Monthly Archives: January 2011

Tell Your Representative: No on HR 3

On January 20, 2011, U.S. Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ) introduced HR 3, the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortions Act” in the House of Representatives. The bill has 173 sponsors, including Speaker John Boehner.

The bill would codify the Hyde Amendment, which Congress has re-authorized every year since 1976. It prohibits Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income Americans, from covering abortion care except in three narrow circumstances: if the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, or the life of the woman is endangered. Changing it from an amendment to a law on its own, as HR 3 would do, would make it much harder for the restrictions on abortion access for low-income women to be lifted.

HR 3 would also dramatically change the status quo on Medicaid funding for abortions needed because of rape by only covering abortions caused by “forcible rape.” We’ve testified before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs about the need for federal authorities to update and broaden their definitions of rape to more accurately reflect the rape victims’ reality, and this bill is a step in the absolute wrong direction. For example, if it passes, girls who are victims of statutory rape and need to terminate their pregnancies will not receive Medicaid coverage to do so. Nor will their parents be able to pay for the procedure through health savings accounts, as Nick Baumann writes at Mother Jones magazine:

Given that the bill also would forbid the use of tax benefits to pay for abortions, that 13-year-old’s parents wouldn’t be allowed to use money from a tax-exempt health savings account (HSA) to pay for the procedure. They also wouldn’t be able to deduct the cost of the abortion or the cost of any insurance that paid for it as a medical expense.

The bill would also only allow incest victims under the age of 18 to receive Medicaid coverage for abortion, completely ignoring adult victims of incest.

HR 3 is an outrage. Shakesville has great resources for getting involved in stopping this bill from passing, including a link to write to your representative and join the Twitter campaign against it.

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Filed under Abortion, Government, Health insurance, Rape, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

Think Purple: Cervical Cancer Awareness Month

The PA House of Representatives joined the rest of the nation in recognizing January 2011 as “Cervical Cancer Awareness Month” in an effort to increase awareness about the risks and treatability of cervical cancer.

Currently, cervical cancer is the second largest cancer killer of women worldwide. In the next year, 10,000 women will learn they have the cancer and 4,000 women will die from it.

The primary cause of cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus (HPV), which five million people acquire each year.

Gardsasil is a popular vaccine that helps to protect against four types of HPV. In young women 9-26, Gardasil is recommended to protect against 75% of cervical cancer cases and 90% of genital warts. In young men 9-26, Gardasil helps to protect against the cause of 90% of genital warts cases.

In addition to the Gardasil vaccine, cervical cancer deaths can be significantly reduced by widespread screening. Cervical cancer rates in the United States are affected by education, access to regular cervical cancer screening and the accuracy of screening. Minority women and women with lower incomes are less likely to have access to routine screening and therefore are disproportionately affected and at risk. About half of cervical cancer cases are in women who have never been tested and 10% of the cases are in women who haven’t been screened within the last five years.

Women between the ages of 40 and 64 who are uninsured may be eligible for a free screening for cervical cancer through the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s Healthy Woman Program. In 2008, 6,606 women were screened through the program and 207 women were found to have it. Women under the age of 64 who are uninsured and need treatment for cancer or precancerous condition of the cervix, may also be eligible for full health care benefits through the Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Program of the Department of Public Welfare.

The importance of early access to accurate screening can make a world of difference for women with cervical cancer, highlighting the importance of community education.

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Filed under PA Legislature, Women's health

On Gosnell and the Stigma of Abortion

This week, Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams released a grand jury report [PDF] about the allegedly unsafe and unsanitary conditions at the Women’s Medical Society, an abortion clinic in West Philadelphia run by Kermit Gosnell. The report states that Gosnell and other staff members were responsible for the deaths of at least two female patients and seven infants. The report also details the gruesome practices that apparently took place there, including untrained personnel giving patients anesthesia, staff members performing abortions illegal under the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act, and filthy conditions at the clinic.

A change in the law would likely not have stopped Gosnell. He was breaking the law, according to the grand jury report, and performing abortions well beyond the limit of what the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act allows, under substandard conditions.

The grand jury report notes that for decades, other abortion providers and patients reported Gosnell’s clinic to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, but no action was taken to shut down the clinic. The report also refers to the excellent medical care, safety protocols and standards of care that Planned Parenthood and NAF providers adhere to that “are, in many ways, more stringent and more protective of women’s safety than” the abortion regulations in Pennsylvania.

In many ways, what allegedly happened at this clinic is a result of what happens when abortion has been so stigmatized in the United States. For example, the report states that the women and girls who went to Gosnell’s clinic were primarily low-income women of color. Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income Americans, will not pay for abortion procedures in Pennsylvania except in very rare circumstances. This restriction on funding, however, does not stop low-income women from needing abortion care. And when their health insurance will not cover the procedure, these women are often forced to compromise their health and safety and find marginal providers who will perform abortions for the lowest price.

Abortion has become so stigmatized that possibly the women and girls who went to Gosnell’s clinic simply thought that what they found there – according to the grand jury report, flea-ridden cats and litterboxes in procedure rooms and blood-stained recliners and blankets – was the standard of abortion care. But it’s not. The National Abortion Federation and Planned Parenthood Federation of America hold their clinics to high professional and medical standards. In fact, Gosnell applied to become a NAF-approved clinic and the application was denied because the clinic did not live up to the quality of care NAF requires from its members. NAF has released a statement about what a quality provider of abortion care looks like, and we encourage everyone to read through it and pass it along.

The grand jury report has already been used by abortion opponents to further their agenda of banning legal access to abortion in the United States. But banning abortion or adding new restrictions to accessing the procedure will not stop it from happening; it would just increase the likelihood of unsafe, unsanitary clinics like Gosnell’s springing up. As the Guttmacher Institute explains:

Indeed, abortion occurs at roughly equal rates in regions where it is broadly legal and in regions where it is highly restricted. The key difference is safety—illegal, clandestine abortions cause significant harm to women, especially in developing countries.

Policymakers and regulatory agencies should work on correcting the inaction by state agencies that allowed Gosnell’s clinic to operate even after dozens of complaints were filed against him. Meanwhile, advocates and providers should continue to speak openly about the importance of de-stigmatizing abortion and expanding access to high-quality abortion care through health insurance coverage and community education about what a good provider looks like. Only when abortion is treated as a necessary component of women’s health care – which it is, since one in three American women will have an abortion at some point in their lives – can we hope for a day when what allegedly happened at this West Philadelphia clinic doesn’t happen again.

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

Lesbian and Gay Parenting Most Prevalent in the South; Couples and their Children Need Legal Protection

For the first time in 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau released the numbers of same-sex marriages reported in the United States and data about their relationships. The decision to release this information reversed a Bush-era policy that prohibited the release of this information. The information released about same-sex relationships revealed that more same-sex couples are participating in child rearing.

In 1976, there were an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 biological gay and lesbian parents in the United States. In the 1990s, it was estimated that  6 to 14 million children were being raised by same-sex parents. The latest statistics reveal that an estimated 2 million members of the LGBT community are interested in adoption and currently an estimated 65,500 children are adopted by same-sex couples each year. More than 16,000 children are being raised in households run by same-sex couples, amounting to 4% of all adopted children being raised in the United States.

The New York Times recently published an article highlighting the prevalence and commonality of gay parenting as revealed from the Census statistics. However, the article also highlights the difficulties of being a same-sex parent.

An important difficulty to address is the process for a same-sex couple to become parents. Adoption laws vary from state to state. In some states, same-sex couples are allowed to adopt a child as joint parents, in which case they can go about an adoption the same way a heterosexual couple would. Unfortunately, in many states adoption is not an option for same-sex couples. In states that allow same-sex couples to marry, same-sex couples are automatically considered parents. A legal parent is defined as “the person who has the right to live with a child and make decisions about the child’s education, well-being and health.” Even if the couple divorces, both parents are still considered the legal parents of the child. These children are guaranteed the same protection of heterosexual parents.

In May of 2004 the Human Rights Campaign Foundation released a report illustrating the difficulties of same-sex parents. Health Insurance is far less likely to be provided to same-sex couples with children through their employer, and those who do receive coverage pay inflated prices for coverage compared to their married, heterosexual co-workers.  Social Security benefits are also denied to same-sex couples: if one parent in a same-sex relationship dies, the Social Security benefits that would be left to the surviving parent and child are inadequate compared to heterosexual couples in the same situation. Income tax is higher for same-sex couples that have one stay at home parent, compared to heterosexual couples with the same family dynamic. However, if both parents are working in a same-sex relationship, the income tax is less than what married heterosexual couples pay.

The ultimate solution to these issues facing LGBT families is legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.  We have seen this work in those states that allow same sex couples to marry  Formal marriage status provides the child with Social Security benefits, consent to provide emergency treatment and medicine from both parents, and support from both parents in the case that they divorce.  However, even though most states issue domestic partnerships and civil unions, these bonds are not portable over state lines and do not provide the 1,138 federal rights given by marriage.

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Filed under Adoption, Equality, LGBT, Sexual orientation

President Obama Proclaims January to be National Stalking Awareness Month

January is National Stalking Awareness Month, as proclaimed by President Barack Obama.

According to the White House Council on Women and Girls, 3.4 million adults in the U.S. were stalked in just one year, with young women ages 18-24 being the most heavily targeted demographic.

Stalking is addressed in the Violence Against Women Act, but National Stalking Awareness Month is an effort to increase the public’s understanding of the crime in order to prevent future cases. As White House Advisor on Violence Against Women Lynn Rosenthal writes:

Despite its prevalence, stalking is little understood by many people, who may think only celebrities are stalked or that stalking isn’t harmful. On the contrary, stalking is a dangerous crime that takes a profound toll on its victims, who are often afraid for their safety and try repeatedly to escape their stalkers. Stalking can happen to anyone and most victims know their stalkers.

The current legislation links stalking to domestic violence and sexual assault, as 76% of female intimate partner homicide victims had been stalked by their intimate partners. Susan Carbon, director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), commented on the federal efforts to make stalking a greater public concern: “The motto to ‘KNOW IT, NAME IT, AND STOP IT’ captures the focus of January’s awareness campaign…Educating ourselves and each other is an important step to encouraging and supporting victims to report the crime and stop the abuse.”

More information about stalking and National Stalking Awareness Month can be found here.

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Filed under Domestic violence, Stalking

Planned Parenthood Telemedicine Program Update

Over the past few months, we’ve been following the news reports about Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s telemedicine program, which allows women to access medication abortion through a live video consult with a doctor.

The program involves a Des Moines physician evaluating a patient via the video service and using a remote control to unlock mifepristone, the medical abortion pill. The patient takes the first dose under the doctor’s supervision, and then takes the remaining dosage in the privacy of their home. This service has allows women in rural areas, who would otherwise not have access to abortion, to safely terminate their pregnancies. So far, sixteen Iowa clinics are able to provide this service.

In October 2010, anti-abortion activists spoke out against the program, claiming it violates an Iowa law that requires all abortions to be performed by a physician. The discrepancy prompted the Iowa Board of Medicine to review the program, and a decision was reached earlier this month. In a letter to Cheryl Sullenger of Operation Rescue, the main organization behind the protest, the Iowa Board of Medicine held that the telemedicine program is not in violation of Iowa law and no doctors will be sanctioned for participating in the program.

This is good news for the women of Iowa, who greatly benefit from the service. Approximately 2,000 women have utilized the telemedicine program since it began in 2008, a statistic that shows the necessity for rural women to gain access to reproductive health options.

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Filed under Abortion, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

Guttmacher Report Shows Greater and Safer Abortion Availability

The Guttmacher Institute has released a new report about abortion in the United States. According to the report:

The abortion rate in the U.S., which has declined steadily since a 1981 peak of more than 29 abortions per 1,000 women, stalled between 2005 and 2008, at slightly less than 20 abortions per 1,000 women.

The report is made entirely of statistical data and offers no explanation for the decline of the abortion rate. Some have attributed the decline of the economy to the plateau of abortions obtained by women in the U.S.

The report also discusses the use of the abortion pill, mifepristone, and the availability of abortions. One positive effect of the legalization of mifepristone, which we wrote about in September, is its potential to increase abortion access for women in areas where surgical abortions are not an option. The theory is to make the right of choice available to every woman.  The report notes that “about 17 percent of all 2008 abortions, and more than a quarter of those performed before nine weeks of gestation, were medical abortions.”

This increase in medical abortions is shows not only greater access to the procedure, but also a safer option for women:

Rachel Jones, lead author of the Guttmacher report, sees the increase in medication abortions as good news, because such abortions occur early in pregnancy, when abortion is safest.

These statistics are good news for women’s health advocates, yet there is still a lot of ground to cover. Despite the fact that medication abortions are becoming more available, the study also found that “87 percent of U.S. counties had no abortion provider, and 35 percent of women of reproductive age lived in those counties.”

It is still disheartening that so many women do not effectively have the right to choose because of a lack of access. We’re glad that the Guttmacher Institute continues to shed a light on all the progress, and the work still left to be done.

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Filed under Abortion, Reproductive Rights, Women's health