Thursday, June 30, 2016
CTV News (June 9, 2016): New IVF Method Limits Transfer of Bad DNA to Babies: Study:
Nuclear transfer, a reproductive technique wherein the nucleus of an egg cell replaces the nucleus of an egg cell that has healthier cytoplasm, holds promise for older women whose eggs have undergone changes with age that make them unsuitable for reproduction.
Now United States scientists want to use the technique to avert birth defects that have their genesis in the cytoplasm of the mother's egg, affect the muscles, eye, brain or heart of the child, and have no effective treatment. The idea is that by transferring the nucleus of an egg to an egg with healthy cytoplasm, disease-causing mutations of the mitochondria (the energy centers of the egg cells, will not be passed on to the child. The technique has been legal in Britain since last year.
So far, the study has shown that that "small tweaks to the existing procedure can reduce the risk of mutant mitochondrial DNA transferal." Two examples are performing the procedure on the day of the egg's fertilization and freezing the egg of the patient rather than that of the donor.
The technique does not remove the risk of the child's contracting a disease but does reduce it. Ongoing research will focus on refining the technique.
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Whole Woman's Health, Human Rights and Poor Women's Access to Abortion, by Cynthia Soohoo
The Supreme Court’s decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt to strike down two provisions of a Texas law that would have closed more than 75% of the state’s abortion clinics was a major victory for women’s rights. As I explain in an earlier post, the decision should deal a fatal blow to TRAP laws (targeted regulation of abortion providers), sham laws that purport to be health regulations but really are designed to impose onerous unnecessary requirements on abortion providers making it difficult or impossible for them to remain open.
Justice Breyer’s opinion makes it clear that the undue burden standard requires courts to balance the “burdens a law imposes on abortion access together with the benefits those laws confer.” The opinion also rejects the Fifth Circuit’s position that courts should defer to the legislature and not consider whether a law purporting to be a health regulation actually has any medical benefit, emphasizing that a higher level of judicial scrutiny is required when a constitutionally protected liberty is at stake.
Given the sham nature of Texas’ health justification, it’s not surprising that Justice Breyer’s opinion spends a significant amount of time showing why the Texas provisions do not provide any health benefit. Because the undue burden standard balances the burden and benefits of abortion restrictions, the lack of any health benefit significantly influenced the Court’s determination that the provisions are unconstitutional. But, perhaps as a result of this, the opinion spends less time discussing the burden imposed by the law and the impact of the provisions on women.
Notably absent from Justice Breyer’s opinion and Justice Ginsburg’s concurrence is any discussion of the significance of abortion in women’s lives and the reason why state laws designed to undermine women’s access to abortion violates their fundamental rights. Perhaps this indicates that the Court (with the exception of Justice Thomas) so accepts Planned Parenthood v. Casey’s holding that a woman’s right to choose to terminate a pregnancy is “central to [her] personal dignity and autonomy [and] the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment” that it does not feel the need to repeat it.
But it would have been nice to hear the Court reaffirm reproductive choice as essential to women’s liberty and autonomy and perhaps even recognize that access to abortion also implicates other fundamental rights. International human rights law and countries around the world recognize that access to abortion can implicate women’s right to health, right to be free from discrimination based on gender and socio-economic status, and right to be free from torture and cruel and inhuman and degrading treatment. Indeed, Mellet v. Ireland, a recent case from the U.N. Human Rights Committee, found that Irish laws criminalizing abortion in most circumstances violated the human rights of a woman who sought to terminate a pregnancy after learning that the fetus she carried had a fatal genetic condition. Ireland’s abortion restrictions forced her to travel from her home in Dublin to Liverpool England (approximately 136 miles away) to obtain an abortion. The Committee found that under the circumstances forcing Mellet to travel out of the country to obtain an abortion constituted cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, violated her right to privacy and constituted impermissible discrimination.
Although the challenged Texas provisions did not make it illegal for women to obtain a pre-viability abortion, like the restrictions in the Mellet case, they would have forced many women to travel hundreds of miles to obtain an abortion. Some women forced to travel may have been the victims of rape or domestic violence, carried a fetus with a severe fetal anomaly or experienced other circumstances making it more likely that the restrictions violated their right to be treated humanely and with dignity.
In Mellet, the Human Rights Committee specifically recognized that prohibiting access to abortion and forcing women to travel great distances to obtain treatment constitutes discrimination. In a concurring opinion, Committee member Sarah Cleveland explained that interference with women’s access to reproductive health services can violate their right to equality and non-discrimination by denying access to health services like abortion that only women need.
Cleveland also found that Ireland’s law constituted discrimination based on socio-economic status because forcing women to travel to get health services results in unequal access to care based on income. Recognizing the disproportionate impact of restrictions that limit access to health care services on poor women is important because the district court in Whole Woman’s Health found that the Texas provisions “erected a particularly high barrier for poor, rural or disadvantaged women.”
Although the U.S. Supreme Court did not recognize discrimination based on socio-economic status as an independent basis to strike down the Texas provisions, Justice Breyer made it clear that the undue burden standard requires that the Court consider whether the restrictions imposed a substantial obstacle in the path of certain women seeking an abortion even if they did not have the same impact on all women of reproductive age in Texas. And lower courts have recognized that application of the undue burden standard requires consideration of the ways abortion restrictions interact with women’s lived experiences. These aspects of the undue burden test will be crucial to ensuring that the test not only strikes down sham TRAP laws, but also protects the right to abortion for all women.
National Public Radio (May 18, 2016): In Search for Cures, Scientists Create Embryos That Are Both Animal and Human, by Rob Stein:
Does creating animal-human hybrids--also known as chimeras--damage humanity? Some bioethicists think so. They are responding to developing technology that would perfect the manufacture of embryos that are part human and part animal. The hope is that these embryos could be used to study human diseases and to grow human organs that could be used for transplants. One technique is to remove genes from animal embryos that create certain organs and to fill the void with induced human pluripotent stem cells in the hope that they will fill it by creating the corresponding human organ. If the patient needing the transplant donated the stem cells, her body would be less likely to reject the new organ.
The National Institutes of Health has decided not to fund this research until the ethical issues are resolved. These include the ethics of conducting experiments on animals and the uncertainty of what injecting human cells into animals might do. One of the fears is that human intelligence might appear in animals or the embryo could develop into a creature that is half-human.
Tuesday, June 28, 2016
Casetext (June 28, 2016): Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt: Freeing Women from TRAP Regulations, by Cynthia Soohoo:
On Monday, the Supreme Court issued its first major abortion case in 15 years. Justice Breyer’s majority decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt provides much needed clarification of the undue burden standard the Court applies in abortion cases and deals a serious, and perhaps fatal, blow to TRAP laws, which have increasingly been used by the anti-choice movement to restrict women’s access to abortion.
New York Times (June 11, 2016): Navigating Fertility Clinics with a Click, by Glenn Rifkin:
A heterosexual couple in San Francisco who planned to have children soon after their wedding ran into the roadblock of infertility. They became a statistic in a common story, spending tens of thousands of dollars on treatments without results, and wound up emotionally damaged by the experience.
But this couple's story ends differently than most. Concerned about what they felt was a lack of accountability on the clinic level, they left behind high-paying jobs and started Fertility IQ, a website that assesses fertility doctors and clinics. The website gathers and reports information from patients about their experiences so that others are not caught in the often frustrating and disappointing cycle of seeking medical care via word-of-mouth referrals.
The website is a work-in-progress that some have compared with Yelp given its subjectivity. But at least one patient found it to be "invaluable and game-changing."
Monday, June 27, 2016
United States Supreme Court (Jun. 27, 2016): Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt:
In a 5-to-3 decision, the United States Supreme Court has overturned a Texas law that threatened to drive more than half of Texas's abortion clinics out of business and place abortion services beyond the reach of countless women.
Drawing on tenets established in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, the Court struck down a law requiring doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital and requiring clinics performing abortions to meet the standards imposed upon surgical centers. Regarding the admitting privileges requirement, the Court noted that the practice of abortion did not present a safety issue. Moreover, abortion is safe enough that requiring clinics to meet the requirements of surgical centers would be superfluous. Finally, the court could not reconcile the law with the lack of regulation of more dangerous surgical procedures and the wide distribution of waivers of the surgical-center requirements to clinics offering non-abortion services. It declared that the restrictions placed substantial obstacles in the path of women seeking previability abortions in Texas.
Friday, June 24, 2016
New York Magazine (June 21, 2016): New York City Will Provide Free Tampons and Pads in Public Schools, Prisons, and Shelters, by Susan Rinkunas:
New York made a historic move as the first city to pass 'menstrual equity' legislation, with unanimous support that expands access to menstrual hygiene products within New York City public schools, shelters, and prisons. The legislation comes after a project that provided the products to those who needed them in a High School in Queens, and will expand the access to upwards of 23,000 New Yorkers in need:
New York City council member and finance chair Julissa Ferreras-Copeland is the prime sponsor of the bill for schools. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is the sponsor of the bills concerning shelters and corrections facilities.
Ferreras-Copeland said in a statement: "Providing menstrual hygiene products privately, immediately and for free is also about sending a body-positive message by not perpetuating shame and humiliation, and acknowledging that women's bodies, even those of women serving time in prison, deserve some dignity during their periods."
Thursday, June 23, 2016
Jezebel (May 17, 2016): Report Finds Pregnant Massachusetts Inmates Are Still Being Illegally Shackled, by Anna Merlan:
In 2014, Massachusetts passed legislation prohibiting the shackling of pregnant inmates. The law prohibits shackling women when they are in labor, in their second or third trimester of pregnancy and immediately post-delivery. Despite the law a recent report found that many Massachusetts counties fail to enforce law and even have written policies that explicitly violate it.
The report published by Prisoners' Legal Services and the Prison Birth Project
charges that neither the state Department of Corrections nor a single county sheriff’s office is fully implementing the anti-shackling law, and that knowledge of what the law even entails “varies not just from one prison or jail to another, but among corrections personnel who work for the same prison or jail.”
The report documents instances of shackling during labor and in hospital beds post-delivery. The report also found violations of the law's requirement that pregnant women be transported in vehicles with seatbelts to prevent the danger caused by sliding around in van seats or benches while handcuffed.
Massachusetts is one of 22 states that have anti-shackling laws. Its experience illustrates the need for monitoring and implementation of these laws.
Wednesday, June 22, 2016
The Atlantic, June 14, 2016 Can the U.S. End Teen Pregnancy?, by Caitlin Cadieux, Olga Khazan, Nicolas Pollock:
An animated video by the Atlantic discusses teen pregnancy in the U.S.:
Teen birth rates in the U.S. are down 9 percent from 2013, and they are the lowest they’ve been since 1940. However, America still has the highest teen pregnancy rate among 21 similar countries. Why is this? In this video, staff writer Olga Khazan explores how poverty, culture, and religion can all play a role.
New York Times (June 16, 2016): C.D.C. Reports 234 Pregnant Women in U.S. With Zika, by Sabrina Tavernise:
The number of pregnant women infected with the Zika virus in the U.S. has risen to 234. The CDC reported 6 cases of abnormalities: three deaths before birth and three babies born with birth defects. However, the CDC did not disclose how many of the infected women gave birth, making it difficult to determine how great a risk Zika poses as a cause of birth defects. The CDC also reported that 189 pregnant women were infected with Zika in U.S. territories including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands but did not provide any birth outcomes for the group.
Dr. Denise Jamison, a leader of the CDC's pregnancy and birth defects team, stated that the CDC hopes to provide more information on birth outcomes in Zika pregnancies as the number of births rise.
“We’re sort of in a hard place,” Dr. Jamieson said. “We can’t provide a lot of information about where these women are in their pregnancy. We don’t want to inadvertently disclose information about difficult decisions these women are making about their pregnancies.
She said the numbers included the nine pregnant women the C.D.C. had reported on in February. Of the babies in those cases, at least one was born with microcephaly.
Dr. Jamieson stated that the estimated risk of birth defects based on available data is between 1 and 15%.
Tuesday, June 21, 2016
New York Times (June 15, 2016): How Did I Get an Abortion in Texas? I Didn’t. by Valerie Peterson:
A native of Texas writes about her surprise pregnancy and the high-risk nature of it. Carrying her third, unexpected, child, she delves into the complications that led her to need an abortion in a state that didn't allow for it. Because of the timing of the author's pregnancy and Texas' restrictions, she had to explore options to terminate out of state. In a candid and honest account, Peterson speaks to and for the women in Texas that remain worried about the impending SCOTUS decision, especially those who aren't as privileged as she:
Through a friend, I was connected to a clinic in Florida that caters to women who are terminating for medical reasons, and I spoke to the doctor and nurse there. The doctor explained that Florida didn’t have a 24-hour waiting period, and they could get me in the next day. I booked the first plane ticket I found. I got a hotel room and rental car. I flew to Florida on Friday, and my procedure was over by Saturday afternoon. Including the cost of the procedure, I had to spend close to $5,000.
I remember thinking: What happens to women in my situation who don’t have the ability to do what I just did? My heart aches for those women.
Washington Post (June 15, 2016): Planned Parenthood sues Mississippi over defunding law, by Emily Wagster Pettus:
Even though Planned Parenthood Southeast only received $439 from Medicaid in Mississippi from July 2013- August 2015, Planned Parenthood is suing the state over a new law that bans Mississippi Medicaid from spending money with any health care provider that offers abortion.
Planned Parenthood Southeast only runs one Mississippi clinic in Hattiesburg, which doesn't even offer abortions. However, other clinics run by the Southeast affiliate in Alabama and Georgia do provide abortions. Planned Parenthood of the Greater Memphis Region has also joined in the suit because it receives Mississippi Medicaid payment and provides abortions in its Memphis clinic. Mississippi law already prohibits the use of Medicaid funds to pay for abortions except in the case of rape, incest or danger to the pregnant woman's life. The new law prevents the use of Medicaid funds to pay for other health care services provided by Planned Parentood clinics to Mississippi residents such as birth control and cancer screenings.
Medicaid is a joint federal and state program. Federal law provides that persons enrolled in Medicaid can receive health care services from any participating provider of their choice. In April the director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services sent a letter reminding all 50 states that they can't cut funding to Planned Parenthood because it may also provide abortion services.
Twenty-four states have considered or enacted laws restricting Planned Parenthood from receiving public funds. The Mississippi case is the 17th lawsuit Planned Parenthood has filed against a state since last July.
Refinery 29 (June 16, 2016): Denied Birth Control, Teens Still Have Sex — Unsafe Sex, by Hayley MacMillen:
From the 2016 International Conference on Family Planning in Indonesia, Refinery 29 provides first hand accounts of young people denied safe sex options and education. A recent Lancet study has identified unsafe sex as the fastest growing risk factor for ill health for young people around the world. At the conference, attendees stressed the importance of accurate, as well as widespread, sex ed to all adolescents. Haley MacMillen writes:
Birth control fallacies are, of course, not limited to East Africa but crop up wherever medically accurate, comprehensive sex ed is withheld. When I ask Philippines-based journalist and sex columnist Ana Santos, another attendee of the International Conference on Family Planning, about contraception myths in her country, she’s armed with some horrifying ones. People believe that "jumping after sex will prevent pregnancy" — although she notes, drily, that "a jump from what height is never mentioned" — and that "drinking coconut juice laced with bleach or Tide detergent will wash away the spermies." And since condoms can be hard to come by, people, especially young people, wrap Calypso plastic, a brand used to package iced candy, around their penises instead. "Totally ouchy, right?" Santos asks. Yes. And ineffective.
The article emphasizes the need for comprehensive sex ed - both internationally and locally - in order to help young people around the world and around the corner.
Monday, June 20, 2016
Rewire (June 15, 2016): TRAP Laws and the Abortion ‘Crisis’: A Conversation With Award-Winning Filmmaker Dawn Porter, by Tina Vasquez
Rewire talks with award-winning filmmaker Dawn Porter about her new documentary feature, TRAPPED, which highlights the popular and pervasive TRAP laws (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) across the United States. Between 2010 and 2105, 288 laws regulating abortion services have passed. Porter's documentary illustrates the toll it takes on women in states like Alabama and Texas. Porter is candid about her thoughts about the impending SCOTUS decision, safety concerns when filming, and her reasoning for focusing on TRAP laws specifically:
People often discuss abortion in terms of morality, but that’s not what we should be talking about. The reason why these laws have been so effective is because they successfully harm the least powerful of the group they’re targeting. Who’s getting picked on, who’s suffering the most? Women of color, people who are low-income, people who don’t have health insurance. There’s something so unjust about how these laws are disproportionately affecting these populations, and that really bothered me. I’m certainly interested in abortion as a topic, but I’m also interested in politics and power and how those things take shape to hurt the most vulnerable.
TRAPPED airs on PBS’ Independent Lens on Monday, June 20th at 10:00pm.
ACLU of Texas (June 15, 2016), t ACLU of Texas Demands DSHS Stop Concealing Abortion Statistics, by Anna Núñez
The Texas department of State Health Services has gathered abortion statistics for 2014, after the passage of the restrictive HB2, which is currently being challenged as unconstitutional because it imposes an undue burden on women seeking abortions. The ACLU of Texas is alleging the concealment of the findings. The ACLU said in the linked statement above that they requested the stats "dozens" times, only to be rebuffed by the agency and falsely told that the statistics were not yet ready, though the findings were apparently final in March. The ACLU believes that the reasoning is clear - that DSHS isn't releasing the information because it is damaging to HB2:
“The State of Texas claims that HB2 protects women’s health. If that’s true, why wouldn’t our public health agency want to trumpet its success?” said Terri Burke, executive director for the ACLU of Texas.
The letter also states that supervisors instructed employees to lie about the statistics and avoid mentioning them, in an apparent attempt to circumvent the legal requirements of the Texas Public Information Act."
The ACLU has also written and released a letter aimed at the defendant in the pending SCOTUS case, Commissioner Hellerstedt, also linked in the above article.
Sunday, June 19, 2016
Los Angeles Times (June 16, 2106): Good riddance to a repugnant California cap on family aid, by Times Editorial Board:
As part of a budget deal struck by California legislators, California will end the "maximum family grant" rule, a cap on family aid designed to discourage poor women from having babies while on welfare. Although typically the amount of aid welfare recipients receive is based upon the number of children in a family, the maximum family grant rule prohibited any increase to aid based upon a birth that occurred to a family that was already receiving benefits.
It was a repugnant policy and, furthermore, it didn’t seem to work. Studies have found little evidence of a link between caps in benefits and reproduction. What we do know, however, is that the maximum family grant rule punished poor kids for the choices of their parents.
Twenty-two states adopted family caps in the 1990s. California is the seventh state to repeal the cap. According to ThinkProgress, 12 states give families no extra money for additional children while enrolled in welfare. Two other states give a flat amount of money no matter the number of children in the family, and tow states reduced benefits for additional children. Check out ThinkProgress for a map and listing of states that still have maximum family caps.
Saturday, June 18, 2016
Rewire, June 9, 2016, Here’s What You Need to Know About Your Birth Control Access Post-Supreme Court Ruling, by Bridgette Dunlap
In a well-thought-out and organized article, Bridgette Dunlap looks at the impact the Supreme Court’s “non-decision” in Zubik v. Burwell will actually have on women’s access to contraceptives. Quelling what she assumes to be a reader's ever present worry, Dunlap discusses the current legal mandates in place for employers of all kinds and emphasizes that “the vast majority of people with insurance are currently entitled to contraption without a co-payment – that includes people for the most part, who work for religiously affiliated organizations.” Dunlap emphasizes the importance that coverage of the Supreme Court's ruling in Zubik not not overstate the impact of the non-decision:
The fact that equitable coverage of women’s health care is the new status quo is a very big deal that can be lost in the news about the unprecedented litigation campaign to block access to birth control and attacks on Obamacare more generally. Seriously, tell your friends.
Rewire (June 16, 2016): Obama Administration Punts on Helms Amendment, by Christine Grimaldi,
During his address at the United State of Women Summit on Tuesday, President Obama described advancing gender equality as a foreign policy priority, stating that "we’ve implemented a comprehensive strategy to end gender-based violence around the world, from prevention, to treating survivors, to bringing perpetrators to justice."
Yet, activists are frustrated that the administration has failed to take steps to clarify the scope of the "Helms Amendment" which prohibits the use of U.S. foreign assistance funds for abortion "as a method of family planning." The funding prohibition should not apply to abortions in case of rape, incest or where the pregnancy endangers the life of the pregnant women, but the Obama administration has failed to recognize and enforce those exceptions. Activist had hoped that the administration would clarify the exceptions by executive action.
An administration official contacted by Rewire confirmed that the Administration's commitment to treating rape survivors would not result in action on the Helms Amendment, stating that there are no "new announcements on that front."
Friday, June 17, 2016
Refinery 29 (May 28, 2016): Unsafe Sex Is Now The Biggest Health Risk Among Women Worldwide, by Sara Coughlin
Researchers tracked health trends of participants for over 23 years in order to determine the causes of death among them. While the prevalence of STI's weren't even ranking as a major risk factor at the time the study commenced, they shot up the scale to the number one cause of death by the end, strikingly. This pattern seems to be a worldwide trend, bolstering the importance of getting tested, as well as communicating frankly and effectively to young people about the risks associated with unprotected sex, and how to stay safe when sexually active.
The report, which was published in theLancet and is the result of a commission to look at health challenges facing young people worldwide, found that today's teens are growing up in a world where preventable and treatable health issues, such as HIV/AIDS and unplanned pregnancy, abound. Among the most shocking findings of the report: For women between the ages of 10 and 24, unsafe sex is the fastest-growing risk factor for illness and death worldwide.
Thursday, June 16, 2016
The Guardian (May 26, 2016): Some women regret their abortions. But we all deserve to have the choice, by Jessica Valenti
Jessica Valenti highlights the recent admission of a wife of a Republican legislator who explained that she deeply regrets her abortion. Valenti explains that while this feeling happens, it is statistically rare among American women, who for the most part do not regret their abortions. While showcasing women that regret their abortions is a tactic often used by the anti-choice movement, the article poignantly points out that this is still a choice, a viable access point, and decision that these women made.
"Even though the vast majority of women who have abortions won’t regret them, there will always be some women who wish they didn’t end a pregnancy – that’s just the reality. But it’s better to regret a decision than never having the option to make it in the first place."