Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Justice Thomas and the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003

Thanks to David S. Cohen for this interesting post, via the Feminist Law Professors Blog:

As I’m prepping to teach the commerce clause in a couple of weeks and re-reading the cases, I’m struck by how virtually impossible it will be for Justice Thomas to remain consistent to his past opinions and uphold the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 that is presently before the Court.

In the recent commerce clause cases, all of the Justices have agreed with the substantial effects test for interstate commerce (disagreeing over, among other things, the economic activity requirement) . . . except Thomas. He goes much further and disagrees with that test and the aggregation principle as well. His writing in these cases makes it hard to imagine how he could be consistent and uphold Congress’ right to pass this (or any, for that matter) restriction on abortion. A couple of choice examples:

From Printz: In my “revisionist” view, the Federal Government’s authority under the Commerce Clause, which merely allocates to Congress the power “to regulate Commerce … among the several States,” does not extend to the regulation of wholly intra state, point-of-sale transactions.

From Lopez: [favorably describing Gibbons] At the same time, the Court took great pains to make clear that Congress could not regulate commerce “which is completely internal, which is carried on between man and man in a State, or between different parts of the same State, and which does not extend to or affect other States.” Moreover, while suggesting that the Constitution might not permit States to regulate interstate or foreign commerce, the Court observed that “[i]nspection laws, quarantine laws, health laws of every description, as well as laws for regulating the internal commerce of a State” were but a small part “of that immense mass of legislation … not surrendered to a general government.” (emphasis added)

Physicians who perform the procedure are engaging in “wholly intra state, point-of-sale transactions” regarding procedures prohibited by a federal “health law[].”

The federal law does have a “jurisdictional hook,” applying only to physicians “who, in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce,” perform the forbidden procedure. But, that won’t save the statute for Thomas (or really for the others since they require a “substantial” effect), as the quotes above show.

It’s dangerous to rely on Justices being exactingly principled in an area as contentious as abortion, but if there’s anyone who might fit that bill, it’s Justice Thomas and his obsession with restoring the commerce clause to his conception of its original meaning. So, maybe he‘ll provide the fifth vote to strike down the law and we won’t have to worry about Roberts or Alito replacing O’Connor’s vote? Or can anyone point out how he can remain true to his past writing on the commerce clause and uphold this law?

- David S. Cohen

February 28, 2007 in Abortion Bans, In the Courts, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Ann Althouse on Giuliani's and Romney's Abortion Views

In Saturday's New York Times, Ann Althouse contributed a guest column, Rudy & Mitt Hem & Haw on Abortion, addressing the candidates' shifting statements on abortion.  From the column:

If you’re already opposed to Giuliani or Romney, I’m sure the ridicule practically writes itself. Something so convoluted has got to be manipulation. Right? Compare them with straight-talking John McCain, who said: “I do not support Roe v. Wade. It should be overturned.” That’s harder to mock.

But it is the candidate who sets out to deceive us who has the most reason to keep it simple. By contrast, complexity may signal that the candidate is actually trying to tell us something about how he thinks. He may have a sophisticated grasp of the role of the executive in relation to the courts and the legislatures. We might do well to tolerate some complexity.

Although I don't doubt that many candidates hold complex views on abortion, Althouse doesn't explain why those who express a straightforward position about how they would act on the issue are necessarily deceptive.  Moreover, "may" is the critical word in Althouse's next sentence.  There is a difference between expressing a genuinely held, nuanced view on abortion, or even experiencing an evolution in one's belief about abortion, and changing one's abortion positions based on political expediency.  (As Floyd Abrams puts it in his response to the column, "There is nothing complex about waffling.")  The public has good reason to suspect that Romney and Giuliani lie in the latter camp.  It's true that "politicians are political," as Althouse writes on her blog in a follow-up to her column, but not all politicians have made such politically driven shifts on the abortion issue.  Pro-choice and anti-choice voters alike have reason for skepticism and uncertainty about how either candidate would act on abortion-related issues if elected.  Althouse's column continues:

What should a candidate say about abortion? To represent what the country as a whole thinks, the president ought to take account of the deep beliefs Americans have about both reproductive freedom and the value of unborn life. To deserve the trust embodied in appointment power, the president should have a sound understanding of the judges as independent decision makers who follow an interpretive methodology that operates differently from political choice.

I'm not sure exactly what Althouse is getting at here.  I think presidential candidates ought to say what they will do on abortion-related issues if elected, and there's obviously no one-size-fits-all script for that.  Some will support pro-choice positions, some anti-choice, and some will fall somewhere in the middle.  It will then be up to the voters to decide among these positions (if the issue matters enough to them).  Ideally, candidates will also give a rationale for their position that inspires trust that they will do as they say.  A candidate who supports anti-choice positions may do so because he or she is religiously opposed to abortion.  A pro-choice candidate may believe the choice should be left to women because he or she recognizes the "deep beliefs Americans have about both reproductive freedom and the value of unborn life," as Althouse puts it.  Of course I would like to see all candidates act in a way that honors women's reproductive freedom.  But that's an unrealistic wish.  It does seem reasonable to criticize candidates for being coy and/or politically driven in saying what they would do.

Among those writing letters responding to the column were Nancy Northup, of the Center for Reproductive Rights, and Floyd Abrams.  Althouse responds to the responders on her blog.

February 28, 2007 in 2008 Presidential Campaign, Abortion | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

California Appellate Court Panel Upholds Constitutionality of State Proposition Promoting Embryonic Stem Cell Research

A three-judge panel of the California First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco on Monday ruled unanimously that California's Proposition 71 -- approved by voters in 2004 to provide $3 billion for human embryonic stem cell research -- is constitutional, the New York Times reports (Pollack, New York Times, 2/27). State voters in November 2004 approved Proposition 71 to provide $295 million annually for 10 years for human embryonic stem cell research, and two taxpayer groups and the California Family Bioethics Council in 2005 filed a lawsuit arguing that the measure violates the state constitution.

Via the Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report (which includes a link to the decision).

February 28, 2007 in Bioethics, In the Courts, State and Local News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

W is for Women?

No_females The Washington Post reports in Women's Health Office Funds Cut:

When is $4 million really $2.8 million? One answer is "When you're a woman," as the Labor Department has repeatedly found that women earn about 75 cents for every dollar that men earn for the same work.

But this week's answer is "When you are the Office of Women's Health" within the Food and Drug Administration. That office, which was at the center of a politically damaging storm over the emergency contraceptive "Plan B," just had more than one-quarter of this year's $4 million operating budget quietly removed, insiders say.

. . . The administration had requested -- and Congress had budgeted -- $4 million for the office in fiscal 2007, just as they have for several years running.  Last week, however, word came down that the FDA intends to withhold $1.2 million of that, apparently for use elsewhere in the agency. Because the remaining $2.8 million has already been spent or allocated for salaries and started projects, the office must effectively halt further operations for the rest of the year, according to a high-level agency official with knowledge of the budget plan, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official is not authorized to speak publicly.

. . . Women's health advocates inside and outside the agency suspect they are witnessing, at least in part, a long-anticipated payback for the trouble the office stirred during the prolonged debate over nonprescription sales of Plan B. Taking a position that chafed the administration's conservative base, the office had stood up for scientific research that had backed the safety and appropriateness of such sales.

In 2005, the office's then-director, Susan Wood, resigned in protest over the issue, a major embarrassment to the agency. . . . Martha R. Nolan, a vice president at the Society for Women's Health Research, a Washington advocacy group, said that big budget bites in Washington are often the beginning of the end and that she worries that this is retribution for the Plan B controversy.  "We fear this is the first step toward eliminating the Office of Women's Health," Nolan said. "We must not allow this office to be eliminated or reduced to an empty shell that has no program funding."

This is just the latest in a pattern of decisionmaking at the FDA that runs counter to women's health and smacks of political bias.  For example, a 2006 survey of thousands of FDA scientists, conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), found:

In 2003, an FDA science advisory panel voted 23 to 4 to recommend making Plan B emergency contraception available over the counter. An internal agency memo suggested that FDA professional staff were overruled by senior officials. Numerous FDA officials and medical advisers to FDA involved in the approval process call the move an almost unprecedented repudiation of government scientific expertise. The drugmaker submitted a revised proposal, prompted by the FDA, to give over the counter access to women and older. In August 2005, then-acting FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford delayed a decision indefinitely by sending the application into a rule-making process. A subsequent Government Accountability Office report deemed the Plan B approval process highly unusual, with an atypical level of involvement by senior FDA officials.

For more about the influence of the Bush Administration's ideology on the FDA generally, and women's health issues in particular: Jesus and the FDA (Time Magazine); an interview of Susan Wood, former director of the Office of Women's Health; What is going on at the FDA? (Lancet editorial); FDA official quits over morning-after decision (MSNBC).

February 28, 2007 in Miscellaneous, Politics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Near-ban on abortion advances in Mississippi Legislature

From the AP/SunHerald (2/23/07):

Mississippi lawmakers are moving closer to agreeing on an election-year bill that would ban most abortions in the state and set prison time for those performing the procedures - but the near-ban would take effect here only if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns a 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

. . . The Mississippi bill passed the state House 97-16, and no lawmaker argued against it. The bill combines three abortion-restriction measures that cleared the state Senate in the past few weeks. Because the House merged the original proposals into one bill, the Senate must either accept the House plan or seek final negotiations between the two chambers.

. . . The bill says most abortions would be banned in Mississippi if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the court's decision that legalized abortion 34 years ago. The only exceptions in the state would be in cases of rape or if the pregnant woman's life were in danger. The bill has no separate exception that would allow abortions for pregnancies caused by incest.

"Legal counsel thinks that rape and incest is one and the same," Holland said.

By a voice vote, the House rejected an amendment that would have allowed abortions in cases of incest.

Read Near-ban on abortion advances in Mississippi Legislature.  This ban is contingent on Roe v. Wade being overturned, unlike the South Dakota ban rejected by voters last November, which was designed to take effect within months of becoming law and was intended to spur a direct challenge to Roe.

February 27, 2007 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, State and Local News, State Legislatures | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Pro-Choice, Pro-Faith

Rosary Tomorrow, Frances Kissling, who has led Catholics for a Free Choice for more than two decades, will resign.  Jon O’Brien, executive vice president of CFFC, will take over as president. Neela Banerjee writes in Backing Abortion Rights While Keeping the Faith (NYT 2/27/07):

Frances Kissling has been called the “philosopher of the pro-choice movement” by her friends and an “abortion queen” by her critics.

But the name Ms. Kissling wears most defiantly, to the consternation of many religious believers, is Roman Catholic. For 25 years, as president of Catholics for a Free Choice, she has angered the church hierarchy and conservative Catholics by criticizing fundamental teachings on sex.

“I’m so Catholic, I can’t get away from it,” said Ms. Kissling, who was once in a convent. “How I construct concepts of life, of justice, it all comes out of being Catholic.”

Though unknown to most lay Catholics, she has inspired and worked with politicians and activists, many Catholic, to speak out in favor of giving women access to abortions and to artificial contraception.

On Wednesday, Ms. Kissling, 63, will step down from her post, relinquishing her role as one of the most vocal of the so-called bad Catholics, those who manage to accommodate the opposing sentiments of love for the church and anger at much of its doctrine.

From CFFC's press release

Kissling will be honored at a tribute on March 2 in Washington, DC, which will feature noted author Anna Quindlen, Representative Rosa DeLauro, Global Fund for Women President Kavita Ramdas and Sara Seims of the Hewlett Foundation.  The event is chaired by Kissling’s closest colleagues and friends, Kate Michelman, former president of NARAL Pro-choice America, and Marysa Navarro-Aranguren, the chair of CFFC’s board of directors.

Frances Kissling and Catholics for a Free Choice remind us of the diversity of views on abortion and contraception not only among different religions, but among Catholic believers.

For more on pro-choice religious perspectives, see: Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (click on "What Does Your Religion Say?").

February 27, 2007 in Abortion, Religion and Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Parents Sue TX Governor Perry Over HPV Vaccination Requirement; NY Times Editorial Supports Perry

A group of parents filed a lawsuit on Friday claiming that Texas Governor Rick Perry overstepped his authority by ordering mandatory HPV vaccinations for Texas schoolgirls:

When Texas Gov. Rick Perry ordered that all of the state's middle-school-aged girls be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer, the backlash was swift and sure.

Critics argued that the executive order promoted promiscuity, trampled on parental rights and subjected children to a new vaccine with unknown long-term effects.

Texas lawmakers, unhappy that Perry sidestepped their authority, pushed a bill through committee that would rescind the mandate. Cosigned by 90 of 150 members of the state House of Representatives, it is all but certain to pass.

And on Friday, the unidentified parents of three Texas girls sued Perry for overstepping his authority and illegally requiring the vaccine for preteens.

The hullabaloo is a setback for public health advocates in Texas, which with Perry's Feb. 2 order became the first state to require the vaccine for school admission, beginning in 2008.

Read Texas HPV vaccine mandate meets swift resistance.

The New York Times thinks mandatory vaccinations are good public policy:

We have endorsed a mandate because the vaccine — Merck’s Gardasil — looks highly effective against strains that cause 70 percent of all cervical cancer. With more than two million doses already distributed, the reported side effects have been mostly minor, such as dizziness or fainting. Many parents who oppose a mandate are aghast at the thought of vaccinating such young girls against a sexually transmitted disease. But the vaccine works only if taken before a girl becomes infected. Social conservatives object that the vaccine will encourage promiscuity, but it seems farfetched to believe that protection from cervical cancer will change any girl’s behavior. Others complain that a mandate will pre-empt parental rights to make health decisions, but all vaccine mandates do that, to protect the children and those they might infect.

. . . The vaccine could prevent thousands of new cases of cervical cancer annually and hundreds of thousands of cases of genital warts and precancerous growths. A mandate would force the health care system to get cracking. And it is the best way to ensure that all children get the vaccine, not just those who are aware of it and can afford it.

Read the full NYT editorial, A Necessary Vaccine.  See related posts: Merck and the Debate Over Mandatory HPV Vaccinations; More on HPV Vaccinations; Mandatory HPV Vaccinations for Texas Schoolgirls.

February 27, 2007 in In the Courts, Sexually Transmitted Disease, State and Local News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Male Biological Clock

Clock We hear so much about the female "biological clock" in discussions that often mix medical concerns with value-laden assumptions about women and their role in society.  However, there is evidence that men's advancing age can have an effect on their offspring.

Roni Rabin writes in today's New York Times:

When it comes to fertility and the prospect of having normal babies, it has always been assumed that men have no biological clock — that unlike women, they can have it all, at any age.

But mounting evidence is raising questions about that assumption, suggesting that as men get older, they face an increased risk of fathering children with abnormalities. Several recent studies are starting to persuade many doctors that men should not be too cavalier about postponing marriage and children.

Until now, the problems known to occur more often with advanced paternal age were so rare they received scant public attention. The newer studies were alarming because they found higher rates of more common conditions — including autism and schizophrenia — in offspring born to men in their middle and late 40s. A number of studies also suggest that male fertility may diminish with age.

. . . It’s a touchy subject. “Advanced maternal age” is formally defined: women who are 35 or older when they deliver their baby may have “A.M.A.” stamped on their medical files to call attention to the higher risks they face. But the concept of “advanced paternal age” is murky. Many experts are skeptical about the latest findings, and doctors appear to be in no rush to set age guidelines or safety perimeters for would-be fathers, content instead to issue vague sooner-rather-than-later warnings.

. . . Some advocates, however, welcome the attention being paid to the issue of male fertility, saying it is long overdue and adding that it could level the playing field between men and women in the premarital dating game. Male_symbol

“The message to men is: ‘Wake up and smell the java,’ ” said Pamela Madsen, executive director of the American Fertility Association, a national education and advocacy group. “ ‘It’s not just about women anymore, it’s about you too.’ ”

“It takes two to make a baby,” she said, “and men who one day want to become fathers need to wake up, read what’s out there and take responsibility.

“I don’t see why everyone is so surprised,” Ms. Madsen added. “Everyone ages. Why would sperm cells be the only cells not to age as men get older?”

Read Male Biological Clock: It Seems the Fertility Clock Ticks for Men, Too (New York Times 2/27/07).

February 27, 2007 in Medical News | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Governors Seek Protection for State Children's Health Insurance Program

From the New York Times (2/25/07):

As the National Governors Association began its winter meeting, 13 governors expressed alarm on Saturday that they were about to run out of federal money for a popular program that provides health insurance to children.

They appealed to Congress and the Bush administration for swift action to protect hundreds of thousands of children who could lose benefits. The full association is poised to endorse that appeal.

In a letter to the Democratic and Republican leaders of Congress, the 13 governors said that “health insurance for some of our states’ most vulnerable citizens is in jeopardy.” . . .

The program in question, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, covers more than six million children in families that have too much income to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to buy private insurance.

Gov. Janet Napolitano of Arizona, a Democrat, noted that “many states have expanded, or have proposals to expand, eligibility” for the child health program. “The president’s budget is problematic in that regard,” Ms. Napolitano said.

In his budget this month, President Bush proposed reducing federal payments to the states for coverage of children with family incomes exceeding twice the poverty level. By contrast, Ms. Napolitano is trying to expand eligibility by raising the income limit in Arizona to 300 percent of the poverty level, from 200 percent.

In New York, Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, wants to increase the limit to 400 percent, from 250 percent. (A family of four is considered poor if its annual income is less than $20,650.)

Congress is conducting a comprehensive review of the program, which was created in 1997 with bipartisan support and is up for renewal. By most accounts, the program has been effective, reducing the number of uninsured children by about 25 percent, to 8.3 million in 2005.

The 13 governors said their states needed immediate short-term assistance and could not wait for Congress to revamp the program.

Read Governors Worry Over Money for Child Health Program.

Shouldn't a President who values a "culture of life" be committed to improving the lives of existing children whose parents can't afford adequate health care?  See related post: Pro-Life-After-Birth.

February 27, 2007 in Congress, Miscellaneous, State and Local News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 26, 2007

What if Roe Fell?

What If Roe Fell? The State-by-State Consequences of Overturning Roe v. Wade

From the Center for Reproductive Rights: "“Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision establishing a woman’s right to choose, remains under constant attack. Anti-choice forces are counting on new appointments to the Court in the next few years to overturn this landmark ruling. What would happen if Roe were to fall?   This study by the Center for Reproductive Rights provides a detailed state-by-state analysis of the impact of a reversal of Roe.”

Via the Law Librarian Blog.

February 26, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Time Magazine on "The Grassroots Abortion War"

TIme Magazine recently reported on so-called "Crisis Pregnancy Centers" (CPCs), which exist to dissuade pregnant women from choosing abortion, and which often do so through misleading and coercive tactics.  From the article:

The centers are typically Christian charities, often under the umbrella of one of three national groups: Care Net, Heartbeat International and the U.S. National Institute of Family and Life Advocates. No one can say precisely how many pregnancy centers there are, since some aren't affiliated with any national group. Care Net puts the figure at around 2,300, though that does not include traditional maternity homes, adoption agencies or Catholic Charities. Care Net and Heartbeat International also operate Option Line, a 24/7 call center based in Columbus, Ohio, that women can contact for information and referral to a CPC near them. Last year Care Net spent $4 million on marketing, including more than $2 million on billboards alone (PREGNANT AND SCARED? 1-800-395-HELP. WE'RE HERE 24/7). The Internet has become a tool for outreach as well. Care Net has got into bidding wars with abortion providers over who would receive top placement in the sponsored-links sections on Yahoo! and Google when someone searches for abortion.

. . . The latest trend is to convert pregnancy centers into health clinics that offer free pregnancy tests, ultrasounds and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. What they will not offer is referral for birth control. Married clients wanting information on contraception are referred to their own doctor or pastor. But, as Wood explains, most clients are unmarried, and "the Bible clearly states that sex outside of marriage is against God's will for our lives."

A report by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) last year

found that an overwhelming majority (87 percent) of CPCs reached in the investigation provided misleading, medically inaccurate information about abortion. CPCs often withhold essential, medically accurate reproductive health information from women who are led to believe that they are visiting a neutral and objective medical facility. Despite the fact that the women who come to them are clearly sexually active and at risk for unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection, CPCs lecture them about abstinence instead of explaining contraception, if they provide any sexual health information at all.

(Via Planned Parenthood's press release on the Waxman Report.)  Read the press release from the Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, chaired by Waxman.

The CPC in Time Magazine's story tries to come across as different, but there are troubling signs even in the carefully crafted picture its director presents.  Her summary of the purported medical risks of abortion is particularly alarming:

If a woman is "abortion minded," Wilson says, "then we go over the medical risks--and there's research for this, even though the other side says there's not." She ticks off grim possibilities with fervor: "The research is that breast cancer is more prevalent. You have the rupture of the uterus. Infection is major. The risk of ectopic pregnancy is greater later on." It is this discussion of risk that most enrages defenders of abortion rights, especially doctors who routinely see terrified women who come in for an abortion after hearing such warnings and ask over and over, "Am I going to die?"

Read The Grassroots Abortion War.  See related post: States Fund Anti-Abortion Advice.

For information about the safety of abortion, read:

American Cancer Society factsheet on abortion and breast cancer (concluding that, "[a]t the present time, the scientific evidence does not support a causal association between induced abortion and breast cancer")

Guttmacher Institute: Safety of Abortion

Guttmacher Institute:  Abortion and Mental Health: Myths and Realities

February 26, 2007 in Abortion, Anti-Choice Movement | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

CDC Report on Fetal Mortality

The CDC released a report last week analyzing fetal mortality rates in the United States from 1990-2003.  Although there is a general downward trend, racial and ethnic disparities persist.  Here is the abstract:

Objectives—This report presents 2003 fetal and perinatal mortality data by a variety of characteristics, including maternal age, marital status, race, Hispanic origin, and state of residence; and by infant birthweight, gestational age, plurality, and sex. Trends in fetal and perinatal mortality are also examined. Methods—Descriptive tabulations of data are presented and interpreted.
Results—The U.S. fetal mortality rate in 2003 was 6.23 fetal deaths of 20 weeks of gestation or more per 1,000 live births and fetal deaths. Fetal and perinatal mortality rates have declined slowly but steadily from 1990 to 2003. Fetal mortality rates for 28 weeks of gestation or more have declined substantially, whereas those for 20–27 weeks of gestation have not declined. Fetal mortality rates are higher for a number of groups, including non-Hispanic black women, teenagers, women aged 35 years and over, unmarried women, and multiple deliveries. Over one-half (51 percent) of fetal deaths of 20 weeks of gestation or more occurred between 20 and 27 weeks of gestation.

From the CDC's press release:

The rate of fetal deaths occurring at 20 weeks of gestation or more (also known as stillbirths) declined substantially between 1990 and 2003, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although fetal mortality rates declined among all racial and ethnic groups from 1990-2003, the rate for non-Hispanic black women was more than double that of non-Hispanic white women (11.56 per 1,000 vs. 4.94 per 1,000).

“While we can certainly see progress has been made in preventing fetal mortality, it is also clear that disparities remain along race and ethnic lines,” said Dr. Marian MacDorman, lead author of the study.

February 26, 2007 in Medical News, Pregnancy & Childbirth, Race & Reproduction | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The Perennial Travails of the Working Mother

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  From the New York Times (2/22/07):

For years, mothers have been taking to the Internet to blog or post messages about the travails of motherhood, commiserating, fuming or laughing about their shared lives. But in the last year there has been a marked increase in those who are going beyond simply expressing their feelings. In a throwback to their mothers’ — or was it their grandmothers’? — time, they are organizing about family and work issues.

A generation of mothers who are largely perceived as postfeminist in every way, from sex to economic discrimination, has begun a consciousness-raising that is almost old-fashioned were it not for the technology involved. Raised to believe that girls could accomplish anything, these women have reached parenthood, only to find they faced many of the same pay, equity and work-family balance issues that were being fought over decades before. From that awakening, they say, has come the inkling of a new movement.

In many ways, these groups are repackaging issues that have been around for nearly 50 years and have proven intractable despite the efforts of legions of activists, lawyers and elected officials.

But what MomsRising has done, the organizers say, is frame its concerns as family and economic issues, which resonate for a younger generation of women. (They say they will include the fathers later.)

It is not a coincidence that MomsRising is using the tactics of MoveOn.org, the influential liberal organizing site that helped propel Howard Dean’s presidential candidacy. One of the group’s founders is Joan Blades, who, with her husband, Wes Boyd, founded MoveOn.

Read Mom’s Mad. And She’s Organized.  Thanks to my own Mom for the tip.

February 26, 2007 in Miscellaneous | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

6th Circuit Ruling on Detention of Anti-Choice Activists

From Friday's Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report:

A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled against law enforcement authorities from Springboro, Ohio, and the FBI for detaining abortion-rights opponents for three hours after they protested in the city, the AP/Zanesville Times Recorder reports. The panel reversed an earlier ruling by a U.S. District Court in Dayton, Ohio, and sent the case back to the lower court for continued arguments. Members of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform allege that on June 10, 2002, officers violated their constitutional rights to free speech by detaining them for a prolonged period of time after the protesters drove trucks displaying photos of aborted fetuses through Springboro. The 6th Circuit Court panel's ruling said that a reasonable jury could find that the officers were motivated to detain the protesters partially because the posters' content and concern by at least one officer that the photographs should be kept out of the sight of children. The ruling also said the officers stopped the protesters because they were wearing body armor and Kevlar helmets, which caused concern that they might be involved in criminal activity. The initial investigation found no evidence to justify why the protesters were held for three hours, and a reasonable officer would have known that detaining the group because of their protests would violate their right to free speech, according to the ruling.

Read 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Panel Rules Against Authorities for Prolonged Detention of Abortion-Rights Opponents (which includes a link to the 6th Circuit's opinion).

February 25, 2007 in Anti-Choice Movement, In the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Premature Births and Abortion

The story of premature infant Amillia Taylor has prompted anti-choice groups and the media to draw a connection between Amillia's survival and the issue of abortion.  While this connection is not always clearly spelled out, some see an anomaly between Amillia's birth and the fact that states may allow abortions of fetuses of the same gestational age as Amillia.  For example, a story on LifeSite asserts: "Comments posted on Newsbusters pointed out that at 35 weeks from conception, Amillia is still three weeks from her natural birth date and could legally be aborted in many states if she had remained in her mother‘s womb."

But the constitutional framework that the Supreme Court applies to abortion is based not on a particular gestational age, but rather on viability.  The test established in 1973 in Roe v. Wade, and upheld in relevant part in 1992 in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, allows states to ban abortions (with life and health exceptions for the woman) after viability, whenever that may occur.  In Casey,  the Court stated:

"[V]iability marks the earliest point at which the State's interest in fetal life is constitutionally adequate to justify a legislative ban on nontherapeutic abortions. The soundness or unsoundness of that constitutional judgment in no sense turns on whether viability occurs at approximately 28 weeks, as was usual at the time of Roe, at 23 to 24 weeks, as it sometimes does today, or at some moment even slightly earlier in pregnancy, as it may if fetal respiratory capacity can somehow be enhanced in the future."

Of course, what exactly constitutes "viability" is a tricky question, one that neither Roe nor Casey fully answer.  The Court stated in Roe:  "With respect to the State's important and legitimate interest in potential life, the 'compelling' point is at viability. This is so because the fetus then presumably has the capability of meaningful life outside the mother's womb."  In Planned Parenthood v. Danforth, the Court noted that viability is "a point purposefully left flexible for professional determination, and dependent upon developing medical skill and technical ability."  One need only read the news stories about Amillia Taylor to see how difficult it can be for physicians to make such determinations.  From Life at 21 Weeks: Immature Lungs and a Handful of Fragile Skin and Pain (ABC News):

But the medical triumphs that allow a tiny 10-ounce baby to survive are often fraught with trauma and tragedy.

Consider this: At 25 weeks gestation or younger, a tiny baby can fit in the palm of a hand. Its skin is gelatinous — red and shiny and prone to infection like a burn victim — and sloughs off in the doctor's hand. The baby's windpipe is so small it can be crushed by a breathing tube.

And there is the pain, treated with narcotics that can cause dependency and withdrawal symptoms.

The long-term prognosis for babies this young includes mental retardation, blindness, deafness, cerebral palsy and — in the best scenario — learning disabilities.

But, if one agrees that viability is the correct marker, it's hard to imagine that we would be better off having legislators or courts decide when it occurs.  In any event, most doctors, including the ones who delivered and cared for Amillia, seem to agree that Amillia's survival was an exceedingly rare occurrence, and should not be taken as a sign that infants born this prematurely will routinely survive.

February 24, 2007 in Abortion, Bioethics, Medical News, Pregnancy & Childbirth | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

"Miracle Baby" Amillia Taylor

The survival of this tiny, premature baby, who was born in October but just this past week was able to go home with her parents, has been all over the news.  There seems to be a lot of confusion over exactly what Amillia's gestational age was at birth.  ABC News described her as "born at just 21 weeks and six days," but then asserted, "Amillia is perhaps one of the world's smallest surviving babies — although doctors say her age was determined by the day of conception (she was an IVF baby), rather than the conventional method of using the date of the mother's last menstrual period, making her actually two weeks older."

Newsweek also described her as a "21-week six-day old fetus," but added: "the language of pregnancy can be confusing. On her first pre­natal visit, Lievano [the obstetrician who delivered Amillia] said, the mother miscommunicated her dates. As a result, he thought the baby was two weeks older than she actually was."

The Miami Herald reported that Amillia was "born in October at a record-low 22 weeks, six days in the womb."

Why all the confusion about Amillia's gestational age?  "Gestational age" is typically defined as the amount of time a fetus spends in the uterus from fertilization (also referred to as conception) until birth.  However, in most pregnancies the exact date of fertilization cannot be determined.  Instead, by convention the "gestational age" is measured from the first day of the woman's last menstrual period.  A baby is considered to be full-term when born between 38 and 42 weeks' gestation.  Ovulation, however, generally does not occur until two weeks after a woman's menstrual period begins.  Accordingly, when we say a fetus's gestational age is 40 weeks, if measured based on the woman's menstrual period, that fetus probably in fact spent closer to 38 weeks in the womb.  Technological advances have made it possible to measure more precisely a fetus's gestational age in some circumstances:  in pregnancies resulting from in vitro fertilization, for example, the moment of conception is known; doctors can also use ultrasonographic measurements of fetal growth in order to estimate gestational age. 

Regardless of how Amillia's gestational age is measured, many are discussing how her survival at such a premature stage may affect the abortion debate.  More on that in the next post.

February 24, 2007 in Assisted Reproduction, Bioethics, Pregnancy & Childbirth, State and Local News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Time Magazine on Georgia Teenage Sex Offender

Time Magazine reported this week on the debate raging in the Georgia legislature over a law under which a teenager was sentenced to 10 years and sex offender status:

When he was 17, Genarlow Wilson had been his high school's homecoming king, a football star and the recipient of an academic scholarship. But after being arrested for allowing a 15-year old girl to perform oral sex on him, he was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison, plus lifetime registration as a sex offender. Now he is at the center of a heated legislative battle in the Georgia state senate to rewrite the law under which he was convicted in 2005. Public reaction to his imprisonment led to the passage in 2006 of a so-called "Romeo and Juliet" law, which made most consensual oral sex between minors a misdemeanor, rather than a felony. That law didn't help Wilson, however, since it included language that specifically barred its application to those who had already been convicted. Since then, the young man's supporters have been trying to remedy what they believe to be an unequal application of justice.

So far, the Republican-dominated Georgia senate has not been persuaded to move on a bill that would free Wilson, now 20. Last week, it refused to schedule a hearing on the bill, sponsored by state Sen. Emanuel Jones, a Democrat. Jones says he cannot understand why lawmakers are so reluctant to pass a law that would simply put Wilson on the same footing as defendants charged with a similar crime today. "I was quite surprised with the ferocity of the opposition to this legislation," Jones said. Sen. Eric Johnson, the Republican president pro tempore of the Georgia senate, argued that the bill would mean having to reopen more than 1,100 cases where young people were convicted of sexual offenses against younger teens. "Even in Genarlow Wilson's case," Johnson told TIME, "he was indicted, convicted by a jury unanimously and sentenced by a judge, so why should a bunch of politicians second-guess the process just because he has a defense attorney who has hired a publicist and turned this into a media circus?"

Read Should a Teen Sex Offender Go Free? (Time Magazine, 2/20/07).

February 24, 2007 in State Legislatures, Teenagers and Children | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 23, 2007

Circumcision's Anti-AIDS Effect

Aids_ribbon Donald G. McNeil, Jr., writes in today's New York Times:

Circumcision may provide even more protection against AIDS than was realized when two clinical trials in Africa were stopped two months ago because the results were so clear, according to studies being published today.

The trials, in Kenya and Uganda, were stopped early by the National Institutes of Health, which was paying for them, because it was apparent that circumcision reduced a mans risk of contracting AIDS from heterosexual sex by about half. It would have been unethical to continue without offering circumcision to all 8,000 men in the trials, federal health officials said.

That decision, announced on Dec. 13, made headlines around the world and led the two largest funds for fighting AIDS to say they would consider paying for circumcisions in high-risk countries. But the final data from the trials, to be published today in the British medical journal The Lancet, suggest that circumcision reduces a mans risk by as much as 65 percent.

Read Circumcision's Anti-AIDS Effect Found Greater Than First Thought.

February 23, 2007 in Bioethics, Medical News, Sexually Transmitted Disease | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

McCain on Roe v. Wade; Romney on Embryonic Stem Cell Research

The Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report reported this week on Senator John McCain's assertion that Roe v. Wade should be overturned, as well as on former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's views on stem cell research and abortion:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has formed an exploratory committee for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, on Sunday at an event in Spartansburg, S.C., said he does not support Roe v. Wade -- the 1973 Supreme Court decision that effectively barred state abortion bans -- and that the decision should be overturned, the AP/International Herald Tribune reports (Davenport, AP/International Herald Tribune, 2/18). McCain also said that if elected president he would appoint judges who "strictly interpret the Constitution of the United States and do not legislate from the bench" (Davenport, AP/Los Angeles Times, 2/20). McCain during a news conference on Monday in Vero Beach, Fla., said claims that he has changed his position on Roe are "false," adding that his position on the case is consistent with his record on abortion-rights issues (Bierschenk, TCPalm, 2/20).

Romney Discusses Embryonic Stem Cell Research Opposition
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, on Monday in an interview with the Associated Press discussed his opposition to some forms of human embryonic stem cell research, saying that he believes that researchers are able to obtain the "stem cells necessary for research through means that don't represent a serious, moral problem," the AP/San Diego Union-Tribune reports. Romney said he favors research using embryonic stem cell lines currently eligible for federal funding (Jackson, AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 2/19). . . .

Romney on Sunday in an interview on ABC's "This Week" discussed abortion rights and stem cell research, among other issues (Stephanopoulos, "This Week," ABC, 2/18). Video of the segment is available online. A transcript of the segment also is available online.

February 23, 2007 in 2008 Presidential Campaign, Abortion, Bioethics, Politics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

NJ Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Abortion Med Mal Case That Raises Forced Speech Issue

Stethoscope The Star Ledger reports:

The [New Jersey] Supreme Court heard arguments today on whether doctors should be required tell a pregnant woman seeking an abortion that the procedure would kill a human being and whether the woman should be required to sign a consent form indicating she knows it.

The question arises from a long-running civil lawsuit brought by a South Bound Brook woman who claims her doctor did not provide enough information when he advised her to end her pregnancy. An appeals panel ruled last spring that the case should go to a jury, but that decision was appealed and now the highest court has agreed to step in.

The case, however, has much wider implications, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief and participated in today's oral arguments.

"This case isn't about what happened to her in 1996," said ACLU attorney Talcott Camp. "This case is about what happens to every woman seeking an abortion going forward."

Harold Cassidy, a well-known anti-abortion lawyer representing the woman, Rosa Acuna, in the case said the doctor should be required to inform patients seeking abortions that the embryo is a "human being" and the procedure could end the life of an "existing family member." He would also require patients to sign consent forms explaining they understand an abortion terminates a "human being."

From the ACLU's press release:

In 1998, Rosa Acuna brought a medical malpractice lawsuit against a doctor in New Jersey, claiming that he had failed to properly inform her at the time of her abortion that the embryo was a complete, separate, unique and irreplaceable human being with whom she had an existing relationship, and his failure to do so caused her emotional distress. 

According to court papers, Acuna, who had two children prior to her abortion, stated that at the time of her abortion she understood that she was pregnant and signed a form consenting to the procedure. . . .

The ACLU argued that an unfavorable decision in this case could extend far beyond abortion, including interfering with physicians prescribing certain birth control methods, pharmacists dispensing birth control pills and emergency contraception, and emergency room personnel treating sexual assault survivors.

February 23, 2007 in Abortion, In the Courts, Mandatory Delay/Biased Information Laws, State and Local News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)