Thursday, April 19, 2018
The New York Times Magazine (April 11, 2018): Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis, by Linda Villarosa:
Villarosa of The New York Times Magazine profiles several black mothers and their pregnancy, child birth, and health care stories while exploring the extraordinarily wide disparity in care that black women receive compared to white women.
The U.S. is one of only 12 countries whose maternal mortality rates have actually increased in recent years and now has a mortality rate worse than 25 years ago. Maternal mortality refers to "the death of a woman related to pregnancy or childbirth up to a year after the end of pregnancy." Women of color are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as white women.
Moms are not the only ones facing the consequences of underdeveloped care.
Black infants in America are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants — 11.3 per 1,000 black babies, compared with 4.9 per 1,000 white babies, according to the most recent government data — a racial disparity that is actually wider than in 1850, 15 years before the end of slavery, when most black women were considered chattel.
In the past, many explanations for the disparity turned to poverty, assuming that it was poor and uneducated black women and their babies that suffered the most. But the crisis does not consider class lines, it turns out. "In fact, a black woman with an advanced degree is more likely to lose her baby than a white woman with less than an eighth-grade education."
In 2014, Monica Simpson--the executive director of SisterSong, an organization dedicated to reproductive justice for women of color, and a member of advocacy group Black Mamas Matter Alliance-- testified before the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. She called on the United States to “eliminate racial disparities in the field of sexual and reproductive health and standardize the data-collection system on maternal and infant deaths in all states to effectively identify and address the causes of disparities in maternal- and infant-mortality rates.” That the United States has not done so is a violation of the international human rights treaty, she says.
This is important for many reasons, one of which is the dramatic effect that society and systemic racism have on a pregnant person's "toxic physiological stress levels." This stress increases the chances for hypertension, pre-eclampsia, and other dangerous pregnancy complications, and it is exacerbated by the pervasive, systemic racial bias embedded in the United States' health care system. Racial bias, discrimination, and the toll it takes on women of color throughout their lives and pregnancy contributes to increased maternal complications across all class and education levels.
Even when controlling for income and education, African-American women had the highest allostatic load scores — an algorithmic measurement of stress-associated body chemicals and their cumulative effect on the body’s systems — higher than white women and black men. ...Though it seemed radical 25 years ago, few in the field now dispute that the black-white disparity in the deaths of babies is related not to the genetics of race but to the lived experience of race in this country.
Community care systems that incorporate the medical and personal support of doulas and midwives have proven to increase black women's chances at a healthy pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum experience.
"One of the most important roles that doulas play is as an advocate in the medical system for their clients." A doula may sometimes be the only person consistently present with the mom-to-be during her birth experience, too. One study of 2,400 women found that "more than a quarter of black women meet their birth attendants for the first time during childbirth, compared with 18 percent of white women."
Doulas “are a critical piece of the puzzle in the crisis of premature birth, infant and maternal mortality in black women.”
Rachel Zaslow, a midwife and doula in Charlottesville, Virginia established Sisters Keeper--a collective of 45 black and Latina doulas in Charlottesville. They offer free birthing services to women of color.
'The doula model is very similar to the community health worker model that’s being used a lot, and successfully, throughout the global South,' Zaslow says. 'For me, when it comes to maternal health, the answer is almost always some form of community health worker.' Since 2015, the Sisters Keeper doulas have attended about 300 births — with no maternal deaths and only one infant death among them.
An analysis of a similar program in New York City showed that, over a five-year period, moms receiving the support of the doula program experience half as many preterm and low-weight babies compared to other community members.
Friday, March 23, 2018
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.
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
The Hill (Mar. 20, 2018): Judge blocks Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks, by Rebecca Savransky:
The Gestational Age Act, signed into law by Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant on March 19, has already been judicially blocked.
The law bans abortions after 15 weeks and is the toughest restriction on abortion in the nation.
In response to the legislation, Mississippi's only abortion clinic sued, and U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves granted a temporary restraining order on Tuesday, March 20.
Mississippi was already one of the toughest states in which to receive an abortion before the new law was signed. The state requires people seeking abortions to receive counseling and to wait 24 hours before receiving the procedure.
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
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.
Friday, February 23, 2018
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.
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
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."
Tuesday, February 13, 2018
Cosmopolitan (Feb. 6, 2018): Planned Parenthood Will Launch 10 New Video Chat Abortion Locations in 2018, by Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy:
A safe, early-pregnancy abortion option has been making waves across the United States since Planned Parenthood began its telemedicine abortion pilot program in Iowa in 2008.
Telemedicine abortions enable those seeking a pregnancy termination to meet with a nurse in a local clinic where both patient and nurse loop in an abortion-providing doctor via video chat. The doctor consults with the patient to determine that they are a good candidate for early pregnancy termination and then authorizes the nurse to dispense two small pills to the patient. The patient takes the first pill in the office in the presence of the nurse and doctor and then later takes the second pill at home. The pregnancy is terminated within a day or two.
These medications have become known at "the abortion pill" and include both mifepristone and misoprostol, which work together first to block the hormones a woman's body needs to sustain a pregnancy and then to empty her uterus. The FDA-approved abortion pills are for ending pregnancies less than 10 weeks along. A study of Planned Parenthood's telemedicine pilot program found that access to telemedicine abortions decreased second-trimester abortions throughout the state. Second-term abortions require surgical procedures and can carry increased risks.
Although abortion is legal in all 50 states, many states have tightened their restrictions on abortion access, making it very difficult for a person facing an unwanted pregnancy to safely terminate it. Restrictions such as mandatory waiting periods and insurance limitations are compounded in states with very few clinics that can perform abortions. In fact, about 90% of counties in the U.S. do not have an abortion provider.
Telemedicine allows a patient to meet with an abortion provider even if she doesn’t live near one. Instead of driving long distances, women can go to a closer clinic or Planned Parenthood and video-chat a live, somewhere-in-state abortion provider who prescribes and (virtually, via on-site clinic staff) hands over the meds. “There is no increased risk of complications with a telemedicine visit,” says Daniel Grossman, MD, director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health at the UCSF Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health. He led a groundbreaking study published last fall that found telemedicine abortions are just as safe as those in which a woman swallows mifepristone in the same room as a physician.
While mifepristone has so far demonstrated a highly-safe success rate (its rates of complications are fewer than most common pain relievers), it cannot be obtained over-the-counter; instead a clinic, hospital, or doctor's office must dispense it.
Some states will allow a pregnant person to video chat with a doctor from her home and then receive both pills in the mail. Since 2008, though, 19 states have challenged the expansion of telemedicine abortions by passing laws that specifically require mifepristone to be dispensed "in the physical presence of the prescribing clinician."
Planned Parenthood continues to expand its telemedicine program despite the challenges. It has now established 24 telemedicine locations in the nation and plans to add at least 10 additional locations--some in new states--throughout this year.
To find out if telemedicine abortion is available in your area, call the national Planned Parenthood hotline at 800-230-PLAN.
February 13, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Anti-Choice Movement, Current Affairs, In the Media, Medical News, Politics, Pregnancy & Childbirth, Pro-Choice Movement, Reproductive Health & Safety | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, February 12, 2018
CUNY Law's Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic Co-Hosting Symposium on Poverty and Women in the U.S.
On February 27, 2018, the Center for Reproductive Rights, CUNY Law's Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic, NYU Law, and others will host a symposium titled "American Poverty and Gender: Government Control and Neglect of Women Living in Poverty."
After an opening keynote from Dr. Khiara Bridges, author of The Poverty of Privacy Rights, a panel of experts will address issues ranging from reproductive justice and maternal health to criminalization and its impact on women.
The moderated discussion follows the December 2017 fact-finding mission to the United States by Professor Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. This forum aims to address the particular ways poverty affects women in the United States from an intersectional perspective considering gender, poverty, and race.
"American Poverty and Gender" is free and open to the public. It it will take place at NYU's Vanderbilt Hall on Tuesday, February 27, 2018 from 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM.
Wednesday, February 7, 2018
Rewire (Jan. 25, 2018): For Nonbinary Parents, Giving Birth Can Be Especially Fraught, by S.E. Smith
Pregnancy and childbirth are vulnerable times in any parent's life. Add to that the highly gendered-status of both pregnancy and birth, and trans and non-binary parents are finding it difficult to locate an inclusive community with educated medical staff as they, too, enter childrearing chapters.
With the trans community, conversations about birth and parenting are few and far between and often fraught with discomfort. Now, though, more parents-to-be identify as trans men or somewhere else on the non-binary spectrum of gender identity. And the medical community has not yet caught up. "And, as in any area of reproductive health-care services, this isn’t simply a matter of gender: Race, class, and geography can play a huge role in whether non-binary people are able to access inclusive, affirming birth care."
Gender-affirming care--including asking for a patient's pronouns with their name, using gender-affirming language, and regularly seeking consent before performing examinations, particularly those that require a medical professional to touch the patient's genitalia--is important. When it is absent, patients report both physical and psychological trauma.
Many in the trans and non-binary communities are increasingly seeking home births with gender-affirming midwives in order to create the most comfortable environments for themselves. Midwifery can be prohibitively expensive though, and insurance rarely covers it. So for others, a hospital may be the safest or the only choice. Advocates say that hospitals and birth collectives would do well to invest in specialized training for medical providers "to ensure that everyone at a facility is trans-competent, or working on getting there."
This issue is likely to amplify in coming years with a more visible nonbinary community, as well as a more active movement to reframe the way we look at pregnancy and birthing. Trans people—binary and otherwise—are some of the biggest stakeholders in the conversation, and they’re contributing with inclusive birthing classes and provider training in addition to working as care providers themselves.
The trans and non-binary communities call on leaders within the medical community to initiate changes from the inside, including re-training initiatives and reframing core educational documents for inclusivity.
Thursday, November 30, 2017
Mother Jones (Nov. 29, 2017): Internal Emails Reveal How the Trump Administration Blocks Abortions for Migrant Teens, by Hannah Levintova and Pema Levy:
Jane Doe isn't the only teenage immigrant the Trump administration has tried to prevent from obtaining an abortion.
While the ACLU represented Doe in her ultimately successfully case to get an abortion, they continue to fight a class-action for other similarly-situation teens. These teens are pregnant and in government custody with the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within the Department of Health and Human Services. The ORR contracts with local shelters to house the minors.
The director of the ORR, Scott Lloyd, is an anti-abortion activist who has "changed ORR policy to prevent pregnant teens at these shelters from obtaining abortions."
As part of the ongoing lawsuit, the ACLU has obtained government emails showing the lengths to which the current administration will go to prevent an unaccompanied minor from seeking an abortion.
For example, ORR temporarily halted a medication abortion for one pregnant minor halfway through the procedure. In another case, ORR suggested that a pregnant minor scheduled for discharge from the shelter not be released until she had been counseled against receiving an abortion.
The ACLU says the government's efforts amount to a violation of the minors' Constitutional rights and defy Supreme Court precedent such as Roe v. Wade, which states the government cannot ban abortion. "They are effectively banning abortion for Jane Doe. I am still in shock that this is happening,” says Brigitte Amiri, a lead attorney for the ACLU.
One of the emails, published here, includes a redacted sender questioning whether the ORR's methods of approving (or not approving) a minor's pursuit of a judicial bypass are legal. A judicial bypass allows a minor who would otherwise need a guardian's permission for an abortion to get a court's approval to seek and receive an abortion without such parental or guardian permission.
The redacted email sender says:
My understanding is that the judicial bypass was created specifically so that the young lady does not need approval from her guardian (in our case the Director of ORR) to move forward with a term of pregnancy. Has this policy been vetted by your legal department? I anticipate there would be legal challenges to this policy.
Minors represented in this case have received judicial bypasses for their abortions from the courts, however the emails show that ORR nevertheless instructed the shelters not to allow it. It's unclear how those situations were resolved.
The release of these emails makes the government's targeted policies very clear, as the ACLU continues to fight for the Constitutional rights of unaccompanied and undocumented minors.
Friday, November 17, 2017
The New York Times (Nov. 10, 2017): Facebook is Ignoring Anti-Abortion Fake News, by Rossalyn Warren
As Facebook addresses the role of "fake news" on its platform, largely in relation to the 2016 election and Russian political propaganda, another potentially more difficult concern arises. The spread of false reproductive rights and health news is widespread and often harder for Facebook to spot (and manage).
Facebook’s current initiatives to crack down on fake news can, theoretically, be applicable to misinformation on other issues. However, there are several human and technical barriers that prevent misinformation about reproductive rights from being identified, checked and removed at the same — already slow — rate as other misleading stories.
Identifying a fake news sources is not always straightforward. The social media giant says it often targets "spoof" sites that mimic legitimate news sources. But misleading anti-abortion sites can be hazier to identify. They generally publish original pieces, but often alongside inaccurate facts or with poor sourcing, which "helps blur the line between what’s considered a news blog and 'fake news.'"
Facebook aims to limit fake news by making it more difficult for these sources to buy ads or generate spam. "Most false news is financially motivated," Facebook says. This is not often the case with anti-abortion advocates, though, who are overwhelmingly driven by strong religious or political beliefs. The goal isn't profit but persuasion.
Many are concerned that misinformation regarding reproductive rights and abortion in particular may detrimentally affect current political movements. Ireland plans to hold a referendum next year regarding whether to lessen the country's strict abortion regulations. Pro-choice advocates are worried that the rapid spread of abortion-related misinformation on Facebook (like a purported causal link between abortion and breast cancer) may affect the vote.
Facebook has yet, though, to directly address concerns over this type of scientific misinformation in the same way they have begun to address fake news about last year's election.
November 17, 2017 in Abortion, Anti-Choice Movement, Culture, Current Affairs, In the Media, Politics, Pro-Choice Movement, Religion, Religion and Reproductive Rights, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, November 14, 2017
Supreme court agrees to hear antiabortion challenge to California disclosure law for pregnancy centers
Los Angeles Times (Nov. 13, 2017): Supreme court agrees to hear antiabortion challenge to California disclosure law for pregnancy centers, by David G. Savage:
The Supreme Court has granted certiorari to hear NIFLA vs. Becerra, in which an anti-abortion group challenges a California law that requires crisis pregnancy centers to notify patients that the state offers contraception and abortion services.
The case centers on the Reproductive FACT Act, which requires pregnancy centers to disclose whether they have a medical license and whether medical professionals are available. The law also requires centers to post a notice in the waiting room that reads: "California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services, including all FDA-approved methods of contraception, pre-natal care and abortion."
California lawmakers passed the disclosure law two years ago after concluding as many as 200 pregnancy centers in the state sometimes used “intentionally deceptive advertising and counseling practices that often confuse, misinform and even intimidate women” about their options for medical care.
The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) represents 110 pregnancy centers in California that all claim the disclosure provision violates their free speech as "compelled speech." Such a disclosure, they claim, conflicts with their faith-based goal of encouraging childbirth and preventing abortion.
The Californian pregnancy centers initially lost their case under three federal district judges. On appeal, the 9th Circuit Court upheld the lower court's decision. Last month, however, a judge in Riverside County ruled that the law violated the free-speech provisions of California's own state Constitution.
California's Attorney General Xavier Becerra stands by the disclosure provision and its intent to provide women accurate information about their health care options.
It takes five justices for a majority opinion, and many expect the Court's decision to turn on the vote of Justice Kennedy.
November 14, 2017 in Abortion, Anti-Choice Movement, Current Affairs, In the Courts, In the Media, Politics, Religion, Religion and Reproductive Rights, State and Local News, State Legislatures, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, November 6, 2017
San Antonio Current (Nov. 2, 2017): Texas' Ban on Safe Abortion Procedure Goes to Court, by Alex Zielinski
The trial fighting Texas' latest anti-abortion law, Senate Bill 8, began last week. Whole Woman's Health sued Texas in July after the governor signed SB 8 into law.
SB 8 would completely prohibit dilation and evacuation (D&E) abortion procedures, require clinics to bury the remains of any abortion, and prohibit hospitals from donating aborted fetal tissue to medical research.
The current lawsuit, though, only challenges the ban on D&E abortions. Dilation and evacuation abortions are considered one of the safest procedures for abortions after 13 weeks. The ban does not allow for exceptions in the cases of rape or incest. The only alternatives to a D&E procedure for a woman seeking an abortion are either inducing labor and forcing delivery of the fetus or a surgery similar to a hysterectomy. Both options are risky and expensive.
In August, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel temporarily blocked the law from going into effect on September 1. On November 2, the plaintiffs returned to Judge Yeakel's courtroom to request the bill's D&E ban be permanently blocked.
Yeakel has thus far supported a woman's constitutionally-protected right to abortion, saying: "The state cannot pursue its interest in a way that denies a woman her constitutionally protected rights to terminate a pregnancy before the fetus is viable."
Monday, October 23, 2017
New York Daily News (Oct. 16, 2107): Councilman to introduce bill to protect employees from discrimination when it comes to reproductive health, by Jillian Jorgensen:
New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams plans to introduce a bill to prohibit workplace discrimination based on reproductive decisions in the wake of Trump's recent health care initiatives.
This proposal follows the "Boss Bill," currently before the state legislature, which aims to guarantee women access to medical procedures and medicine such as fertility treatments, contraceptives, and abortion.
The bill is co-sponsored by several women council members, including the chair of the Committee on Women's Issues, Laurie Cumbo (D-Brooklyn) and co-chair of the Women's Caucus Helen Rosenthal (D-Manhattan).
The bill would modify the city’s Human Rights Law to protect against employment discrimination based on “sexual and reproductive health decisions.”
That would include fertility treatments, family planning services and counseling, birth control drugs and supplies, emergency contraception, sterilization, pregnancy tests, abortions and HIV testing and counseling.
Saturday, October 7, 2017
Washington Post (Oct. 6, 2017): Trump administration narrows Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, by Juliet Eilperin, Amy Goldstein and William Wan:
In the next move on Trump's path to dismantle as many Obama-administration initiatives as possible, the Trump administration issued a rule today that many predict will leave hundreds of thousand of women without free access to contraceptives.
The Health and Human Services Department now allows a much wider group of employers and insurers to exempt themselves from covering birth control on religious or moral grounds. Although the administration estimates that "99.9%" of women will still receive free birth control through their insurance, the only basis of that estimate is the finite number of lawsuits that have been filed since Obama introduced the contraceptive mandate provision in 2012. Officials do not know, however, how many employers denied contraceptive coverage on "religious" or "moral" grounds before the ACA, and so an accurate number of women who may lose coverage cannot yet be estimated.
In 2014, the Supreme Court heard the Hobby Lobby case in which the Christian owners of the Hobby Lobby chain craft store objected to providing certain forms of birth control. The court ruled it illegal to impose the provision on "closely held corporations," the definition of which is sure to widen under Trump's provision.
Senior Justice Department officials said the guidance was merely meant to offer interpretation and clarification of existing law. But the interpretation seemed to be particularly favorable to religious entities, possibly at the expense of women, LGBT people and others.
The guidance, for example, said the ACA contraceptive mandate “substantially burdens” employers’ free practice of religion by requiring them to provide insurance coverage for contraceptive drugs in violation of their religious of beliefs or face significant fines.
This new rule will almost certainly prompt fresh litigation against the Trump administration, likely on the grounds of sex discrimination--as the mandate disproportionately affects women--and religious discrimination based on the argument that these exceptions enable employers to impose their religious beliefs on their employees.
Thursday, October 5, 2017
UN Ambassador Flounders to Explain U.S. Vote Against Rebuking the Use of the Death Penalty to Target LGBTQ People
Think Progress (Oct. 4, 2017): Haley tries, fails to explain UN vote against rebuking use of death penalty to target LGBTQ people, by Zack Ford:
The United Nations approved a resolution on Friday, September 29 condemning the use of the death penalty in a discriminatory manner. The text of the resolution called for the death penalty to be banned "as a sanction for specific forms of conduct, such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relations."
The United States, however, voted against the resolution, along with Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Only 13 out of 47 countries on the Human Rights Council voted against it.
A spokesperson for the State Department cited "broader concerns" about the resolution as the reason for the negative vote, specifying disagreement with the resolution's "approach in condemning the death penalty in all circumstances." UN Ambassador Nikki Haley took to twitter to claim that the vote was not one for "the death penalty for gay people," claiming that Friday's vote was the same as the U.S.'s vote on the same issue under the Obama administration. In 2014, however, the Obama administration abstained from the death penalty resolution, which is distinct from actively voting "no." Additionally, the language regarding same-sex relationships was a new addition to the resolution.
The rest of the resolution’s calls to action refer to how the death penalty is implemented, not whether it should be. It simply calls upon states that have not yet abolished the death penalty to ensure that it is not applied in a discriminatory way and to take all possible precautions to protect the civil rights of people who are facing that punishment.
The controversy surrounding this vote highlights the United States' isolation on the death penalty compared to the rest of the democratized world. Many studies have found the death penalty to be applied in a discriminatory manner across the world where it is still implemented, especially against racial minorities and economically-vulnerable people. In the U.S., 55% of those awaiting execution today are people of color, according to the ACLU.
While the resolution encouraged countries to sign a protocol that aims at abolishing the death penalty, it did not require it.
Friday, September 22, 2017
Huffington Post (Sept. 17, 2017): Breastfeeding Behind Bars: Do All Moms Deserve the Right?, by Kimberly Seals Allers
33-year-old Monique Hidalgo is mom to a 5-week old baby. Her child's father brings their infant to visit her on the weekends, as Hidalgo is also an inmate at a New Mexican state prison. Due to her incarceration, Hidalgo was refused contact with her newborn when she wanted to breastfeed her. She was also denied access to a breast pump that would've allowed her to provide milk for her baby from behind bars.
Last month, though, a Sante Fe judge ruled that the Corrections Department policy denying incarcerated mothers their right to breastfeed was unconstitutional. The judge ordered that Hidalgo be able to breastfeed her child during visits and also ordered that she receive access to an electric pump.
"While there have been many cases, both in federal and state court, affirming a woman’s right to breastfeed in a public place or at work, incarcerated women have largely been left out of this conversation,” said Amber Fayerberg, Ms. Hidalgo’s lead counsel, at Freedman Boyd Hollander Goldberg Urias & Ward, whose firm is working the case pro-bono. “This case acknowledges that incarcerated women are not just “inmates,” but women and, often, mothers,” Fayerberg said in an email interview.
Prisons are generally punitive over rehabilitative when it comes to incarcerated parents dealing with incarceration. Society rarely accounts for the circumstances that led to a parent's imprisonment, including poverty and racism. An incarcerated mother is deemed a "bad mom" in order to justify stripping her of the opportunity to maintain important, biological connections with her child like breastfeeding.
Women's advocates highlight that, in an effort to punish mothers, policies like those that forbid breastfeeding are actually punishing the infants as well, depriving them not only of their mother, but also of the benefits associated with breastfeeding. Experts also find that enabling the mother-baby connection may be a beneficial way to keep a mother connected to her family and community, therefore increasing her chances of successful re-integration and discouraging recidivism.
Reproductive justice is scarcely considered with incarcerated women in mind, however, Democratic senators have recently introduced positive legislation. Senator Corey Booker (D-NJ) introduced The Dignity for Incarcerated Women's Act. The bill would prohibit federal prisons from shackling pregnant women or placing them in solitary confinement, require federal prisons to provide free tampons and pads for women, and would extend visiting hours for inmates and their children.
Even as we make progress, though, the question remains: which aspects of the mother-child connection are a right versus a privilege? When the early months of an infant's life are so critical to future development, shouldn't minimizing the separation of incarcerated mothers and their children be a societal goal rather than a constitutional battle?
Thursday, July 13, 2017
Human Rights Watch (July 10, 2017): Contraception is Lifesaving but Often Out of Reach, by Nisha Varia
This week, the Family Planning Summit met in London. The goal of this annual meeting is to bring governments, donors, and civil society together to discuss progress and future goals in expanding access to modern contraception for millions of women globally.
Family planning and effective contraception saves lives.
Complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the second leading cause of death for adolescents ages 15 to 19 globally and cause 800 women and girls to die each day. The World Health Organization estimates that at least 22,000 women die from abortion-related complications each year.
This year, many lobbied for the Summit to include conversations on the effects of the Trump administration's reimplementation of the "Global Gag Rule." The controversial policy prohibits foreign nongovernmental organizations from receiving any U.S. health funding if they use funds from any source to provide information about abortions, advocate for or provide abortions.
The policy affects $8.8 billion of foreign assistance. The anticipated consequences of the Gag Rule include increases in unplanned pregnancies and dangerous abortions as well as a higher maternal death rate.
Vox (Jun. 29, 2017): California decided it was tired of women bleeding to death in childbirth, by Julia Belluz:
At the same time the global maternal death rate fell by nearly 44 percent, between 2000 and 2014, the United States watched its maternal mortality rate skyrocket 27 percent. Maternal mortality refers to "the death of a mother from pregnancy-related complications while she's carrying or within 42 days after birth." Childbirth is more dangerous in the U.S. than any other wealthy nation. The reason? The U.S. does not value its women.
The United States is in the company of only 12 other countries whose maternal mortality rates have actually increased in recent years, including North Korea and Zimbabwe.
Researchers and health care advocates argue that a high maternal death rate is a reflection of how that culture views its women.
[In the U.S.,] policies and funding dollars tend to focus on babies, not the women who bring them into the world. For example, Medicaid, the government health insurance program for low-income Americans, will only cover women during and shortly after pregnancy.
Texas, having rejected Medicaid expansion and closed the majority of its Planned Parenthood clinics, has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world. California, however, has proven to be an exception within the nation. The California maternal mortality rate has steadily decreased over the same time that the rest of the nation's has risen, thanks in large part to the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative (CMQCC).
60% of maternal deaths are preventable and the complications that cause them should be anticipated. The CMQCC finds that even within an imperfect health care system, death from childbirth need not be an inevitability. Maternal deaths in the U.S. often result from common complications like hemorrhaging and preeclampsia. The CMQCC has enacted simple, lifesaving procedures over the last decade to reduce the number of unnecessary maternal deaths. And, they're working.
First, they aimed to lower the number of unnecessary C-sections performed. Cesarian sections are often prematurely offered by obstetricians who are short on time. The procedure can leave mothers with internal scar tissue that ultimately makes future pregnancies more dangerous by increasing the mother's risk of hemorrhaging.
As many maternal deaths are a result of hemorrhaging--a mother can bleed to death within five minutes--doctors set out to prepare every delivery room in hospitals participating in their program with a "hemorrhage cart," equipped with everything necessary to handle a bleeding problem the moment it begins.
In a recent study, researchers found a 21 percent reduction in severe complications related to hemorrhages in the hospitals participating in CMQCC's program. Hospitals not participating in the program saw only a one percent reduction.
California has demonstrated that even in our messy and imperfect health care system, progress is possible. They’ve shown the rest of the country what happens when people care about and organize around women’s health. Policymakers owe it to the 4 million babies born in the US each year, and their mothers, to figure out how to bring that success to families across the country.
How the current health care debate and the resulting volatility of the insurance market will affect the United States' maternal mortality rate going forward remains to be seen.