Friday, July 29, 2016
Huffington Post (Jul. 18, 2016): Voices of Faith Speak for Abortion Rights, by Marie Alford-Harkey:
Religious people who support abortion rights have largely been ignored in the debate over abortion. There is a widely held misconception that people with religious convictions are anti-abortion. This is a false dichotomy. It is not true, as Dr. Willie Parker has noted, that "people with a faith identity and abortion care are mutually exclusive.
For people of faith, making moral decisions is a sacred responsibility. According to this belief system, it is up to the individual, not the polity, to make decisions about his or her own body, "which we believe are gifts from God." It is thus unsurprising to find individuals of various belief systems advocating for dismantling barriers to abortion care. This kind of oppression is not consistent with religious faith, it contradicts it.
In support of allowing women on their own to make the personal decision to seek abortion care is the compassion that lies in ensuring that they have access to safe medical care. Indeed, healthcare for women that includes abortion care is a moral imperative. At the very least, ensuring safe access to abortion "avoids imposing one religious view on everyone."
Thursday, July 28, 2016
Huffington Post (Jul. 18, 2016): A Play about Abortion Care Shows How "Remarkably Normal" It Is, by Katherine Brooks:
A new documentary play, "Remarkably Normal," shares the stories of real women gleaned from in-depth interviews to emphasize the statistic that one in three American women will have an abortion in their lifetime but that, shockingly, access to medically safe abortion care remains in doubt. The play "aim[s] to express the emotions and humanity of a common experience that political discussions underplay" and for which we, no matter our political stripe, allow little room for honest conversation.
Playwrights Marie Sproul and Jessi Blue Gormezano believe that theater can inspire social change by opening audiences' hearts and minds. They envision "Remarkably Normal" as a game changer--a play by women about women--in an industry dominated by men.
Not only is "Remarkably Normal" a documentary play. It is also an interview play, "a play in which the playwright interviews people on a particular subject and then uses that material to create the play and the characters in it. The audience experiences the play as the interviewer, hearing the responses of the people to whom the questions were asked." The effect is a riveting portrait of women reliving an experience few can understand without experiencing it themselves. Nonetheless, whether one has lived these experiences or not, "Remarkably Normal" makes them impossible to dismiss and in the process deeply humanizes the women telling their stories.
Wednesday, July 27, 2016
News Deeply (Jul. 18, 2016): Zika Spotlights Latin America's Reproductive Rights, by Christine Chung:
There is a disconnect between the World Health Organization's advice to women in Zika-threatened countries to refrain from reproducing and the fact that those same countries deny women reproductive choice as a matter of law. Critics of the advice, including the United Nations working group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and practice, are calling for making contraception and safe abortion more widely available in Latin America. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human rights, failing to do so ignores the necessary human-rights response to the Zika epidemic.
The statistics are stark:
Approximately 22 percent of women of reproductive age across Latin America have unmet needs for effective contraception. The region already has the highest rate of unintended pregnancy in the world – some 55 percent of pregnancies – due to the lack of access to reproductive healthcare and high incidences of sexual violence. Honduras, for example, has the highest rate of rape in the region, but maintains a total ban on abortion and emergency contraception.
Restrictive reproductive laws primarily affect women living in poverty. Reproductive justice requires that governmental response to Zika place women and children at the center of the policy discussion.
Tuesday, July 26, 2016
Cosmopolitan.com (Jul. 18, 2016): Police Violence Is a Reproductive Justice Issue, by Leslie Watson Malachi:
In this piece, Malachi reflects on mothers who have lost their sons to violent police officers. Police violence is a reproductive justice issue, she argues, because "[w]omen must not only have the right to choose abortion, but also the right to choose to bring a child into this world and raise them in an environment free from violence. It's a right that is demolished every time young people of color are questionably gunned down by the police."
Malachi easily finds the connection between reproductive justice and an environment free of racially-motivated police violence in the fact that the reproductive justice movement was founded by African-American women as a way of promoting the well being of women, their families, and their communities. This movement hinges not only on the constitutionally guaranteed right of women to make decisions about whether and when to exercise their reproductive potential but on "the social justice rights of women of color to safely raise a child in our country."
Monday, July 25, 2016
Buzzfeed (July 12, 2016): Prominent Trans Lawyer Picked To Run National Trans Rights Legal Group, by Meredith Talusan:
Jillian Weiss was just named the new executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund. With a background in employment law and teaching (as a professor at Ramapo College of New Jersey), Weiss is most noted for her successful suit against Saks & Co., where she represented a trans woman who was discriminated against by the company. While Weiss acknowledges the importance and significance of her identity and the position she has been appointed to, she is more focused on the intersectional work that is needed to move forward. “It’s really the system that is set up to discriminate and to be prejudiced against trans people, particularly people of color, and other people caught at the intersection of different kinds of prejudice, like race and class and gender,” she concluded. “It’s very important that we focus on that intersection and understand that it’s a much larger picture out there.”
Friday, July 22, 2016
(July 22, 2016): Today, the Indiana Court of Appeals vacated Purvi Patel's feticide conviction and Class A felony conviction for neglect of a dependent. Patel was convicted of feticide and neglect of a dependent for allegedly self-administering drugs to induce an abortion which resulted in a premature delivery. Although Patel maintained that the there was not a live birth, the jury found that she delivered a living baby and failed to seek medical help on a timely basis.
The Court of Appeals found that a pregnant woman cannot be convicted of feticide for the termination of her own pregnancy and that an unlawful abortion does not constitute feticide. The court also vacated Patel's conviction for Class A neglect of a dependent because the state failed to prove that the premature baby would have survived if Patel had sought medical help on a timely basis. However, it did find that there was sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude that there was a live birth and that Patel's failure to seek medical help placed the baby in danger which constitutes a Class D felony. The case has been remanded to the trial court to resentence Patel for the less severe Class D felony which has a sentence range of 6 months to 3 years.
Thursday, July 21, 2016
The Guardian (July 18, 2016): Doctors urged to advise patients about risks of abstinence-centric sex education, by Molly Redden:
In a recently released report, The American Academy of Pediatrics denounced abstinence only education programs, stressing the importance of educating young people about comprehensive approaches to things like STIs and contraception. Some interviewed view this as a triumph for doctors in areas where parents may want to mitigate their children gaining access to this kind of information, viewing the report as a scientifically-sound back up against the arguments of abstinence-focused parents. The report stresses the inadequacy of abstinence-only education and highlights conversations about consent and gender identity as a few of the topics pediatricians should feel encouraged to speak with patients about.
Abstinence-only groups have already taken issue with the report, but many are heralding this as an important step in the right direction for doctors and patients alike:
“This is the mothership telling pediatricians that talking about sex is part of your charge to keep children and adolescents safe,” said Dr Cora Breuner, a professor and pediatrician at Seattle Children’s research hospital and the report’s lead author.
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Dallas Morning News (July 18, 2016): Hispanic women bore brunt of Texas abortion law, data shows, by J. David Swaine and Brittney Martin:
Data released by Texas 3 days after the Supreme Court decision striking down two provisions of a 2013 law imposing unnecessary and onerous restrictions on abortion providers confirmed that law severely burdened women's access to abortion and that Latina women were particularly hard hit. The ACLU sought release of the data in June, asserting that the data was ready to be published in March, but that it was withheld by "upper level supervisors" at the Texas Department of Health Services.
The Department of Health data shows that HB2 had a disproportionate affect on Latina women. The first full year the restrictions went into effect, abortions in the state dropped 14%. Among Latina women the drop was 18%. Most of the decline resulted from clinic closures in the Rio Grande Valley which is predominately Latino. In the Valley's Hidalgo County, Latina women had 60% fewer abortions and in Cameron County, the second largest county in the Valley, there was a 49% decrease.
Women living in the Texas Panhandle, West Texas and the Valley where women were facing the longest driving distances to get to abortion providers experienced the biggest drop in abortions.
"The data shows not only that the drop in the number of safe, legal abortions provided was clearly linked to the elimination of access but also, and most especially, that the elimination of clinics disproportionately impacted Latinas," said Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health in New York.
The 2013 law also required that medication abortion be administered according to the FDA labeling protocol even though the protocol was outdated and off label use of drugs is common. The FDA protocol requirement in conjunction with other Texas laws would have required women to make 4 trips to an abortion clinic to obtain a medication abortion. According to data released by the Department of Health, the year after the provision went into effect, 70% fewer women obtained medication abortions.
Although the Supreme Court did not address the FDA labelling requirement, the FDA recently updated its label guidelines. The new protocol requires fewer visits to the woman's medical provider, lowers dosages and allows medication abortion up to 10 weeks rather than 7. Since the new protocol has been in effect, Texas providers have reported an increase in women opting for medication abortion instead of surgical abortion.
Monday, July 18, 2016
The Atlantic (July 13, 2016): Why the Male Pill Still Doesn't Exist, by Andy Extance
While America was introduced to the female birth control pill, and the first tests in hopes of creating a pill for men were conducted as early as 1957, many lament the fact that a male 'pill' equivalent to that of female hormonal contraception still does not exist. There are a variety of issues that have delayed the development of a male pill - there is a lack of commitment to contraception; pharmaceutical companies are less interested in making a product for men; and dangerous side effects documented from previous drug trials. But studies show that the interest, across gender identities, for a male pill is there. The article highlights the social acceptance of women bearing the responsibility of taking contraception, and researchers' worry that they may not be able to create a product that would be as easy as to administer as the female pill. Over the years, researchers have explored various hormonal and non-hormonal methods. One of the researches believes that the answer is probably out there and the work just needs to be completed:
[Elaine] Lissner is adamant that the ideas that seem to have faltered are not dead, they’re just resting. “We keep collecting new methods and never finish the ones we have,” she fumes. “Pick one and make something! Finish the job!”
Saturday, July 16, 2016
New York Magazine (July 14, 2016): Will Delaware Become a Birth-Control Utopia?, by Susan Rinkunas:
Delaware doctors will begin asking patients with the capacity to give birth if they intend to become pregnant within the next year at doctor's appointments, even when it's just a visit to their primary care doctor. If the patent intends to become, or intends to start trying to become, pregnant, they will be advised on prenatal care; if not, they will talk with their physicians about contraception options. This program was started by governor Jack Markell in response to the state having a high unintended pregnancy rate, and the program is said to be on track to be fully implemented within the state by 2017, and is progressive, inclusive, and ambitious:
This new contraceptive world will be the result of a collaboration called Delaware CAN. Upstream USA will train providers at publicly-funded clinics as well as 30 to 40 of the largest healthcare providers across the state. The goal is for all women, whether they have insurance or not, to be asked about their pregnancy plans and given birth control if they want it, at no cost. Billing staff will also be trained on how to code for procedures not usually done in these offices so that they’re reimbursed properly.
Salon (July 11, 2016): Anti-choice activists attempt to hijack Black Lives Matter to shame women for abortion, by Amanda Marcotte
Coming off of a week of violent murders, racism, and police violence, many in America believe that coming together as a community is the way to rise above violence. Still, in the wake of tragedy, some conservative activists have hijacked the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement for their own gain - shaming women for abortions. "Conservative Twitter" has erupted with hashtags that proclaim "Unborn Lives Matter," with anti-choice accounts like that of the Radiance Foundation and Students for Life adding the hashtag to anti-choice ads and tweets on their pages. Amanda Marcotte calls out conservative activists for the campaign:
But the eagerness of the anti-choice movement to hijack, undermine, or even demonize the Black Lives Matter movement exposes the “well-meaning people” belief as the myth it is. Anti-choice is about the same politics of resentment, bigotry, and cruelty as the rest of the conservative movement, and this behavior simply proves that fact once again.
Friday, July 15, 2016
New York Magazine (July 7, 2016): Why Do We Treat Sexually Abusive Doctors Differently Than Other Predators?, by Susan Rinkunas
Linking to a study done by the Atlanta Journal Constitution, this article and the study explores the safe space that doctors create with patients, and the physicians that violate that safe space with unwarranted sexual harassment or assault. For many women seeking reproductive - or other types of - healthcare, it is more confusing when doctors cross a line because of the power they hold, the space they share with patients, and the inherent vulnerability of being in an exam room with someone who has vowed to "do no harm." The medical profession also seems to look the other way when when people are courageous enough to step forward and report these offenders:
Medical boards do publicly reprimand doctors, with sanctions including treatment programs, required chaperones when seeing female patients, and monitoring of their practice. Still, the reporters found that, of 2,400 doctors publicly disciplined for sexual misconduct nationwide since 1999, half still had active medical licenses. Some doctors who lost their licenses simply applied for one in another state.
The report raises the question: Why are some doctors seemingly given a pass while abusive coaches, teachers, and, more recently, priests get registered as sex offenders?
Huffington Post (July 14, 2016): Mike Pence Has Led The Fight Against Reproductive Rights For Half A Decade, by Laura Bassett:
Sources say that Trump is likely to pick Mike Pence as his running mate for the 2016 election - news that is particularly bad for reproductive rights. Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards is quoted in the article, reflecting on how 'obsessed' Pence was with destroying Planned Parenthood over the course of his career; indeed, he wrote the first bill that aimed to swipe all federal funding for the reproductive rights organization. More recently, in March, Pence signed into law a bill that, among other abortion restrictions, requires doctors to offer the "remains" of abortions to their patients.
While anti-choice activists are bolstered by the rumors of the pick, pro-choice organizations know Pence's history, and what is at stake:
“Pence has a rich history of marginalizing women as a politician, the same way Donald Trump has throughout his career and this campaign,” said Marcy Stech, a spokesperson for the pro-choice PAC EMILY’s List. “Together, they are a perfect storm of classic, out of touch, GOP extremism. For the very few women still not convinced that Trump isn’t a threat to women, Gov. Pence should do it—these men are not to be trusted.”
Thursday, July 14, 2016
Bustle (July 7, 2016): Colorado's Birth Control Experiment Proves the Whole Country Needs Free BC, by S.E. Smith:
A Colorado program providing free birth control from 2008-2014 illustrates how access to contraception can decrease unintended pregnancy and abortion. Researchers looking at the program's impacts also noted positive outcomes for low income women who were able to delay pregnancy and purse education and professional training. Despite, these successes, the program, which used private funding, hit roadblocks when public bridge funding was sought.
Colorado's program lasted for six years, giving us all a long look at what happens when you start providing free long-lasting birth control to teens and young adults. Using private funding, the program offered training to clinics along with supplies, and the results were clear: According to a study published in October 2014, unintended pregnancies dropped in the state by 40 percent from 2009-2013, and abortion fell by 42 percent over the same period. Perhaps unsurprisingly, when bridge funding to keep it going came up for a vote in May, Colorado Republicans succeeded in shooting it down, leaving the program in peril.
Although free birth control saved Colorado millions in health care costs for unintended pregnancies, the program was opposed by legislators concerned that providing free contraceptives will promote promiscuity. However, Smith argues that access to sex education and contraceptives does not lead teens to have more sex.
This assumption [that access to contraception encourages sex] flies in the face of the facts, of course: Studies on sexual education demonstrate that well-informed teens often choose to have sex later than teens who don't receive comprehensive sexual education. The same holds true for birth control — a 2014 study showed that teens with access to free birth control tend to have fewer partners and to engage in sexual activity less frequently than teens without access.
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
The Seattle Times (July 11, 2016): Clinics ask judge to bloc Alabama abortion restrictions, by AP:
The ACLU is seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent an Alabama law that bans abortion clinics near schools and prohibits D & E abortions from going into effect.
The location bill targeted the Alabama Women’s Center for Reproductive Alternatives in Huntsville. The clinic moved to a new location in 2013 in order to comply with a new state law requiring clinics to meet the same building code requirements as outpatient surgical centers. The new location is down the street from a K-8 magnet school.
According to the ACLU, the school restriction would close the two largest abortion clinics in the state.
Tuesday, July 12, 2016
New York Times (July 9, 2016): Anti-Abortion Group Presses Ahead Despite Recent Supreme Court Ruling, by Erik Eckholm:
The National Right to Life Committee met last week to discuss its strategy in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt. The Supreme Court struck down Texas admitting privileges and ambulatory surgical requirements imposed on abortion clinics, finding that they imposed an undue burden on women's access to abortion. The case should make it difficult for states to justify targeted regulation of abortion providers, or TRAP laws, which impose more stringent regulatory requirements on doctors and facilities providing abortions than other comparable medical procedures.
Leaders of the NRLC indicated that rather than pushing TRAP laws, they will focus on passing legislation with the explicit purpose of protecting the fetus. Unlike TRAP laws that purport to impose medical regulations on abortions for the purpose of making the procedure safer (which the Supreme Court found was untrue in the case of the Texas regulations), laws seeking to protect the "humanity of the unborn" introduce a state purpose and benefit not at issue in Hellerstedt.
However, the two types of laws promoted by the NLRC pose their own constitutional problems. The NLRC is encouraging states to pass laws that ban abortion at 20 weeks (15 states have already passed 20 week bans) based on claims that the fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks. However current Supreme Court precedent prohibits bans on abortion prior to fetal viability, which is generally understood to occur at 22 weeks. There is also questionable medical support for the theory that the fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks, which is significant given the enhanced scrutiny that the Court employed in Hellerstedt to determine that the Texas regulations did not have the medical benefits claimed by the state.
The second provision backed by the NLRC would ban a technique used in second trimester abortions known as dilation and evacuation (D & E), which results removal of the fetus in parts. Only about 10% of abortions are performed after 12 weeks of pregnancy, and the provision does not change the situations in which women are entitled to obtain abortions. However, it significantly limits doctor and patient choice about how the procedure is performed. D & E is the most common form of second trimester abortion and is viewed by many doctors as the safest and most convenient technique for a later abortion. D & E bans have passed in Oklahoma and Kansas but have been blocked by courts because of their intrusion on women's medical procedures and because they could endanger women's health by exposing them to unneeded or more dangerous procedures.
Friday, July 8, 2016
New York Times (June 28, 2016): The Humiliating Practice of Sex-Testing Female Athletes, by Ruth Padawer:
By all accounts Dutee Chand is a running star likely to win a gold medal for India in the Rio Olympics. But along the way, she was been subjected to a litany of questions aimed at ascertaining her "true gender."
Like other female athletes before her who know nothing about testosterone levels or "abnormal" sexual development, Chand has been subjected to repeated doubts about her gender, to the extent that authorities in India demanded a "gender verification test" so that she would not be an embarrassment to Indian athletics. The gender verification test proved highly invasive and even mortifying. It was an evaluation of testosterone levels and included "measuring and palpating the clitoris, vagina and labia, as well as evaluating breast size and pubic hair scored on an illustrated five-grade scale." The results showed levels that were too high, and Chand was barred from racing. She was accused in the press of being a boy, a hermaphrodite and a transsexual.
Refusing to be cowed, Chand sued the International Olympic Committee for discrimination based on atypical sex development. The IOC has a sordid past of questioning whether women who excelled in athletics were actually male. Decades of suspicion that countries have been passing men off as women have led the IOC to develop protocols for verifying gender. But the chromosome test it preferred and the "hyperandrogenism" test that replaced it were flawed: they could not identify the women whose elevated levels of testosterone were actually of benefit in athletic competition. Still, the IOC claims it must protect female athletes from having “to compete against athletes with hormone-related performance advantages commonly associated with men.” Nonetheless, there is absolutely no hand-wringing over elevated testosterone levels in men, and no attempt is made to argue that they would give anyone an athletic advantage. Moreover, a number of physiological differences that offer specific competitive advantages--increased aerobic capacity, resistance to fatigue, exceptionally long limbs, flexible joints, large hands and feet and increased numbers of fast-twitch muscle fibers--remain completely unregulated, to say nothing of the socio-economic advantages that so many athletes bring to competition.
Last July, the Court of Arbitration for Sport disapproved of the IOC's testing women athletes for testosterone. In the court's estimation, the degree of advantage provided by naturally occurring testosterone is no more significant than is more significant "than the advantage derived from the numerous other variables which the parties acknowledge also affect female athletic performance: for example, nutrition, access to specialist training facilities and coaching and other genetic and biological variations.”
Thursday, July 7, 2016
Reprohealth Law (June 15, 2016): Forced Sterilization Case Against Bolivia: Expert Testimony by Christina Zampas:
We continue to follow the story of I.V. v. Bolivia, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights' first case of forced sterilization (see previous post here). Brought against Bolivia by an immigrant woman from Peru, the case alleges multiple violations of the American Convention on Human Rights by doctors who claim they obtained her consent to sterilization during a cesarean section. The doctors claimed the patient needed to be sterilized because a future pregnancy would be dangerous.
An expert on forced sterilization, Christina Zampas brought to bear the United Nations' and the European Court of Human Rights' standards on the subject, including numerous cases against Slovakia concerning the forced sterilization of Roman women. Her position is that sterilization for the prevention of future pregnancy cannot be justified on the ground of medical emergency:
Even if a future pregnancy might endanger a person’s life or health, alternative contraceptive methods can be used to ensure that the individual does not become pregnant immediately. The individual must be given the time and information needed to make an informed choice about sterilization. The provision of information, counseling and sterilization under the stressful conditions of childbirth are not only a violation of the right to information but also violate the right to privacy, physical integrity and human dignity and are a gross disregard for an individual’s autonomy, rising to the level of inhuman and degrading treatment.
Zampas also urged the court to recognize the multiple layers of discrimination underlying sterilizations in circumstances like those faced by I.V. and justified by "medical necessity." The decision to sterilize, usually made by men, is often informed by stereotypes that cast women as incapable of rational reproductive decision making.
Wednesday, July 6, 2016
AfricLaw (June 3, 2016): Uganda: Why the Constitutional Court Should Rule on the Right to Health, by Michael Addaney:
Responding to the shocking statistic that thirteen women giving birth in Uganda die each day due to circumstances that could be prevented (e.g., severe bleeding, infection, hypertensive disorders and obstructed labor), Michael Addaney notes that universal human rights could play a role in addressing the crisis. The current obstacle, he notes, is the political question doctrine, which forbids courts from deciding certain cases because the question lies in the province of elected officials.
In 2011, a non-governmental organization sued Uganda for violating the constitutional rights to health and life by not providing basic minimum maternal health care. The court ruled that the petitioners had presented a political question. Addaney notes, however, that the International Court of Justice has questioned judicial dodging of "political" questions "whenever the rights, interests or status of any person are infringed or threatened by executive action." The Supreme Court of Uganda appears to agree. In 2015, it reversed the ruling of the lower court, holding that "the petition has critical questions that need constitutional interpretation."
Addaney is hopeful that with the evolution of human rights and modern constitutionalism the political question doctrine will see its end.
Tuesday, July 5, 2016
New York Times (June 28, 2016), From Uruguay, a Model for Making Abortion Safer, by Patrick Adams:
The scourge of Zika has put pressure on Latin American countries to reconsider their restrictions on abortion. Uruguay in particular presents a picture of what is possible.
In 2002, Uruguay set about to address the problem of the unsafe back-alley abortions that had contributed in large measure to its shocking maternal mortality rate, especially among the poor, and had burdened its health system with heavy costs. A pilot program was initiated in a Montevideo hospital to provide women with factually accurate information about the use of the drug misoprostol, originally developed to treat ulcers, to terminate a pregnancy. Doctors could not prescribe misoprostol for pregnancy terminations or advise women whether or not to use it, but they could legally provide women with factually correct information about its effects.
The women who participated in the program avoided the threat of death from post-abortion sepsis, the hallmark of back-alley abortions. They also presented no severe complications from abortion.
With the program came a change in public perceptions. Abortion, formerly considered criminal, began to be associated with health and human rights. Eight years later, the model was expanded to public facilities throughout the country. Many see the program as pro-life, given that the death of a mother reduces the likelihood of her children's survival.
Pilot program similar to that begun in Montevideo are not operating in Uganda and Tanzania.