abortion on adult women and found that induced abortion did not cause mental health problems. However, the study was unable to conclude whether or not induced abortions caused mental health problems in adolescents because of the scarcity of the evidence.

Currently, 34 states (PDF) require women receive counseling before an abortion is performed. Seven states require women be warned of the possible negative psychological consequences resulting from induced abortions. The authors of the study suggest possible harm resulting from a counseling requirement:

Paradoxically laws mandating that women considering abortion be advised of its psychological risks may jeopardize women’s health by adding unnecessary anxiety and undermining women’s right to informed consent.

Now that the supposed mental health risks of having an abortion have been debunked for women and teenagers, states should act to lift any requirements of sharing inaccurate information before obtaining abortion care.

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Filed under Abortion, Girls, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

This Week Marks Ten Years of Women Accessing Medication Abortion in the U.S.

On September 28, 2000, the FDA approved the drug mifepristone, in combination with misoprostol, for usage in a medical abortion pill. Formerly known as RU-486 and now marketed as Mifeprex, the drug offers women an alternative to surgical abortion.

According to a Guttmacher Insititute report (PDF), nearly half of pregnancies among American women are unintended, with 40 percent of these pregnancies resulting in abortion. Although the number of abortions performed in United States has decreased in the past decade, the number of medical abortions using the pill has grown. In 2007, an estimated 21% of all abortions performed prior to nine weeks’ gestation used medication abortion.

As Jodi Jacobson writes:

The earlier in an unintended pregnancy an abortion occurs, the safer and less costly it is. Medication abortion is only appropriate for unintended and untenable pregnancies up to nine weeks.  Availability of medication abortion has meant that an increasing share of abortions are early, and an increasing share of early abortions are done before six weeks or before nine weeks.

Besides the critical importance of safety and cost-effectiveness, medical abortion also provides an alternative to having an abortion performed in an operating room. For many women, being able to have the abortion experience in the privacy of their own home is more comfortable.

However, approval of mifepristone has not increased general access to abortion services as much as many reproductive health workers initially hoped. In 2009, Dr. Lawrence Finer of the Guttmacher Institute said:

Instead, almost a decade later, we find that women in areas that already had access to abortion now have the choice between a medication or a surgical abortion. But for most women who were not easily able to access an abortion provider before mifepristone became available, services remain difficult to obtain.

Jezebel points out one possible solution to this problem – a telemedicine program run by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland in Iowa. Women who participate in the program are able to obtain an ultrasound at any of 16 clinics, have an examination by a nurse, and talk to a doctor over a secure Internet connection. If the doctor sees no complications upon reviewing a patient’s medical records, they can unlock a box containing the pill and subsequently prescribe it. So far, almost 2,000 women have gained access to abortion services through this program.

Additionally, as author Irin Carmon states in the same post, this method makes it more difficult for anti-abortion activists to interfere with the process, increasing the safety and comfort of patients and physicians.

Ten years after its FDA approval, mifepristone has yet to substantially extend its reach beyond areas where access to abortion already existed. However, within a decade, it has become a significant part of reproductive health in the United States, and research data suggests its continued growth as an option for safely terminating unwanted pregnancy.

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Filed under Abortion, Planned Parenthood, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

Book Review: Deborah Brake Brings Her A Game

Deborah Brake’s book Getting in the Game: Title IX and the Women’s Sports Revolution immediately captures the attention of the reader and does not let go until the end.

Although grounded in the study of law, Getting in the Game is interdisciplinary in nature, pulling from history, psychology, and feminist theory. Brake, a University of Pittsburgh law professor and member of the WLP’s Honorary Committee for the 2010 Rights to Realities party, artfully blends theory, legal analysis and case law with stories that demonstrate how individuals have been affected by Title IX. By page six the reader has learned how instrumental athletic programs are in promoting equality and empowering young women.

Early in the book, Brake presents a detailed discussion of the three-part test for equal participation opportunities for women, which she describes as one of the most “radical of Title IX’s equality measures.” She finds the test to be successful based on the test’s emphasis on actual participation of women in sports, as opposed to “merely espousing the ideal of a gender-neutral process.”

Cheerleading has become a stronger presence in the media, both because of pop culture (movies like Bring it On) and because of Quinnipiac University’s recent lawsuit in which a federal judge ruled that cheerleading cannot be considered a competitive sport. Brake examines these changing perceptions of cheerleading and implications extending Title IX to cheerleading.  The author describes the tensions between different feminist views on the value of cheerleading, but ultimately allows for the potentially empowering nature of cheerleading for young women despite associations of cheerleaders with sexuality and subordination.

Brake also does not hesitate to discuss the possibility that a school could avoid adding additional sports for women if cheerleading were considered a sport under Title IX. However, Brake shows how Title IX parallels the feminist discussion of how cheerleading does, or does not, empower young women when she directs the reader to recent guidance from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights that allows for the possibility that cheerleading may be recognized as an official sport on a case-by-case basis.

There is a bittersweet discussion of the Women’s Law Project’s Choike v. Slippery Rock University litigation and subsequent attempts by schools to engage in “roster management” in order to comply with Title IX. Although Brake concludes that the Slippery Rock case was a “qualified” victory, she notes that following the Slippery Rock decision the court allowed Slippery Rock to engage in roster management, capping rosters on male sports and expanding rosters for female sports, instead of requiring new athletic opportunities for women.

In other sections of Getting in the Game, Brake meets controversial subjects, such as claims of Title IX weakening men’s sports, head on. She also discusses mostly-ignored issues, including female athletes and pregnancy, the dwindling number of female coaches, and Title IX’s failure to protect young female athletes from sexual harassment.

However, the most impressive aspect of this book is not any one section. What makes this book a must-read for anyone interested in feminist legal theory, Title IX, or athletic programs is Brake’s ability to write in a fashion that is likely to be as compelling to younger participants in school athletic programs as it is to academics seeking a thorough and balanced examination of Title IX and women’s sports.

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Filed under Education, Equality, Girls, Sports, Title IX

Florida Court Strikes Down Gay Adoption Ban

Good news for children in need of loving families: Florida no longer considers adoption by gay women and men to be unconstitutional under article 1, section 2, of the Florida Constitution. On September 22, 2010, a three-judge panel in the Florida Third District Court of Appeal unanimously struck down a Florida ban on gay adoption. You can read the opinion here [PDF].

The plaintiff, Martin Gill, had been allowed to be a foster parent to his two adopted children but was denied legal adoption under § 63.042 (3), a Florida statute banning adoption by gay men and women, despite being deemed a fit parent. In striking down this ban, the court applied a rational basis test, the lowest form of scrutiny that a court can give a constitutional review. The court found that precluding gay men and women from adopting did not have a rational relationship to a legitimate governmental objective.

This decision applies statewide, but it could conceivably be overturned by the Florida State Supreme Court. However, Governor Charlie Crist has indicated that he is willing to accept the court’s ruling and will immediately stop enforcing the ban on gay adoption.

This is great news for the LGBT community and the potential children they would adopt who are desperately seeking loving homes and families. It’s especially timely, coming after a recent study on children raised by lesbian mothers.

In the largest, longest running, prospective, longitudinal study of same-sex-parented families, Nanette Gartrell, MD, and Henny Bos, PhD, found that:

17-year-old daughters and sons of lesbian mothers were rated significantly higher in social, school/academic, and total competence and significantly lower in social problems, rule-breaking, aggressive, and externalizing problem behavior than their age-matched counterparts in Achenbach’s normative sample of American youth.

Whether the mother was partnered or single, and even in the cases where a lesbian couple separated, the children scored “similarly to children raised by heterosexual parents on measures of development and social behavior.” Further, the children raised by a lesbian parent or parents “scored higher than kids in straight families on some psychological measures of self-esteem and confidence, did better academically and were less likely to have behavioral problems, such as rule-breaking and aggression.”

The researchers started recruiting their prospective lesbian mothers as subjects for the study in 1986, finalizing the list of 154 subjects (70 birth mothers, 70 co-mothers, and 14 single mothers) in 1992. The study followed planned lesbian families and thus was able to track the mothers’ data in interviews, questionnaires, and “Child Behavior Checklists” from the time of conception to adulthood (the study is ongoing) of the 78 now-teenage “index offspring,” 39 girls and 39 boys. Interviews and questionnaires were also completed by the children themselves at the ages of 10 and 17.

The study was made possible thanks to the financial support of the Gill Foundation, the Lesbian Health Fund of the Gay Lesbian Medical Association, Horizons Foundation, and the Roy Scrivner Fund of the American Psychological Association. Even though the report includes the statement “funding sources played no role in the design or conduct of the study; the management, analysis, or interpretation of the data; or the preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript,” the legitimacy of its findings due to the study’s funding sources has still been questioned. In response to this criticism, Dr. Gartrell said “my personal investment is in doing reputable research. This is a straightforward statistical analysis. It will stand and it has withstood very rigorous peer review by the people who make the decision whether or not to publish it.” Indeed, the study was just published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, what one blogger terms a “widely respected journal.”

The Women’s Law Project hopes this study helps us advance to the next step in equal rights for the LGBTQ community, specifically in regards to parenting rights – something we have worked hard for over the years. Dabney Miller, WLP’s Associate Director, led early efforts in Pennsylvania to secure the right to second-parent adoption for lesbian and gay parents, which ultimately resulted in a ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court finding that the Pennsylvania Adoption Act does indeed permit lesbian and gay parents to adopt the children of their partners, thereby securing the children’s rights to Social Security survivor benefits, inheritance, child support, and other elements of a stable, secure childhood. Slow-to-change societal attitudes will hopefully be challenged by this straightforward, quantitative analysis of the outcomes of lesbian parenting – which we’re also seeing in court decisions like the one in Florida.

In the words of Dr. Gartrell:

One of the things that opponents of the equalities of gays and lesbians — in marriage, parenting, adoption and foster care — often bring up is the so-called gold standard of parenting, which defined by them is the traditional family where children are conceived in traditional ways and not through insemination or surrogates. But, when we compared the adolescents in our study to the so-called gold standard, we found the teens with lesbian mothers were actually doing better.

Dr. Gartrell attributes these findings to the level of involvement and commitment to the children and the family that the lesbian mothers demonstrated throughout the study.

“They are very involved in their children’s lives,” she says of the lesbian parents. “And that is a great recipe for healthy outcomes for children. Being present, having good communication, being there in their schools, finding out what is going on in their schools and various aspects of the children’s lives is very, very important.”

Additionally, the deliberate, planned nature of the conception may play a role. The children “didn’t arrive by accident,” she said.  “The mothers were older… they were waiting for an opportunity to have children and age brings maturity and better parenting.”

As for the results, Dr. Gartrell commented “we simply expected to find no difference in psychological adjustment between adolescents reared in lesbian families and the normative sample of age-matched controls. I was surprised to find that on some measures we found higher levels of [psychological] competency and lower levels of behavioral problems. It wasn’t something I anticipated.”

In the conclusion of the report, the researchers assert that “restrictions of child custody and reproductive technologies based on sexual orientation are not justified.” We hope future developments in courts and legislatures across the country will, in response to these findings, continue to  break down the barriers to parenthood for gay and lesbian couples.

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Filed under Equality, LGBT, Parenthood

New Census Figures on Poverty Paint a Bleak Picture for Women

The U.S. Census Bureau released new statistics on poverty last week, revealing a dismal picture for women and families across the country. The number of people living in poverty increased from 39.8 million in 2008 to 43.6 million in 2009 – in real terms, that means that one out of every seven Americans is living in poverty. The full report can be accessed here [PDF].

Of all types of households, the ones headed by women claim the lowest median earnings: the 20.6 million single women not living with family members have a median income of $25,269, while the 14.5 million families headed by women have a median income of $32,597.

Contrast those figures with the median incomes for single male households ($36,611), families with a single male householder ($48,084), and married-couple households ($71,830).

For single women raising children, the picture is even bleaker: 29.9% of female-headed households live below the federal poverty line. By contrast, 11.1% of all families are in poverty, and for married-couple families, that percentage drops to 5.8%.

The gender wage gap didn’t significantly change last year:

Both men and women, 15 years old and over, who worked full-time, year-round experienced increases in real median earnings between 2008 and 2009. The median earnings of men increased 2.0 percent, from $46,191 to $47,127; and the earnings of women increased by 1.9 percent, from $35,609 to $36,278. In 2009, the female-to-male earnings ratio was 0.77, not statistically different from the 2008 ratio.

Breakdowns by state and county will be available later this year. In 2008, 12.1% of Pennsylvanians lived below the poverty line.

These figures are depressing, but not hopeless. There are several things you can do to show your support for equal pay and giving single mothers the help they need to get out of poverty:

  • Let your elected officials know that you support the Paycheck Fairness Act. The PFA would strengthen the Equal Pay Act and proposes voluntary guidelines for employers to follow in evaluating jobs and eliminating sex-based pay disparities for the same work.
  • Tell Congress that the safety net is failing women and families. This report [PDF] from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research describes the many ways that the systems set up to help people in need are failing women and children. The U.S. Senate Finance Committee is holding a hearing on September 21 on “Welfare Reform: A New Conversation on Women and Poverty.” You can submit written comments here.
  • If you’re in Pennsylvania, you can urge our gubernatorial candidates to pledge to raise cash assistance levels in their budget proposals to the state legislature. Contact Republican Tom Corbett here and email Democrat Dan Onorato here.

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Filed under Equal pay, Pennsylvania

WLP Executive Director to Testify at Senate Hearing About Police Mishandling of Rape Cases

Next Tuesday, September 14, WLP Executive Director Carol E. Tracy will testify at a Senate Judiciary hearing in Washington, DC, about police mishandling rape reports. The Women’s Law Project has been working on this issue since the Philadelphia Inquirer reported in 2000 that the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) was wrongly labeling reported rapes and conducting little or no investigation of the reports.

Since that time, the WLP has been contacted by reporters in several other major American cities, including New York, Baltimore, New Orleans, St. Louis, Milwaukee and Cleveland, about police departments using similar tactics to sweep reports of rape under the rug:

In New York, according to articles in the New York Times and the Village Voice, police have been downgrading rapes from felonies to misdemeanors – or rejecting victims’ accounts as untrue.

In Baltimore, the Sun reported that police had dramatically reduced their annual tally of rapes while tripling the figure for complaints deemed false. The newspaper said that Baltimore police led the nation in the rate at which they called rape allegations “unfounded,” rejecting almost a third as false.

Despite years of feminist pressure over the issue of rape and the favorable portrayal of special-victims-unit officers on TV, advocates say that treatment of victims of sexual assault remains a major problem. Often, they say, women who report assaults can find themselves victimized a second time by police who label them liars or blame them for the attack.

The WLP led the advocacy effort that resulted in a reinvestigation of misclassified cases that found 681 cases should have been classified and investigated as rapes, while 1700 other cases should have been investigated as other sex crimes.  Massive reforms took place, including an invitation for advocacy groups to review case files.  Ten years later the review of files continues.

We are glad to see the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, especially Senator Arlen Specter in his position as Chair of the Sub-committee on Crime and Drugs, paying attention to this issue affecting women across the United States. Sexual assault is a hugely underreported crime, with 60% of assaults not being reported to the police. Those who do report rape and sexual assaults are often re-victimized by a system in which they aren’t believed, their cases are not fully investigated, and the perpetrators are allowed to roam free, potentially committing more preventable crimes. This is exactly what happened to Sara Reedy, a Butler County woman who reported an assault to the police and ended up being arrested for false reporting. Her charges were only dropped when her assailant confessed to assaulting her and two subsequent women.

You should be able to watch the hearings live online here at 2:15 PM EDT on Tuesday, September 14, and we’ll keep you updated on any further developments.

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Filed under Government, Philadelphia, Philadelphia Inquirer, Rape, Women's health

Reproductive Coercion Update: Study Offers Hope for Reducing Unwanted Pregnancies in Violent Relationships

Earlier this year, we wrote about a study conducted by researchers at the University of California at Davis which found that a significant number of unwanted pregnancies are the result of reproductive coercion – young women and teenagers being pressured into becoming pregnant by their male partners.

Reproductive coercion is a form of intimate partner violence rooted in the abuser’s struggle for power and control over their victim, rather than a sincere desire to have a child. One in five women surveyed said they had experienced pregnancy coercion and 15% had experienced birth-control sabotage.

Researchers recently published a follow-up to the original study, which measured the effects of clinicians discussing reproductive coercion with their patients prior to an unwanted pregnancy. The LA Times reports:

Among women who were recent victims of intimate partner violence, the patients who were asked about pregnancy coercion and birth control sabotage were 71% less likely to become pregnant against their will, according to the study. They were also more likely to break up with their boyfriends – 52% of them did, compared with 45% of their counterparts who were treated at the clinic where pregnancy coercion and birth control sabotage weren’t discussed.

According to the researchers, the results link ending unhealthy relationships to lower rates of unwanted pregnancy, emphasizing the need to include discussions of pregnancy coercion and birth control sabotage in the realm of reproductive education. As we previously noted, it’s vital to educate women about the skills they need to free themselves from abusive relationships, but outreach must include men as well. Weight must be placed on preventing and avoiding manipulative situations in addition to ending them. As this study shows, the conversation about unwanted pregnancy can’t stop at contraception, and hopefully this will be a cue to healthcare providers and educators to amp up the approach to reproductive freedom.

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Filed under Domestic violence, Pregnancy, Women's health