Friday, July 11, 2008

Obama and the "Abortion Minefield"

Politico: Obama walks the abortion minefield, by Carrie Budoff Brown:

For the past week, some activists in the abortion rights community have been trying to figure out why Barack Obama, a Democrat praised for his strong defense of reproductive rights, appeared to be turning soft.

Those who work on the front lines of the abortion debate couldn’t quite believe what they were hearing: Obama, in an interview with a Christian magazine, seemed to reject a mental health exception to the ban on late-term abortions. They feared that Obama, like Democrat John Kerry in 2004, was adopting a view favored by abortion opponents to appeal to conservatives.

After days of examining his initial comments and a subsequent clarification that he supports a mental health exception — as long as the woman suffers a diagnosed illness and is not just “feeling blue” — some activists are satisfied, while others are far from it or just plain confused.

July 11, 2008 in 2008 Presidential Campaign, Abortion, Politics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Penelope Andrews on Recognition of Polygamous Marriages in South Africa

Pennyandrews07 Penelope Andrews (CUNY/Valparaiso) has posted 'Big Love?' The Recognition of Customary Marriages in South Africa on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

This Comment contextualizes the issue of polygamous marriages within the South African constitutional paradigm, one committed unequivocally to the principle of equality. This Comment analyzes how South African law, European in origin, had to incorporate the laws and institutions of indigenous communities within the national legal framework, as part of the overall transformative legal project underway in the country since 1994. By focusing on the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act, this Comment examines such incorporation, while questioning its effect on the overall project of constitutionalism, human rights, and equality.

July 11, 2008 in Culture, International, Scholarship and Research | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

World Bank Urges Improved Access to Contraception

Globe Reuters: World Bank urges more focus on contraception:

More emphasis is needed on family planning issues in poor countries, the World Bank said on Thursday, citing new data that it said showed 51 million unplanned pregnancies occur because women lack access to contraceptives.

In a report released ahead of World Population Day on Friday, the World Bank said another 25 million pregnancies in developing countries occur because contraceptives are incorrectly used or because birth control measures fail.

July 10, 2008 in Contraception, International | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Obama's Pro-Choice Stance Complicates His Efforts to Appeal to Evangicals

Obama_smile CBS News: Obama's Call For Unity Faces Abortion Test, by Brian Montopoli:

...Obama has made a point of reaching out to evangelicals during his presidential campaign, a group that Democrats have largely ceded to Republicans in recent years. He has come out in favor of faith-based programs and stressed social justice issues that appeal to evangelicals in his speeches. There is even a radio ad running on Christian stations highlighting Obama's religious rhetoric, including statements like "I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth."

Mahoney's media offensive, which CBN's David Brody writes "represents the broader feelings with many conservative Evangelical groups," reflects an effort to counter Obama's appeals by spotlighting his stance in favor of abortion rights, which is at odds with the anti-abortion beliefs of many of the evangelicals he is now courting....

I found this part of the article highly misleading:

Obama has come under some pressure from Sojourners founder Jim Wallis and others to consider what's known as an abortion reduction agenda. Anti-abortion voters might be more willing to look past Obama's views in favor of abortion rights, some believe, if the candidate were to embark on a serious effort to reduce the number of abortions performed in America each year.

But the Obama campaign has resisted calls to adopt an aggressive abortion reduction agenda, possibly over fears that doing so could alienate voters - among them former Hillary Clinton backers - turned off by what they perceive as anything less than a total commitment to the abortion rights position.

This implies that pro-choice voters (including all those "former Hillary Clinton backers"), as well as the Obama campaign, oppose efforts to reduce abortions. 

To the contrary, it is pro-choice Democrats who support the most effective strategies to reduce unintended pregnancies.  Granted, pro-choice advocates often prefer to focus not just on abortion, but on the the underlying social problem, unintended pregnancy.  If we "reduce abortions" simply by preventing or dissuading pregnant women from getting them, without reducing unintended pregnancy, we haven't addressed the underlying social problem at all. 

Obama and other Democrats have promoted legislation aimed directly at reducing unintended pregnancy by increasing access to birth control, supporting comprehensive sexuality education, and other efforts.  Obama is a lead co-sponsor of the Prevention First Act, which proposes a number of preventive-health and education measures designed to reduce unintended pregnancies.  This kind of legislation has far more promise than anything Republicans have put forward.


July 10, 2008 in 2008 Presidential Campaign, Abortion, Politics, Religion and Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Planned Parenthood Action Fund Endorses Obama

On the heels of Barack Obama's recent equivocations on abortion and sexuality education (here and here), Planned Parenthood Action Fund yesterday endorsed Obama, only the second time the organization has endorsed a presidential candidate.  From the PPAF website:Ppaflogo_2

The Planned Parenthood Action Fund is very excited to officially endorse Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) for president of the United States. The board of the national Planned Parenthood Action Fund voted unanimously last month to recommend endorsing Sen. Obama, a decision ratified by Planned Parenthood’s local action organizations, which represent the interests of all 100 Planned Parenthood affiliates.

"The Planned Parenthood Action Fund is proud to endorse Barack Obama for president of the United States," said Action Fund President Cecile Richards. "He is a passionate advocate for women's rights and has a long and consistent record of standing up for women's health care. As president, he will improve access to quality health care for women, support and protect a woman's right to choose, support comprehensive sex education to keep our young people healthy and safe, and invest in prevention programs, including family planning services and breast cancer screenings."

Read the press release.

July 8, 2008 in 2008 Presidential Campaign, Politics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Women's E-News Examines Media Coverage of Teen "Pregnancy Pact"

Women's E-News, Pregnancy Pact Frenzy Missed Real Teen' Story, by Shelia Gibbons:

The explosion of media interest in June in the so-called "pregnancy pact" of 17 students at Gloucester High School has left many wondering what society in general, and these teens in particular, consider appropriate social and sexual choices for them and others their age....Reading_newspaper

What the ongoing reporting eventually did reveal were the fault lines running through the ground on which Gloucester school and city officials, health care professionals and the students stand with regard to teen pregnancy and reproductive health.

What started as the national media's breathless reporting about a teen pregnancy clique led to more sober pieces explaining that school funding cuts had eliminated Gloucester High's sexuality education classes (; that the school forbids the distribution of condoms and other contraception without parental consent, a rule that prompted the school's doctor and nurse to resign in protest in May (Reuters); and that the nearest clinic where teens can obtain birth control is 20 miles away (


School officials were quick to deny that the school's sex ed and contraception policies were a factor here, arguing that (regardless of whether there was a pact) these teens wanted to become pregnant and therefore would have shunned contraception, even were it more readily available.  But even if most of these teens welcomed their pregnancy, this response misconstrues sexuality education as simply shoving contraception at teenagers.  Comprehensive sex ed does much more than that, including teaching teenagers about responsible sexual behavior and self-respect.  Had the school promoted and modeled a healthier attitude toward sexuality, these girls might not have been so naive about sex and pregnancy.

July 8, 2008 in In the Media, Pregnancy & Childbirth, Sexuality Education, Teenagers and Children | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sales Drop for Cervical Cancer Vaccine Gardasil

The Wall Street Journal: Merck Buffeted by Analyst Report, by Avery Johnson:

Graph Merck & Co.'s shares dropped 4.8% after an analyst report questioned whether sales of the cervical-cancer vaccine Gardasil have met Wall Street estimates for the second quarter.

UBS pharmaceuticals analyst Roopesh Patel cut his rating on the Whitehouse Station, N.J., drug maker, saying U.S. Gardasil sales may have fallen about $50 million short of expectations.

July 8, 2008 in Medical News, Miscellaneous, Sexually Transmitted Disease | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 7, 2008

Study Shows Men's Age Affects Success of Pregnancy

Medical News Today: Man's Age Affects Pregnancy Success And Miscarriage Rate In Couples With Fertility Problems, by Catharine Paddock:

Caduceus_2 Researchers in France studying over 12,000 couples with fertility problems found that when the man was over 35 pregnancy rates fell and perhaps more surprisingly, miscarriage rates rose, leading them to conclude that the age of the father was just as important as the age of the mother in reaching a successful pregnancy.

The findings are being presented today, Monday 7th July, at the 24th annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) in Barcelona, Spain, by lead investigator Dr Stephanie Belloc, of the Eylau Centre for Assisted Reproduction in Paris, France.

July 7, 2008 in Assisted Reproduction, Fertility, Medical News, Men and Reproduction, Pregnancy & Childbirth | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Obama Explains Remarks on "Mental Distress" and Abortion

Following recent controversial remarks in Relevant Magazine (see previous post) that seemed to dismiss the need for a mental health exception for abortion, Senator Obama clarified those comments for reporters.  Frank James of The Swamp has posted the transcript.

The Swamp (Chicago Tribune), Obama Backs Late, Mental-Health Abortion, by Frank James:

Here's a transcript of the interchange as provided by the campaign.

Reporter: You said that mental distress shouldn't be a reason for late-term abortion?

Obama: "My only point is this -- historically I have been a strong believer in a women's right to choose with her doctor, her pastor and her family. And it is ..I have consistently been saying that you have to have a health exception on many significant restrictions or bans on abortions including late-term abortions.

In the past there has been some fear on the part of people who, not only people who are anti-abortion, but people who may be in the middle, that that means that if a woman just doesn't feel good then that is an exception. That's never been the case.

I don't think that is how it has been interpreted. My only point is that in an area like partial-birth abortion having a mental, having a health exception can be defined rigorously. It can be defined through physical health, It can be defined by serious clinical mental-health diseases. It is not just a matter of feeling blue. I don't think that's how pro-choice folks have interpreted it. I don't think that's how the courts have interpreted it and I think that's important to emphasize and understand."

According to Linda Douglass, the Obama campaign's senior spokesperson, the senator from Illinois was making a distinction in the magazine interview between medically diagnosed mental illness and the kind of mental distress that an unwanted pregnancy causes many a pregnant mother.

"Mental distress is not an illness." Douglass said. "He absolutely believes and has always said there has to be a health exception for serious physical and mental illness."

Here is Jan Greenburg's response to Obama's clarification.  Greenburg's main point is that Obama's refusal to include "mental distress" is more limiting than the Supreme Court's articulation of a health exception in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton:

This standard has long been understood to require less than "serious clinical mental health disease."  Women today don't have to show they are suffering from a "serious clinical mental health disease" or "mental illness" before getting an abortion post-viability, as Obama now says is appropriate.

It's hard to know what Obama means by all of these terms, though.  Certainly, the notion that women get late abortions because they are "blue" echoes accusations that anti-choice advocates have hurled for decades, namely that women seek late abortion for trivial reasons.  It would be nice to see Obama attack that accusation directly.  It would also be reassuring to hear him reaffirm his support for the Freedom of Choice Act which, as Greenburg points out, includes an unqualified exception for health-protective, post-viability abortions.

July 6, 2008 in 2008 Presidential Campaign, Abortion, Politics | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Does Obama Object to a Mental Health Exception for Late Abortions?

Relevant Magazine has published A Q&A with Barack Obama on its website.  The magazine invited readers to submit questions.  According to the magazine, "Most of the questions submitted centered on Obama’s personal faith and abortion.... He aimed to clarify his position on late-trimester abortions and addressed rumors surrounding his controversial vote on the 'born alive' bill."

During the Q&A, Obama was asked to clarify his position on "
third-trimester and partial-birth abortions."  He responded, in part:

...I think it’s entirely appropriate for states to restrict or even prohibit late-term abortions as long as there is a strict, well-defined exception for the health of the mother. Now, I don’t think that “mental distress” qualifies as the health of the mother. I think it has to be a serious physical issue that arises in pregnancy, where there are real, significant problems to the mother carrying that child to term. Otherwise, as long as there is such a medical exception in place, I think we can prohibit late-term abortions.

This an unfortunate comment coming from a pro-choice candidate.  Abortions in the third trimester are rare (accounting for less than 1% of abortions in the United States).  But compelling mental health concerns, no less than physical concerns, account for the need for late abortions.  For example, when women seek abortions in the late stages of pregnancy, it is often because they are carrying a wanted pregnancy and have discovered that the fetus has a severe anomaly.  Should a woman be forced to carry to term a fetus that has Tay Sachs disease?  Imagine her daily life for those remaining weeks, having strangers congratulate her, ask her whether she's having a boy or girl, what she plans to name her baby.  Imagine her going through hours of labor and giving birth in the delivery ward, among all the ecstatic new parents.  Is this woman's situation not "significant" enough to merit an abortion?

Obama's answer seems to suggest that mental health issues arising from a pregnancy aren't "real."  Dismissive attitudes toward mental health are prevalent in the abortion context (although one would not expect Obama to share them). Disregard for the mental health of women seeking abortions clashes notably with the progress made by advocates seeking parity in the treatment of mental health issues.  As Cynthia Dailard writes in a 1999 article, Abortion Restrictions and the Drive for Mental Health Parity: A Conflict in Values? (Guttmacher Institute):

[R]ecent actions beg the question of why providing equitable treatment for people with mental illness is gaining currency in virtually every public policy context except abortion, where it is fast losing ground.

Obama was also asked how he planned to achieve "a reduction in the number of abortions under your administration."  He responded:

I think we know that abortions rise when unwanted pregnancies rise. So, if we are continuing what has been a promising trend in the reduction of teen pregnancies, through education and abstinence education giving good information to teenagers. That is important—emphasizing the sacredness of sexual behavior to our children. I think that’s something that we can encourage. I think encouraging adoptions in a significant way.

Clearly, on abortion as on so many other issues, Obama is conscious of the need to appeal to a broader swath of voters in the general election. But, as with his brushing aside of pregnant women's mental health concerns, it is disheartening to see him parrot the ineffective responses to the problem of unintended pregnancy, such as abstinence education, that conservatives have championed.

July 5, 2008 in 2008 Presidential Campaign, Abortion, Politics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, July 4, 2008

Researchers Closer to Predicting Pregnancy from IVF

San Jose Mercury News: Predicting pregnancy odds, by Vianna Davila:

Stanford University researchers said they are one step closer to accurately predicting if in vitro fertilization will result in pregnancy, according to a study released Tuesday.

The study, published in the Public Library of Science journal, identifies factors that will indicate with 70 percent accuracy the chances of pregnancy after a single round of in vitro fertilization, or IVF.

July 4, 2008 in Assisted Reproduction, Pregnancy & Childbirth | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Women Cite Bad Economy as Reason for Abortions

ABC News: Women Say Economy Factors in Abortions:Economy

Many women who got abortions last year say the worsening economy was one of the reasons for their decision.

There were 13,843 abortions performed in Minnesota in 2007. Of the women who listed a reason for their abortions, 40 percent cited economic concerns -- that's the largest share since the state started collecting detailed abortion information a decade ago, according to the state's annual abortion report.

"Certainly, women's concerns about being able to support their families are important," said Sarah Stoesz, executive director of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota.

The cost of birth control may be another concern in a tightening economy, she said, and could lead to unplanned pregnancies.

July 4, 2008 in Abortion | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Emily Bazelon on South Dakota's So-Called "Informed Consent" Law

Slate: Telling Doctors What To Think, by Emily Bazelon:

In 2005, South Dakota passed an unprecedented abortion law. The statute purports to be about ensuring that patients give informed consent. Planned Parenthood characterizes it differently: as an intrusion on the doctor-patient relationship, forcing doctors to give inaccurate medical facts and to be the state's ideological mouthpiece. Now, following a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, the law is about to go into effect for the first time. And the question is how it will change the experience of going to get an abortion—and whether it will open a new front in the abortion wars by encouraging other states to follow suit.

See also this post: Eighth Circuit to Pregnant Women: You're Not Carrying a Dolphin!

July 3, 2008 in Abortion, In the Courts, Mandatory Delay/Biased Information Laws | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Grand Jury Refuses to Indict Beleaguered Abortion Provider

ABC News: Grand Jury: Late Term Abortion Not A Crime:Scales_of_justice

A Kansas grand jury declined Wednesday to indict one of the nation's few late-term abortion providers, saying it did not find enough evidence to indict him on any crime related to abortion laws.

In a written statement, grand jurors said that unless the Legislature amends state law and provides clearer guidelines, it is unlikely any investigation will provide a basis to indict Dr. George Tiller.

The panel said it reached its decision after a six-month investigation that included hearing witness testimony and reviewing documents and medical records of patients of Women's Health Care Services.

See also: Grand Juries as a Political Weapon in the Abortion Debate

July 3, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Ninth Circuit: Activists May Display Photos of Aborted Fetuses Near Middle School

Gavel_scales_2 LA Times: Federal court upholds abortion foes' 1st Amendment rights, by Victoria Kim:

The 1st Amendment rights of two anti-abortion activists were violated when they were ordered to stop circling a Rancho Palos Verdes middle school in a truck displaying graphic photos of aborted fetuses, a federal appellate court ruled Wednesday.

Overturning an earlier district court judgment, a U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel unanimously ruled that school officials and sheriff's deputies violated the men's free speech rights by ordering them to leave the school's neighborhood.

July 3, 2008 in Abortion, Anti-Choice Movement, In the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Bishop Apologizes for Catholic Charities' Role in Helping Teen Obtain Abortion

Do people really think it's OK when a teenager, already the mother of one child, is forced to bear another child because she is stuck in foster care with a Catholic agency?  The girl in this story got the abortion, but would not have if the Bishop had gotten his way.  (According to the story, the Bishop declared, “I forbid this to happen.”)

NY Times: Catholic Aid for Abortion Creates Stir in Virginia, by Ian Urbina:Rosary_2

The Roman Catholic bishop of Richmond, Va., apologized this week after workers from a Catholic organization helped a teenager in its care have an abortion....

The situation involved a 16-year-old Guatemalan, who church officials said already had one child and wanted to end her pregnancy, said Stephen S. Neill, a spokesman for the bishop.

The girl was being cared for by a program that helps illegal immigrant children in the country without guardians obtain foster care, Mr. Neill said. She received the abortion in January after a staff member of Commonwealth Catholic Charities signed a consent form and after a volunteer drove her to the facility, he said.

H/T: Amy Leipziger

July 3, 2008 in Abortion, Religion and Reproductive Rights, Teenagers and Children | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Uncertain Future of Facial Challenges in the Roberts Court

ABA Journal: Supreme Court Report: About Face, by David G. Savage:Supreme_court_3

The U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has been sending a message to lawyers who want to challenge state laws as unconstitutional. It goes like this: Show us the proof. Be specific. And if you want us to throw out an entire law because it may infringe the rights of a few people, you may be wasting your time.

Here’s another way to say it: Facial challenges are out. As-applied challenges are in.

The article discusses the particular impact of this trend on abortion cases.  Shortly after Gonzales v. Carhart was decided, I wrote this post on the decision's implications for facial vs. as-applied challenges.

July 2, 2008 in Abortion, Gonzales v. Carhart, In the Courts, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Canada: Abortion Rights Pioneer Morgentaler Named Member of Order of Canada

The Vancouver Sun: Honour for Morgentaler outrages abortion foes, by Cassandra Drudi:Morgentaler

Dr. Henry Morgentaler was named a member of the Order of Canada on Tuesday, an appointment that threw fuel on the bitter abortion debate and was slammed by one of the highest-ranking members of the Catholic Church as debasing the award.

Morgentaler's name is reflected in the landmark decision, R. v. Morgentaler, that legalized abortion in Canada.  See: Canada: Access to abortion still limited 20 years after landmark ruling.  Morgentaler is a Polish-born physician and a Holocaust survivor. More from the Vancouver Sun:

Almost single-handedly, Morgentaler pushed abortion rights on to the national agenda when he opened an illegal abortion clinic in Montreal in 1969. At one point, he was jailed for 10 months when a lower court acquittal was overturned by a higher court. The issue culminated in a landmark ruling in 1988 in which the Supreme Court struck down anti-abortion provisions of the Criminal Code on the grounds they violate a woman's constitutional right to "security of person."

See also: Canadian Press: Morgentaler proud to 'finally' receive Order of Cda, says Cda set global example

July 2, 2008 in Abortion, International | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Abortion Becomes Less Taboo in the Middle East

L.A. Times: Number of Abortions Rising in Middle East, experts say, by Borzou Daragahi:

BEIRUT -- Unmarried and pregnant, Ranya gathered up her courage and confided to a friend that she was considering a drastic step: an illegal abortion.

She braced for criticism. But to her surprise, her friend disclosed that she had had one too....

Despite legal and religious restrictions against abortion in much of the Arab world, changing social values and economic realities as well as demographic shifts have contributed to an apparent increase in the number of the procedures in the Middle East.

"There's definitely an increase compared to 10 to 15 years ago," said Mohammed Graigaa, executive director of the Moroccan Assn. for Family Planning. "Abortion is much less of a taboo. It's much more visible. Doctors talk about it. Women talk about it. The moral values of people have changed."

July 2, 2008 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, International, Religion and Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

How Not to Get Teens to Take Pregnancy Seriously

ABC Family seems to have come up with a very lame response to recent concerns about teenage pregnancy.  And, as in every American movie of late to confront unintended pregnancy, abortion continues to be the big shameful "a-word" that must not be uttered....  (from the review: "[The pregnant teen's] friends tell her she has options, but abortion is apparently not one of them; that choice is dismissed right away in horrified tones.") (more on that topic here).

NY Times: A Teenage Pregnancy, Packaged as a Prime-Time Cautionary Tale, by Alessandra Stanley:

No one seems to know for sure whether all those high school girls in Gloucester, Mass., had a secret pregnancy pact. But “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” must surely be the collective effort of an anti-pregnancy cabal....

At a time when hit movies like “Juno” and “Knocked Up” celebrate the lighter side of unprotected sex and the celebrity press has recently been filled with belly shots of Jamie Lynn Spears, it’s not surprising that purveyors of pop culture feel compelled to send a corrective message to young viewers. NBC is doing its part with a reality show, “Baby Borrowers,” that assigns teenage couples babies to raise by themselves full time to discover what parenthood is really like. ABC Family chose a more traditional drama format and then promptly forgot who its audience is.

July 1, 2008 in Abortion, Culture, Pregnancy & Childbirth, Teenagers and Children | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)