Saturday, July 28, 2018

Massachusetts Passes Repeal of 173-Year-Old Abortion Ban Amid Fears for Future of Roe v. Wade

July 23, 2018 (TIME): Massachusetts Passes Repeal of 173-Year-Old Abortion Ban Amid Fears for Future of Roe v. Wade, by Samantha Cooney: 

Earlier this month, Massachusetts became the first state to formally respond to the possibility of Roe v. Wade being overturned in the world of a two-Trump-nominee Supreme Court. Although abortion is already legal in the state, Massachusetts still has a 173-year-old law on the books banning the procurement of a miscarriage. 

The bill is called the NASTY Women Act (Negating Archaic Statutes Targeting Young Women) and passed in a landslide. While abortion has technically been legal in the state since 1981, state legislators were driven to quick action to further protect these rights after Justice Kennedy announced his retirement.

A Masschusetts State Democrat said:

I think people are beginning to realize these are strange times we live in. Nothing is impossible, and we’ve got to have a ‘plan B.’ If these laws are enforced, what do we do? We’re not willing to sit back and say, ‘Well, it’s not going to happen here.’ The word for that is denial.

New Mexico and New York each have efforts underway to protect abortion rights as well.

While some critics accuse the NASTY Women Act and other similar bills of unnecessary political posturing, supporters cite that the rights we may take for granted are not always guaranteed. Rebecca Hart Holder, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, says "the reality is any state can have a threat to abortion care.”

July 28, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Current Affairs, Medical News, Politics, Reproductive Health & Safety, State and Local News, State Legislatures | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 26, 2018

HHS Refuses to Release Documents on the New Office of Civil Rights (OCR)

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the opening of a new division in January of this year: The Office of Civil Rights (OCR). The OCR's primary mandate is to enforce refusal of care laws. 

Refusal of care laws essentially empower medical providers to deny care to patients if they disagree with the ethics of a particular procedure based on their religious grounds. The purported goal of these laws is to protect a healthcare provider from being forced into providing care that "violates their conscience." 

This is an Executive-ordered decision that does not require legislative or judicial approval to go into effect or to implement its new rules and regulations.

Critics of refusal of care laws express concern that these requirements do not simply "protect" health care providers consciences, but can instead seriously harm patients. These laws may lead to a pharmacist refusing to fill a birth control prescription, a doctor refusing hormone therapy to a transgender patient, limitations placed on services to LGBTQ persons and partners, and of course abortion services may also become more limited.

HHS does not require providers who refuse treatment to refer patients to other providers or provide any information at all on other providers.

The OCR further has authority to initiate compliance reviews of any organization receiving federal funding to ensure conformity to the new rules. 

Earlier this month, the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) and the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) filed a lawsuit against HHS for refusing to release records pertaining to the creation of the OCR. The organizations initially requested these records via a FOIA request in January 2018. The CRR and NWLC seek knowledge of why the new division was needed, how the OCR operates, allocates funding, and may be influenced by outside groups.

"We’re filing this lawsuit to force the Trump-Pence administration to justify why it’s using resources to fund discrimination, rather than to protect patients," said Gretchen Borchelt, NWLC Vice President for Reproductive Rights and Health. 

HHS's new Office of Civil Rights follows additional moves by the Trump administration to limit equitable access to reproductive health care, including promoting the "Global Gag Rule," its domestic counterpart, and establishing regulations aimed at severely limiting funding to Title X programs. 

July 26, 2018 in Abortion, Anti-Choice Movement, Contraception, Culture, Current Affairs, In the Media, Mandatory Delay/Biased Information Laws, Medical News, Politics, President/Executive Branch, Religion, Religion and Reproductive Rights, Reproductive Health & Safety, Sexuality | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 23, 2018

Call for Public Comments on Proposed Rule to Limit Title X Funding

Last month the Trump administration proposed a rule prohibiting the granting of federal Title X family planning funds to family planning providers that also perform abortions. The so-called “Domestic Gag Rule” would create new, unnecessary barriers for patients seeking access to birth control and other services from their trusted reproductive health care providers. In addition, the rule would prevent doctors and nurses across the country who receive federal funding from referring patients for safe, legal abortions. 
 
While the new rule is scheduled to go into effect immediately upon publishing of the final rule, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is required to take public comments into consideration before making the rule permanent. 
 
The Center for Reproductive Rights has posted links to assist those interested in sending comments which provide draft language and templates.
  1. Send a comment to HHS opposing the proposed rule through the Center for Reproductive Rights website using the draft language linked here
  2. Submit a comment on behalf of your organization urging HHS to rescind the rule. A template is available here. If you need support coordinating the ask within your association or developing a comment, please do not hesitate to reach out to the Lawyers Network team at lawyersnetworkinfo@reprorights.org

July 23, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Current Affairs, Medical News, Politics, President/Executive Branch | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

As Cuomo Rallies for Abortion Rights, Nixon Questions His Bona Fides

The New York Times (Jul. 10, 2018): As Cuomo Rallies for Abortion Rights, Nixon Questions His Bona Fides, by Jesse McKinley: 

The New York primary season is heating up as incumbent Governor Andrew Cuomo and Democratic challenger Cynthia Nixon are both advocating, among other things, for hard line policies to protect the right to abortion and women's health services in New York State. 

Governor Cuomo told voters that New York needs to codify the right to abortion in Roe v. Wade on the state level and called on the State Legislature to pass the Reproductive Health Act to do so. He's previously put forth similar legislation, none of which made it through the State Senate's Republicans and "rogue," anti-abortion Democrats. Cuomo is also advocating for the decriminalizing of abortion--moving laws and regulations pertaining to the procedure over to the public health code instead. 

Nixon, in her primary campaign, has highlighted previous, unflattering statements by Cuomo about feminism and women as well as his failure to execute a comprehensive shift in New York reproductive policies in order to distinguish her own platform, which lies somewhat farther to the left and is endorsed by the New York Working Families Party. 

The stakes are clearly raised in in this year's Gubernatorial race in light of Trump's nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to replace Justice Kennedy on the Supreme Court and growing concerns that the fundamental rights to abortion and reproductive health will be formidably challenged under a much more conservative court.

 

July 18, 2018 in Abortion, Contraception, Current Affairs, In the Media, Politics, State and Local News, State Legislatures | Permalink | Comments (0)

Who gets the embryos? Whoever wants to make them into babies, new law says.

The Washington Post (Jul. 17, 2018): Who gets the embryos? Whoever wants to make them into babies, new law says, by Ariana Eunjung Cha: 

New court cases cases are grappling with the decision of what to do with frozen embryos created during a marriage that later dissolves. In many cases that Cha reports on, the couples chose to create and freeze several embryos in the wake of a cancer diagnosis and treatment schedule that threatened later fertility.

When these same couples faced divorce, there were bitter divides over what should be done with the embryos: one party wanted to maintain "ownership" of the embryos for a future chance at children while the other wanted the embryos destroyed, fearing unwanted future financial or relationship obligations. 

With the number of frozen embryos in the United States soaring into the millions, disputes over who owns them are also on the rise. Judges have often — but not always — ruled in favor of the person who does not want the embryos used, sometimes ordering them destroyed, following the theory that no one should be forced to become a parent.

In Arizona, though, a "first-in-the-nation law" went into effect on July 1 that states "custody of disputed embryos must be given to the party who intends to help them 'develop to birth.'"

The legislation represents for some lawmakers the idea that frozen embryos have their own right to life, and many imagine that the implications could eventually include a delineation of when life begins and a claim to a separate set of embryonic rights of their own as human beings (rather than the discussion being centered on who "owns" the embryos). 

Some groups, like the anti-abortion Thomas More Society, advocate for that embryos to be considered "children" in the legal sense, asking judges to make decisions on disputes based on the best interest of the "child." 

Debates to extend personhood to unborn embryos and fetuses abound in anti-abortion work. Abortion rights advocates are concerned that these discussions could further disintegrate the right to abortion in the United States. "If a days-old embryo in a freezer has a right to life, why not a days-old embryo in utero?"

While judges have historically ordered disputed embryos destroyed based on the wishes of the party who does not want a child, an Arizona judge chose to balance one party's "probable inability to have a child without the embryos" against the other party's "desire to not be a father" a different way. 

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Ronee Korbin Steiner held that Ruby Torres, who wanted the embryos in order to have biological children one day, had no right to them. The judge did not order them destroyed, though, and instead ordered that they go up for donation.

Torres appealed the decision and expects a new ruling any day. 

The new Arizona law that states embryos shall be given to the party who intends to develop them to birth was written in response to this case to "help" people in Torres' situation. It also attempts to recognize the rights of those who do not want the embryos used by providing that those parties would not be liable for child support in the future. 

Both the judicial decisions and the legislation continue to prove extremely controversial:

The Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative lobbying group that has successfully pushed antiabortion legislation in the state, supported the measure, saying the bill would “lead to more consistent rulings.”

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine, which represents doctors, nurses and other professionals who work on fertility issues, opposed the measure, arguing that it would have a profound impact on reproductive medicine.

Medical professionals foresee profound complications to stem-cell research in particular, which relies on embryos donated to science. Such research is believed essential in developing treatments for many diseases and conditions like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. The treatment and storage of embryos as a result of the new legislation will likely make embryonic stem cells much more scarce.

In a friend-of-the-court brief in Torres' pending appellate case, the Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys urged judges in the Arizona Court of Appeals to balance the interest of each former spouse. They argue that the parties claims are not equal and that "the constitutional protection against compulsory parenthood is [generally] greater than any procreative interest in pre-embryos." 

Time will tell both if the appellate judges affirm Judge Steiner's controversial ruling (likely leading to further appeals) while we also wait for the inevitable challenges to Arizona's new embryo law.

July 18, 2018 in Abortion, Assisted Reproduction, Bioethics, Culture, Current Affairs, Fertility, Fetal Rights, In the Courts, Medical News, Parenthood, Politics, Public Opinion, Scholarship and Research, State and Local News, State Legislatures, Stem Cell Research | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Iowa Abortion Waiting Period Has Been Struck Down & It's A Major Reproductive Rights Victory

Bustle (Jun. 29, 2018): The Iowa Abortion Waiting Period Has Been Struck Down & It's A Major Reproductive Rights Victory, by Morgan Brinlee: 

Despite concerns for the future of reproductive rights in the imminent wake of Justice Kennedy's retirement, reproductive rights advocates secured a victory in Iowa last week when the Supreme Court of Iowa struck down a 72-hour waiting period imposed on women seeking abortions.

"The vast majority of women have made their decision by the time they present for care so the laws [mandating waiting periods] do not lead women to change their minds, Dr. Sarah Roberts, an abortion waiting period researcher who works as an associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco, tells Bustle. "They really just lead to increases in financial costs and increases in delay and also some increases in emotional distress along the way."

The Iowa Supreme Court found the restriction a violation of the state Constitution.  Dr. Sarah Roberts, an abortion waiting period researcher who works as an associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco, found that imposed wait periods actually lead to even greater delays in care as well as substantial increased costs for the women.

The ACLU of Iowa and Planned Parenthood of the Heartland are also involved in a lawsuit against the state's "heartbeat law," which bans abortion after 6-weeks, the time at which a fetal heartbeat can sometimes be detected. A District Court judge temporarily blocked the law, but if it goes into effect, some women may not have any option for abortion at all, as many don't find out they're pregnant until after six weeks.

July 4, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Current Affairs, In the Courts, Politics, State and Local News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Steps the Next Supreme Court Might Take to Roll Back Abortion Rights

New York Magazine (Jun. 27, 2018): Steps the Next Supreme Court Might Take to Roll Back Abortion Rights, by Ed Kilgore: 

With the announcement of Justice Kennedy's imminent retirement comes the prospect of a much more conservative Supreme Court, particularly in relation to reproductive rights. Justice Kennedy stood in the majority of the 2016 Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstedt decision, which reaffirmed basic abortion access rights. Trump has promised to pursue the reversal of Roe v. Wade, though, and has stated his intentions to nominate a similarly-minded next justice. 

Many states have recently enacted stricter abortion access requirements--like Louisiana's legislation banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy or Iowa's fetal heartbeat ban. "Such laws are aimed at setting up a challenge to Roe if the Supreme Court lurches to the right — which is now an imminent possibility."

While it's unlikely that, even under a more conservative court, Roe would be immediately overturned, a shift to the right on the Supreme Court will likely lead to affirmation of new, state-level abortion restrictions. For example, rather than overturn Roe, which is backed by additional, subsequent precedent in 1992's Casey and 2016's Hellerstedt, the court might instead find an opportunity to reverse Hellerstedt, as the more recent decision. Such a move might reinvigorate efforts to enact Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, likely forcing abortion providers out of business with burdensome requirements and eliminating much abortion access, especially in already-conservative states.

Either way, if Trump nominates an anti-Roe Supreme Court candidate this year, and the Senate approves them, we can expect many more legal battles on the availability of abortion. "With one SCOTUS appointment and one decision, that could all change, and we could enter a period of abortion-policy activism unlike anything America has seen in decades."

June 28, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Anti-Choice Movement, Current Affairs, In the Media, Politics, President/Executive Branch, Public Opinion, Reproductive Health & Safety, Supreme Court, Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 18, 2018

Leading Republicans Join Democrats in Pushing Trump to Halt Family Separations

New York Times (Jun. 17, 2018): Leading Republicans Join Democrats in Pushing Trump to Halt Family Separations, by Peter Baker:

On Sunday, leading figures of both parties demanded that President Trump halt his administration’s practice of separating children from their parents when apprehended at the border, as the issue further polarized the already divisive immigration debate in Washington.

Republican lawmakers, the former first lady Laura Bush, a conservative newspaper and a onetime adviser to Mr. Trump joined Democrats in condemning family separations that have removed nearly 2,000 children from their parents in just six weeks. The administration argued that it was just enforcing the law, a false assertion that Mr. Trump has made repeatedly.

Even Melania Trump weighed in, saying she “hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together.” Mrs. Trump “believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with a heart,” the first lady’s office said in a statement.

The issue took on special resonance on Father’s Day as Democratic lawmakers visited detention facilities in Texas and New Jersey to protest the separations and the House prepared to take up immigration legislation this week. Pictures of children warehoused without their parents in facilities, including a converted Walmart store, have inflamed passions and put the administration on defense.

By laying responsibility for the situation on “both sides,” Mrs. Trump effectively echoed her husband’s assertion that it was the result of a law written by Democrats. In fact, the administration announced a “zero tolerance” approach this spring, leading to the separations.

Laura Bush, the last Republican first lady, spoke out forcefully against the practice on Sunday in a rare foray into domestic politics, comparing it to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. “I live in a border state,” she wrote in a guest column in The Washington Post. “I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.”

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, deplored separations on Sunday, except in cases where there is evidence of abuse or another good reason. “What the administration has decided to do is to separate children from their parents to try to send a message that, if you cross the border with children, your children are going to be ripped away from you,” she said on “Face the Nation” on CBS. “That is traumatizing to the children, who are innocent victims. And it is contrary to our values in this country.”

Contrary to the president’s public statements, no law requires families to be separated at the border. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s “zero tolerance” announcement this spring that the government will prosecute all unlawful immigrants as criminals set up a situation in which children are removed when their parents are taken into federal custody.

Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of homeland security, rejected responsibility for the separations in a series of tweets on Sunday. “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border,” she wrote. “Period.”

But there have been reports of people arriving at the ports of entry asking for asylum and being taken into custody, and some of the designated ports are not accepting asylum claims. In those cases, migrants sometimes cross wherever they can and, because it is not an official border station, are detained even though they are making a claim of asylum. Many would-be asylum applicants do not know where official ports of entry are.

Democrats are trying to focus attention on the separation policy as an example of what they call Mr. Trump’s extremist approach to immigration. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California has collected 43 Democratic sponsors for legislation to limit family separations.

Senators Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland led a group of Democratic lawmakers to a detention facility in Brownsville, Tex., on Sunday but were not allowed to talk with children held there. Seven House Democrats visited a detention facility in Elizabeth, N.J. and said they were blocked for nearly two hours before being allowed to see parents separated from their children.

Anthony Scaramucci, who served briefly as White House communications director last year, said separating children from their families is not “the Christian way” or “the American way,” and made clear he thinks Mr. Trump can end it on his own. “The President can reverse it and I hope he does,” he wrote on Twitter.

The conservative editorial page of The New York Post, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, agreed on Sunday. “It’s not just that this looks terrible in the eyes of the world,” it wrote. “It is terrible.”

Mr. Trump has said in recent days that Democrats should agree to his panoply of immigration measures, including full financing for a border wall and revamping the system of legal entry to the country, in effect making clear that any legislation addressing family separation must also include his priorities.

A top adviser to Mr. Trump said on Sunday that the president was not using the family separation as leverage to force Democrats to come to the table on other policy disputes, rebutting an unnamed White House official quoted by The Washington Post.

June 18, 2018 in Current Affairs, Incarcerated Women, Parenthood, President/Executive Branch, Teenagers and Children | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Trump administration moves to block victims of domestic abuse from claiming asylum

Los Angeles Times (Jun. 11, 2018): Trump administration moves to block victims of gang violence and domestic abuse from claiming asylum, by Evan Halper:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has overturned precedent that created a basis for survivors of domestic violence in foreign countries to receive asylum in the United States. 

As Attorney General, Sessions' review of an earlier case that granted a Salvadoran woman asylum as a victim of physical and emotional abuse by her husband, including rape, is binding. A federal appellate court, though, has the power to overturn Sessions decision, and immigration advocates anticipate immediate challenges to the decision. 

To establish asylum in the United States, applicants must "prove that they have a reasonable fear of persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political views or membership in a particular social group." Under the Obama administration, in 2014, a Guatemalan woman fleeing domestic violence was granted asylum after the immigration appeals board ruled that victims of domestic violence constituted, in some cases, "a particular social group." 

Advocates estimate that tens of thousands of U.S. asylum applicants annually fall into this precedential category targeted now by Sessions and the Trump administration. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees "warned that such action would violate international agreements the U.S. has entered into concerning refugees and would subject victims to being returned to situations in which their lives are in danger." The American Bar Association has also joined in voicing its concern that this ruling will further endanger those most vulnerable. 

Sessions has stated through this decision that the United States will not offer help to women suffering from and living in fear of domestic violence, rape, and death, as their situations constitute only "private crimes" that their home governments should be able to manage. He has cast doubt on well-founded assertions that police in the home countries of these women "often don't respond to reports of domestic violence" and rejects that, as such, these women constitute "a distinct group in need of protection by the U.S."

"The attorney general’s skepticism that victims of abuse lack effective recourse in their home countries runs counter to reports published by the U.S. Department of State on human rights conditions in those countries."

 

 

 

June 12, 2018 in Current Affairs, International, Politics, Sexual Assault, Women, General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Iowa Lawmakers Pass Strictest Abortion Law in the U.S.

The Hill (May 2, 2018): Iowa lawmakers pass strictest abortion law in the US, by Julia Manchester:

On Wednesday, May 2, 2018, Iowa legislators passed "the heartbeat bill." The legislation bans abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected. Essentially, the heartbeat distinction would ban abortions by the sixth week of pregnancy. 

Opposition to the bill claims that it would ban abortions before some women even know they're pregnant. 

The passage of the bill comes as the Trump administration has taken a hard-line stance on abortion, spurring a slew of abortion laws across the nation.

Nineteen states adopted a total of 63 restrictions to the procedure in 2017, which is the highest number of state laws on the issue since 2013, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

The bill now goes to Gov. Kim Reynolds's (R) desk, but, if signed, is expected to be challenged as a violation of Supreme Court precedent including Roe v. Wade. 

May 3, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Anti-Choice Movement, Current Affairs, Politics, Pregnancy & Childbirth, State and Local News, State Legislatures, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Supporters of El Salvador’s Abortion Ban Foil Efforts to Soften It

The New York Times (April 26, 2018): Supporters of El Salvador’s Abortion Ban Foil Efforts to Soften It, by Elisabeth Malkin:

El Salvador remains one of six Latin American countries with a total ban on abortion after the Legislative Assembly failed to debate and vote on a measure that would have relaxed the ban in two circumstances: when the mother's life is in danger and in the case of a minor becoming pregnant as a result of rape. 

In El Salvador, abortion is criminalized and punishable by up to eight years in prison for both doctor and patient. Human rights groups around the world have a lobbied for a change in the harsh policies that sometimes criminalize women who have late-term miscarriages. These women have historically been charged with abortion or even aggravated homicide. 

Advocates aiming to soften the total ban had been lobbying for months, but their efforts were unsuccessful when the former, left-wing-led national legislature adjourned last week without voting on the proposals. A new Legislative Assembly convenes this month, dominated by conservatives who are not expected to revive the debate or offer reform proposals.  

May 2, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Anti-Choice Movement, Culture, Current Affairs, International, Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 20, 2018

A Backward Step for Reproductive Rights in Chile

Human Rights Watch (April 16, 2018): A Backward Step for Reproductive Rights in Chile, by José  Miguel Vivanco:

Last year, under former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, Chile's Congress passed reproducive health reform that lifted a 28-year blanket ban on abortions in the country. While the reform did not make abortion wholly available, it removed the ban under three circumstances: when the pregnant person's life is at risk; if the pregnancy is a result of rape; and if the fetus is deemed "not compatible with life outside the womb." 

Even with the reform--upheld as constitutional in August 2017--several barriers remained in place even under these circumstances. For example, doctors and whole hospitals could invoke a right not to perform abortions on the basis of conscience. If they chose to invoke this right, though, the original reform required a stated reason for abstaining and also required those abstaining to register as such in a timely manner. The goal of this rule was to ensure continuity of coverage at a hospital, so that pregnant persons qualifying for an abortion would not be denied one due to lack of access. 

Under current Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, the requirement of providing a reason for objecting to performing abortions, along with the requirement of assurance of continuity of coverage, were dropped completely. 

These rule modifications were issued by the Health Ministry and have international human rights groups concerned that the reproductive health of women and girls will not be protected in Chile.

For example, a person pregnant with a non-viable fetus, or a pre-teen rape victim, might find themselves unable to receive an abortion, because the local hospital does not want to potentially offend politicians or invoke the wrath of anti-abortion groups. As such, the only potential abortion-provider in a given town has chosen "on the basis of conscience" not to provide them and will not be required to justify that decision. Human Rights Watch recommends that

The Chilean government should review and amend the rules to ensure that access to legal abortion is protected. Otherwise it risks letting conscientious objection be used as a pretext to deny important newly recognized rights of women and girls. 

April 20, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Current Affairs, International | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Bringing reproductive health care to Syria’s underserved Al-Tabqa

ReliefWeb (April 6, 2018): Bringing reproductive health care to Syria’s underserved Al-Tabqa, Report by European Commission's Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations: 

Seven months ago, the Syrian city Al-Tabqa was re-taken from the Islamic State. Displaced families are returning to the city in droves, and the population has increased close to 200% over the last year. 

Basic critical health care is still lacking in the city, though. Recently, UNFPA supported the development of a new health clinic, which opened in January 2018. 460 women received treatment in the first two weeks of the clinic's operations, including one 30-year-old Syrian woman's delivery of twins. 

Under the control of ISIL, contraceptives and other reproductive care were unavailable to women. The new clinic continues to face challenges in its liberation, too, as access to Al-Tabqa for those who wish to return or relocate has been hampered by destroyed infrastructure and lingering landmines. Various agencies are working to improve these conditions, but in the meantime, the Al-Tabqa clinic has managed to become fully-equipped, staffed, and ready to help serve the estimated 6,800 pregnant women in need of care. 

April 18, 2018 in Contraception, Current Affairs, International | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

John Oliver takes aim at crisis pregnancy centers and anti-abortion activists 'controlling women's behavior'

The Guardian (Apr. 9, 2018):  John Oliver takes aim at anti-abortion activists 'controlling women's behavior', by Guardian staff

John Oliver examined crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) designed to prevent abortions on this past Sunday's episode of HBO's Last Week Tonight, criticizing their “disingenuous and predatory” tactics and explaining how their "primary purpose is to talk women out of terminating a pregnancy.”

There are 2,752 CPCs  in the United States, compared with 1,671 abortion providers. Many CPCs use the word "choice" in their names and give out advice that is medically inaccurate. They often pretend to be abortion clinics on the exterior to fool women to enter. “Normally, the strategy ‘pretend you’re an abortion clinic’ is not actually a great marketing stunt, although I am pretty sure that Radio Shack would have tried it if they’d thought of it,” Oliver said.

Oliver also discussed how CPCs discourage the use of contraception. There are claims from within CPCs that condoms are ineffective at preventing pregnancy. “For all the lengths that CPCs will go to to prevent abortions, many of them don’t do a key thing that would help that and that’s give women access to birth control,” he said.  “The fact is if you want fewer abortions, you should love birth control."

Oliver said that the real goal of CPCs is “controlling women’s sexual behavior”, as many of them are affiliated with religious figures and organizations.

Watch the segment below:

April 10, 2018 in Abortion, Anti-Choice Movement, Contraception, Culture, Current Affairs, In the Media, Religion, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 23, 2018

UN human rights committee to Poland parliament: reject anti-abortion bill

JURIST (Mar. 22, 2018): UN human rights committee to Poland parliament: reject anti-abortion bill, by David Zwier: 

This week, Poland's parliament will debate the bill "Stop Abortion," which would ban abortion in cases of severe fetal anomaly. Currently, this is one of only three bases on which a person can terminate a pregnancy in Poland. Poland is known to have some of the most restrictive abortion laws throughout Europe. 

A committee of experts under the UN Human Rights Council has urged the parliament to reject the bill, citing that such restrictions will threaten women's equality and autonomy as well as violate their rights to privacy and health while also putting pregnant persons at risk of cruel and inhuman treatment. Forcing the continuation of a pregnancy, they say, violates an individual's fundamental human rights. 

In 2016, Poland rejected a bill outright outlawing abortion, in part many believe as a response to protests over it. The UN experts have not received a response to their recent communications regarding the current pending legislation. 

March 23, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Current Affairs, In the Media, International, Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Baltimore to join lawsuit against U.S. health agency over cuts to programs that help prevent teen pregnancy

The Baltimore Sun (Mar. 7, 2018): Baltimore to join lawsuit against U.S. health agency over cuts to programs that help prevent teen pregnancy, by Ian Duncan:

The city of Baltimore intends to join a lawsuit against President Trump filed last month by the nonprofit Healthy Teen Network. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore after Healthy Teen Network's federal grant--given to develop and fund the study of an app providing sex education--was significantly reduced.

Baltimore’s health department received an $8.5 million federal grant to help provide sex education for about 20,000 students over five years. Last year, the federal health agency told Baltimore that the program would be severed from its funding after three years instead, leading to a loss of $3.5 million.

The lawsuit alleges that Trump’s appointee to a senior position in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has reduced federal grants for programs that do not match the official’s belief that people should not have sex until they are married.

While the lawsuit by Healthy Teen Network states they did not receive a clear explanation for the funding cut, the lawyers claim that the cut in funding is directly related to the appointment of abstinence-only advocate Valerie Huber, who was appointed Chief of Staff for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health at the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services in June 2017.

"Dr. Leana Wen, the city’s health commissioner, said the reduction would greatly harm the department’s ability to provide services."

“We have made significant progress to reduce teen birth rates, and the last thing that should happen is to roll back the gains that have been made.”

March 10, 2018 in Culture, Current Affairs, In the Media, Politics, President/Executive Branch, Religion and Reproductive Rights, Sexuality Education, State and Local News, Teenagers and Children | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Mississippi is perilously close to passing a big crackdown on reproductive rights

ThinkProgress (Feb. 28, 2018): Mississippi is perilously close to passing a big crackdown on reproductive rights, by Amanda Michelle Gomez:

A committee of lawmakers in the Mississippi Senate passed House Bill 1510, which would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. While the bill provides exceptions for medical emergencies or certain cases of fetal abnormalities, it does not except rape or incest. The House originally proposed and passed the bill earlier in February of this year.

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant (R) has previously stated his goal is to completely end abortions in Mississippi, and has affirmed he would sign the bill if it lands on his desk.

Mississippi already proscribes abortions after 20 weeks, a law that was originally defended on the basis of preventing fetal pain, despite research that shows a fetus may not feel pain until 27 weeks. 

As many people do not find out they are pregnant for several weeks, or even months, pro-choice advocates are concerned about the difficulty a 15-week ban imposes on persons who would seek an abortion but do not discover their pregnancy in time. 

20-week bans have been proposed and judicially struck down in Arizona and Idaho, however there has been no challenge yet to Mississippi's current 20-week ban. It's likely the new bill, if made law, would be challenged in court. 

March 8, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Anti-Choice Movement, Current Affairs, Politics, State and Local News, State Legislatures | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

A Larger Role for Midwives Could Improve Deficient U.S. Care for Mothers and Babies

ProPublica (Feb. 22, 2018): A Larger Role for Midwives Could Improve Deficient U.S. Care for Mothers and Babies, by Nina Martin:

The results of a five-year study, conducted by researchers in both the U.S. and Canada, on the effects of midwifery on maternal and infant health are in. The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE; it analyzes hundreds of laws throughout the United States that dictate what a midwife can and cannot do when it comes to prenatal care and the birthing process. 

'We have been able to establish that midwifery care is strongly associated with lower interventions, cost-effectiveness and improved outcomes,' said lead researcher Saraswathi Vedam, an associate professor of midwifery who heads the Birth Place Lab at the University of British Columbia.

The midwife model emphasizes community-based maternal and infant care along with avoiding any unnecessary, and potentially dangerous, interventions. Midwives have long been widely embraced in Europe as a positive component of maternal care. In the U.S., though, midwives often represent a "culture war that encompasses gender, race, class, economic competition, professional and personal autonomy, risk versus safety, and philosophical differences." 

The title "midwife" can have multiple meanings, ranging from "certified nurse-midwives," to "direct-entry midwives," to "lay midwives." Depending on the title and the state in which the midwife works, the midwife will have a different level of training and may or may not be licensed or regulated by the state. 

This new study indicates, though, that midwives may be part of the answer to the U.S.'s problematic infant and maternal mortality rates. Severe maternal complications have sharply risen over the past 20 years, and maternal care is seriously sparse in certain areas of the country. "Nearly half of U.S. counties don't have a single practicing obstetrician-gynecologist." 

While midwife regulations vary widely among states, the study shows that states that have more fully integrated midwifery systems within their health care have significantly better outcomes for mothers and babies. States with restrictive midwife regulations--like Alabama, Ohio, and Mississippi--regularly score much lower on tests of maternal and neonatal well-being.

Alabama, which has the worst infant mortality rate in the country, has long had strict midwife regulations, "reflecting attitudes that wiped out the state's once-rich tradition of black birth attendants." Alabama lawmakers, though, recently passed a bill legalizing certified professional midwives, taking one small step toward the process of greater midwife integration, and, hopefully, improved maternal and infant health care across racial and economic lines. 

Access to midwifery is often split among racial lines, as many of the states with the worst outcomes (and higher levels of opposition to midwives), including Alabama, have large black populations. The study suggests a correlation between improved access to midwifery and reduced racial disparities in the maternal health care field.

Jennie Joseph, a British-trained midwife who runs the Florida birthing center and nonprofit Commonsense Childbirth affirms this:

“It’s a model that somewhat mitigates the impact of any systemic racial bias. You listen. You’re compassionate. There’s such a depth of racism that’s intermingled with [medical] systems. If you’re practicing in [the midwifery] model you’re mitigating this without even realizing it.”

The study, though, does not conclude that better midwife access will directly lead to better outcomes or vice versa. It acknowledges that many other factors also affect maternal and infant health among states, including access to preventative care, insurance, and rates of chronic disease.

Nonetheless, maternal health advocates have long recognized the benefits of midwifery and this is not the only study to highlight the positive effects of supporting midwives. A 2014 study found that integrating midwives into health care could prevent more than 80 percent of maternal and infant fatalities worldwide, in both low and high-resource communities. Even in the U.S., organizations such as the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have begun embracing nurse-midwives despite lingering skepticism by many. 

February 27, 2018 in Culture, Current Affairs, Medical News, Pregnancy & Childbirth, Reproductive Health & Safety, Women, General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 23, 2018

Advanced Reproductive Technology is Here. But Who Decides Who Gets Access?

Futurism (Feb. 2, 2018): Advanced Reproductive Technology is Here. But Who Decides Who Gets Access?, by Claudia Geib: 

Reproductive technology has expanded and improved immensely over the years. The accessibility of assisted reproduction, fertility treatments, and even adoption, though, is highly limited, particularly in the United States. All of these processes can be prohibitively expensive, and, often, insurance does not cover them or organizations can arbitrarily choose not to provide them.

As reproductive technology is largely unregulated in the U.S., private organizations that manage processes such as embryo donations have full discretion when choosing who can participate in their programs. The National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC) states in its policies that they will only provide embryos to heterosexual, married couples, for example. The NEDC is founded in the Judeo-Christian worldview, and they explicitly exercise this viewpoint--or their perspective of it, at least--when selecting eligible couples for their services.  

Jeffrey Keenan, the NEDC's medical director, says that their policy is to operate based on the "biological reality" of a family and God's intention for conception.

As much as you see gay people having children, you have noticed that none of them do it on their own. It is physically and scientifically impossible for gay people to have a child. So why just because we can have someone act as a surrogate, or because we can donate into a [gay] woman, why does that make it right? It doesn’t, not in and of itself.

Civil rights communities, LGBT groups, and, increasingly, the courts oppose these views. What many consider illegal discrimination, though, endures under the protection of U.S. law since such procedures are not generally considered "medically necessary."

Basic fertility treatments are rarely covered by U.S. insurance policies, and when they are, the insurance company may first require proof and documentation of a medical reason preventing "natural" pregnancy. 

This is not the case in many other developed countries, where formal regulations, ethical requirements, and even entire administrative departments preside over reproductive technology. The United Kingdom's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, for example, is solely committed to the regulation of fertility treatments and embryonic research in the U.K. 

In the U.S., there is simply "no equality of access" to reproducing, says Antonio Gargiulo, an obstetrician-gynecologist and director of robotic surgery at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. As it stands, Boston residents do  have access to fertility treatments under insurance, though; Massachusetts was the first state to pass laws requiring treatments be covered by insurance back in 1987. Just last year, New York also began requiring insurance companies to provide infertility treatments to those seeking, including homosexual couples and single women. 

Many medical professionals, though, are skeptical that the federal government--particularly under the anti-regulation Trump administration--will make any moves toward ensuring fertility treatments and reproductive technology are uniformly covered by insurance and accessible to all Americans. 

February 23, 2018 in Assisted Reproduction, Culture, Current Affairs, Fertility, Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

It’s now easier for trans people to update birth certificates in Russia than in many U.S. states

ThinkProgress (Jan. 25, 2018): It’s now easier for trans people to update birth certificates in Russia than in many U.S. states, by Zack Ford: 

Last month, Russia established new procedures to allow transgender persons to obtain gender-affirming medical documentation without undergoing surgery. Previously, the only way for a trans person to officially change their gender identity was through the submission of a "medical certificate on gender/sex change" to a civil registry office where individual civil servants would determine whether or not to change the applicant's listed identity. The Russian Ministry of Health signed the new order in January, and it went into effect on February 2, 2018.

Although Russia is regularly condemned for its anti-LGBTQ reputation, this new procedure is considered more progressive than those in the United States, which often require transgender patients to undergo surgery before their gender identity will be officially recognized. 

The U.S. does not have uniform procedures on how to update gender on a birth certificate or other official documentation. "According to the Transgender Law Center...there are only 17 states that offer clear policies for changing birth certificates and do not require surgeries for recognition." 18 states have policies specifically mandating surgical requirements as a prerequisite to the paperwork. Governor Chris Christie twice vetoed bills in New Jersey that would have eliminated such requirements. The U.S. courts have so far produced inconsistent and unpredictable results for trans persons seeking policy changes.

Russia is not the only country making gender identity documentation more accessible. India and Nepal recognize transgender persons by issuing papers that identify them as a "third gender." Sweden, which practiced forced sterilization well into the 20th century, eliminated its surgical requirement for transgender people in 2013. 

Gender reassignment surgery, meant to align a person's gender with their reproductive organs, often results in the patient losing their reproductive ability. Requiring surgery to recognize a trans person's gender is increasingly considered an unacceptable and illegal form of forced sterilization throughout the world. Furthermore, such procedures are often financially prohibitive, making gender alignment surgery, and thus--in the U.S. at least--obtaining legal documentation that recognizes one's gender, inaccessible. 

Last year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against surgical requirements in a French case. The Court cited Article VIII of the European Convention on Human Rights, which gives everyone the right to respect for "his private and family life." 

Although Russia still faces intense discrimination against its LGBTQ community, Tatiana Glushkova of the Transgender Legal Defense Project is optimistic that the new procedures eliminating the need for surgery before trans persons can obtain proper medical certificates will “significantly improve the situation of trans people in Russia."

February 21, 2018 in Culture, Current Affairs, International, Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)