Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Challenges of Innovating Access to Abortion

The New Yorker (Mar. 6, 2019): The Challenges of Innovating Access to Abortion, by Sue Halpern:

As states across the country continue to enact burdensome and medically unnecessary restrictions on safe and legal abortion care, last week the New Yorker examined the landscpe for access to abortion care via telemedicine.

Hawaii has one of the least restrictive abortion policies in the country, and yet services are still hard to come by due to geographic challenges. In 2018, only two of the Hawaiian islands had abortion providers: Maui and Oahu. As a result, medication abortion via telemedicine is a vital service to Hawaiian women seeking care.

Telemedicine—obtaining medical services over the phone or through the Internet—is not a new phenomenon. In the U.S., it began to take off in the late nineteen-fifties, and a 2016 federal grant to increase access to health care in rural areas has made it more mainstream.

TelAbortion, a service provided by the reproductive-health initiative Gynuity, enables a woman to terminate a pregnancy in the privacy of her own home, but with medical oversight. The service is available in Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon, and Washington as a five-state trial launched by Gynuity in response to the ever-diminishing availability of abortion services in the United States.

Although the five states in the TelAbortion trial have some of the most accommodating abortion laws in the country, Gynuity is only able to run the trial with a waiver from the F.D.A., which has put onerous restrictions on the distribution of abortifacients. Mifepristone is one of only seventy-five F.D.A.-approved medications controlled through its Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS), and only one of fifty with its most stringent restrictions. According to the F.D.A., REMS, which regulates such drugs as Thalidomide, which is known to cause birth defects, is a drug-safety program for “medications with serious safety concerns to help ensure the benefits of the medication outweigh its risks.” The REMS mandates that mifepristone only be dispensed to a patient in a clinic, medical office, or hospital. A doctor can’t send a patient to their local pharmacy with a prescription for the medication, because pharmacies are not allowed to carry the drug. This limits the ability of physicians to administer the medication and of patients to obtain it, despite nearly twenty years of evidence demonstrating its safety and efficacy. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has recommended eliminating the REMS altogether. An F.D.A. panel of experts recommended eliminating one aspect of the REMS in 2016 when the mifepristone REMS came up for review. It was overruled by the F.D.A. commissioner, an Obama appointee.

Medication abortion should make access to care easier, but some of the more recent restrictions passed by state legislatures also make getting medication abortion, which is already constrained by the REMS, more difficult. Seventeen states require that a clinician be physically present when mifepristone is taken. Thirty-four states require those clinicians to be licensed physicians. Women who obtain and self-administer medication abortion outside the traditional medical establishment, typically from an Internet pharmacy, may be subject to arrest and imprisonment. In 2013, a woman in Pennsylvania who had ordered them online for her daughter was sentenced to a nine-to-eighteen-month jail term for “providing abortion without a medical license, dispensing drugs without being a pharmacist, assault and endangering the welfare of a child.”

It is now possible to order these medications through AidAccess, a program overseen by a doctor in the Netherlands. While no one has been arrested, the promulgation of fetal-homicide laws—thirty-eight states now have them—and aggressive prosecutors puts women at risk of arrest if they obtain them in this manner.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, “these laws are even being used to pursue women who are merely suspected of having self-induced an abortion but in fact had suffered miscarriages.”

March 12, 2019 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Politics, State Legislatures | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 11, 2019

New Bill to Classify Reproductive Rights as Human Rights

Rewire.News (Mar. 7, 2019): Here's How Democrats Want to Classify Reproductive Rights as Human Rights, by Katelyn Burns:

The Trump administration's State Department deleted reproductive rights from its human rights report last year. Now, Congressional Democrats have introduced a bill that would require the inclusion of reproductive rights--by way of an accounting of "access to reproductive health care"--in the report.

"The 'Reproductive Rights Are Human Rights Act' was introduced by Democratic caucus vice chair Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) and announced at a press conference Thursday [March 7, 2019] along with Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and U.S. Senate co-sponsors Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)."

Representative Clark said:

The way that we are able to protect human rights internationally is through shining a light on the violations. I think what this administration is saying is that we are no longer interested in finding out what is happening with women’s health and monitoring, assessing and protecting women across the globe.

The State Department's annual human rights report is of critical important to the our government, notes Amanda Klasing, acting co-director of the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch. Congress uses this report in determining appropriations pertaining to foreign assistance, and immigration judges likewise rely on the report in making decisions about pending asylum claims. 

If a woman crosses the border from El Salvador claiming asylum in the United State because she is threatened with jail time in her home country for having a miscarriage, for example, an immigration judge might look to the human rights report to determine whether this is a credible basis on which she may claim asylum.

The information that used to be included on the report was gathered by foreign service officers who had established relationships with health care providers and advocates around the world. These relationship no longer exist under the current administration. Not only is the information foreign service officers previously gathered lost, the contacts that enabled substantial, accurate reporting are gone.

"There will be a minimum of a year or two years for embassies to rebuild meaningful relationships where they can actually be substantially reporting on what’s happening," said Stephanie Schmid, U.S. foreign policy council at the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR).

Since the deletion of reproductive rights from the report, the CRR has twice sued the State Department under the Freedom of Information Act in an effort to access documentation about the erasure. The newly-proposed bill "mandates that foreign service officers must consult with reproductive health and rights organizations in local communities to gather accurate information for the human rights report."

Advocates for reproductive rights hope this bill will solidify the importance of including reproductive rights among human rights generally.

'There is a sense that there are hard human rights issues and then there are soft human rights issues,' Klasing said. 'The State Department is still reporting on the hard human rights issues like torture, extrajudicial killings, but there’s some flexibility as to whether or not these [reproductive rights] actually qualify as human rights. As somebody who has interviewed both people who have been victims of state sponsored violence, torture, abuse, and people who have had their reproductive rights violated, the feeling of abuse, the feeling of violation is the same. It’s a visceral feeling.'

March 11, 2019 in Congress, Culture, Current Affairs, International, Politics, Reproductive Health & Safety | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Irish ban on funding abortion services in developing world to be lifted

The Irish Times (Mar. 4, 2019): Irish ban on funding abortion services in developing world to be lifted, by Pat Leahy: 

As a result of the 2018 repeal of Ireland's constitutional ban on abortion, Irish foreign humanitarian and development policy is shifting, too. Previously, Irish foreign aid money was generally prohibited from being used to fund abortion services, because such medical and reproductive health programmes were contrary to Irish law. 

Irish Aid, the development aid programme of Ireland's government, is now launching a new initiative on "sexual and reproductive health and rights." The Ministry of Foreign Affairs last week launched its new policy on development aid: "A Better World." The policy has four priorities, including prioritizing gender equality, reducing humanitarian need, climate action, and strengthening governance. The reconsiderations of reproductive health aid are expected to flow from this new policy. 

The main focus of Irish Aid's programmes lies in sub-Saharan Africa, where Ireland has long-standing assistance programs in eight countries. Irish Aid also has established programming in Vietnam, South Africa, and Palestine, among other nations.

The prior Irish policy of withholding funding for abortion services echos the Trump administration's global gag rule pertaining to foreign aid. Programs and policies that police the reproductive health services offered in foreign nations have a significant, negative impact in countries aiming to slow population growth and provide comprehensive health care and education to women and girls. 

March 9, 2019 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Current Affairs, In the Media, International, Politics, Women, General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Texas gave anti-abortion group millions for women's health, despite warnings

Houston Chronicle (Feb. 25, 2019): Texas gave anti-abortion group millions for women's health, despite warnings, by Jeremy Blackman:

In May 2016, Carol Everett sent an email to fellow anti-abortion activists detailing “an extraordinary pro-life opportunity.” Her nonprofit, the Heidi Group, she said, had spent the past year pushing for nearly $40 million in funding to help Christian pregnancy centers “bless many poor women” across Texas. The opportunity she was discussing? An application to become one of the state’s leading family planning providers as part of the Healthy Texas Women program, which offers free women’s health and family planning services to eligible, low-income women.

Everett had never contracted with the state and had no clinical background. Many of the pregnancy centers she cited don’t provide contraception, a core family planning service. Still, state health officials gave her significant public funding anyway, ignoring warning signs and overruling staff that recommended millions less in funding, according to a review of the contracting by the Houston Chronicle. When Everett’s clinics began failing, Texas delayed for months in shifting money to higher performing clinics and chose to devote vast amounts of time to support Everett and her small, understaffed team.

The Heidi Group was not the only contractor that struggled in Healthy Texas Women. By the end of the first year, others had met just 46 percent of their combined patient targets. They had spent just over a third of their proposed fee-for-service expenditures, the state’s preferred source because every expense can be tracked. Those excelling early on were established providers versed in the state’s complex billing procedures. For them, the program has been a boon from the beginning, increasing funding for equipment and staff, and adding reimbursements for a larger swath of health services. Still, many of the smaller, less-experienced clinics could not scale up quickly enough and felt they had not received adequate training on billing and enrollment delays.

The state's separate Family Planning program within HHS had twice the success rate, both in spending and patient targets. Though the 39 Healthy Texas Women contractors had access to more money in the first year, those in the Family Planning program outspent them by several million dollars, which the state said it could not immediately verify. Because of its less stringent eligibility requirements, Family Planning program providers say they can more easily meet need where it exists. And for many of them, that is with immigrant and undocumented families.

Though it’s impossible to say how many more women could have been served had the resources been shifted sooner, several competing clinics involved in Healthy Texas Women burned through their funding early in the grant cycle, surpassing their targets for both spending and patients treated. Had they been sent some of the $6.75 million sitting in wait for the Heidi Group, the door could have opened for thousands more women to receive access to contraception, STD screenings and breast exams.

“We would definitely have been able to serve more,” said Marcie Mir, the chief executive officer of El Centro de Corazon, which serves immigrant communities in East Houston.

The Houston Chronicle’s review included emails, internal records, and interviews with two dozen people, and found that the Texas HHS made repeated concessions, and not just to the Heidi Group. State health officials lowered the standards for applicants in two new women’s health programs, including Healthy Texas Women, and revised past patient counts, making it easier to show growth. Quality control measures were stalled, and only the Heidi Group received on-site clinical assessments in the first year, despite similar problems with other contractors.

At least one top Republican, Governor Greg Abbott, laid the groundwork for Everett’s selection, controlling her appointment to an influential committee helping to develop the new programs, according to records. The health official who allocated Everett's award has close personal ties to the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, whose founder, Dr. James Leininger, has been a key donor to the Heidi Group, as well as to Abbott.

Everett’s funding was revoked last fall after two years of poor performance, and auditors are reviewing whether the Heidi Group mishandled funds.

Despite an uptick in number of people served in 2017 from the previous year, Texas still served 100,000 fewer patients than in 2010, despite spending about $35 million more in 2017, including federal dollars.

What has happened in Texas may be a preview for the country at large. The Trump administration on Friday announced it is cutting family planning funding to abortion affiliates, a decision that further undermines groups like Planned Parenthood, which provide the bulk of non-abortion services to low-income women nationally. The move, much like the one in Texas years ago, is expected to direct millions toward faith-based providers.

March 5, 2019 in Contraception, Politics, Religion and Reproductive Rights, State and Local News, State Legislatures | Permalink | Comments (0)

An 11-Year-Old in Argentina Was Raped. A Hospital Denied Her an Abortion.

The New York Times (Mar. 1, 2019): An 11-Year-Old in Argentina Was Raped. A Hospital Denied Her an Abortion, by Daniel Politi: 

Despite laws in Argentina saying that pregnant people may seek abortions in the case of rape (one of the only instances in which abortion is legal in the country), an 11-year-old rape survivor was denied the abortion she requested and instead forced into a C-section delivery. 

The child was reportedly raped by her grandmother's boyfriend. She discovered her pregnancy at 19 weeks after going to the hospital complaining of severe stomachaches. Both the child and her mother pushed for her to receive the abortion, but doctors administered drugs without consent to hasten the development of the fetus so that she could deliver instead (the doctors told her that they were giving her "vitamins"). 

Fernanda Marchese is the executive director of Human Rights and Social Studies Lawyers of Northeastern Argentina, which is representing Lucía (a pseudonym) and her family. Marchese reports that the hospital permitted anti-abortion activists to enter Lucía’s hospital room, "where they urged her to have the baby, warning that she otherwise would never get to be a mother."

"Reproductive rights groups filed emergency lawsuits that led to a court order instructing the hospital to carry out an abortion at once." The doctors still refused, citing conscientious objections. 

Private sector doctors Cecilia Ousset and José Gigena agreed to conduct the abortion, but because Lucía’s pregnancy was so far along, they decided they had no choice but perform a C-section. Dr. Ousset identified that Lucía’s life was at risk throughout the ordeal in a phone interview with the New York Times. Lucía is now healthy and should be discharged soon. 

Genetic material from the umbilical cord will be studied and possibly used to prosecute the man who is alleged to have raped Lucía. He has already been arrested. 

Although the case has gained notoriety, many say it reflects a reality in parts of Argentina. “In the north of Argentina,” Dr. Ousset said, “there are lots of Lucías and there are lots of professionals who turn their back on them.”

March 5, 2019 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Anti-Choice Movement, In the Media, International, Medical News, Politics, Pregnancy & Childbirth, Reproductive Health & Safety, Sexual Assault, Women, General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Black History Legacy: Honoring The Black Women Who Birthed Our Movements

Essence (Feb. 20, 2018): Black History Legacy: Honoring The Black Women Who Birthed Our Movements, by Cameron Glover:

"[N]aming the Black women who have metaphorically given birth to the movements that are so vital to social justice and our collective well-being is a necessary step toward truly celebrating Black excellence."

Here is a small reminder of important Black women and their organizations that have and are trailblazing the way toward reproductive justice:

SisterSong, a Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, coined the term "reproductive justice" to specifically address the disparities in reproductive health care women of color face.

Defining reproductive justice as "the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities," SisterSong has worked in the Southern United States to fight states’ invasive abortion bill laws, which further restrict access to abortions. But the group has also worked to help communities of color get greater access to resources, education for improved reproductive health, and support for the personal choice to start a family or end a pregnancy. 

The Combahee River Collective.

The Combahee River Collective, a Black lesbian feminist group based in Boston from 1974-1980, highlighted mainstream feminism's problem with inclusivity. The Collective's legacy lives on today calling feminists to intersectionality and inclusivity.

Audre Lorde established the importance of "self-care."

Identified by Lorde as a method of self-preservation and as "an act of political warfare," Lorde's self-care is touted by activists fighting for reproductive rights and justice today as an essential element to centering their own well-being in the midst of the ongoing political fight.

Tarana Burke started the Me Too Movement many years before #metoo became a mainstream hashtag. 

The movement began as a way to increase awareness of sexual violence against Black women and girls. While the movement has grown into a larger conversation and is now often incorrectly credited to the White women who helped amplify the national conversation on sexual harassment and assault, it's important to know that the movement's origin lies with Tarana Burke, a Black woman empowering Black women. "This erasure is all too common for Black women, and it makes the push for centering and saying their names alongside the work they do both necessary and non-negotiable."

From SisterSong to the Combahee River Collective, from Audre Lorde to Tarana Burke, we must ensure that the Black women behind the movements that are vital to our understanding of sexuality and liberation are cited and credited. But the work is not done. We also need to make sure that publicly crediting these Black women becomes routine because, in light of the violence and discrimination that Black women face, these movements are some of the few ways that they will gain public acceptance. It’s time that we move Black women from behind the curtains and into the spotlight, celebrating them for their commitment to change and to centering those that need change most.

February 21, 2019 in Culture, Politics, Race & Reproduction, Women, General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Alaska Supreme Court upholds decision blocking restrictions on Medicaid funding for abortions

Jurist (Feb. 18, 2018): Alaska Supreme Court upholds decision blocking restrictions on Medicaid funding for abortions, by Jordan Ross:

The Alaska Supreme Court last week upheld a prior decision preventing the implementation of a 2013 regulation limiting Medicaid coverage of abortion in the state to circumstances either covered by the Hyde Act or deemed medically necessary by a physician.

The Hyde Amendment is a 1976 legislative provision that proscribes the use of federal funds to pay for an abortion except when necessary to save the life of the pregnant person or if the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest. 

The lawsuit was brought by Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and argued that the regulations violated the equal protection clause of Alaska’s constitution by discriminating against women choosing to have an abortion.

Planned Parenthood argued that the restrictive definition provided for the “medical necessity” of an abortion singled out the procedure from other Medicaid-funded services. By doing so, the regulations subjected women to discriminatory practices and violated their guarantee of equal protection. A superior court declared the laws unconstitutional and subsequently prevented the laws from taking effect. The state appealed, arguing the statute and regulation should be interpreted more leniently.

In the state's Supreme Court decision, the court reaffirmed the ruling of unconstitutionality. The court "stated the laws are under-inclusive, singling out abortion among other argued 'elective' procedures available to pregnant women." Furthermore, the regulation facially treated pregnant women differently based on their “exercise of reproductive choice,” the court said. As such, the state will not be permitted to enforce the Medicaid-limiting regulations. 

February 20, 2019 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, In the Courts, Medical News, Politics, Reproductive Health & Safety, State and Local News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 9, 2019

In Nigeria, Trump administration policies bite hard

Devex (Feb. 5, 2019): In Nigeria, Trump administration policies bite hard, by Paul Adepoju: 

Trump's policies limiting reproductive rights and funding for reproductive health and education services continue to wreak havoc on foreign initiatives aimed at promoting family planning, slowing population growth, and educating girls and women.

Nigerian hospitals and NGOs are facing severe shortages of reproductive health supplies since Trump both cut funding to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and implemented the "global gag rule," withdrawing funding from any agency that offers abortion-related education or services. 

Nigeria, a middle-income country facing a population boom, lost over 60% of its funding for family planning supplies and services in the year after Trump pulled UNFPA funding. "In 2016, when UNFPA got its last support from the U.S. government, it was able to spend $15,444,880 on family planning in Nigeria. In 2017, it spent just $6,132,632."

Trump justified these funding cuts by promulgating theories that the UNFPA cooperated with coercive abortions and involuntary sterilization, which the UNFPA categorically denies and is readily backed up by multiple human rights organizations.

The rate of contraceptive usage in Nigeria is already very low, and the African country also faces one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. 

Several organizations--including Generation Initiative for Women and Youth Network--are on-the-ground in Nigeria working to educate women and provide safe and reliable access to health care to shift these statistics. Their work, though, has been severely limited by the loss of funding as a result of U.S. policies under the Trump administration. 

Erin Williams, program officer for grantmaking and international partnerships at the International Women's Health Coalition, told Devex: 

As a result [of these policies], Nigerian health services will continue to fragment, deteriorate, and decrease, increasing the burden on vulnerable women and girls in search of comprehensive and quality health care. More women will look for contraceptive and pregnancy alternatives outside the medical and legal system.

While much of the justification for pulling U.S. funding relies on anti-abortion ideology, the implications of the policies are much farther-reaching than "just" abortion. Nigeria has slowed in its ability to address maternal health needs generally, including instances of gender-based violence, as well in its ability to address wide-reaching disease concerns like the spread of malaria and tuberculosis. Furthermore, the policy-shift has actually led to increased numbers of abortions throughout Sub-Saharan Africa in the countries hit hardest by the loss of funding. 

Congress this week is set to introduce the Global Health, Empowerment and Rights Act, which would repeal the global gag rule permanently and help to ensure consistent reproductive health care around the world. It is unlikely to be passed by the Republican-controlled Senate, however, or to be signed by Trump. 

February 9, 2019 in Abortion, Anti-Choice Movement, Contraception, Current Affairs, International, Medical News, Politics, Poverty, Pregnancy & Childbirth, President/Executive Branch, Reproductive Health & Safety, Women, General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 8, 2019

NY’s Reproductive Health Act is Not Radical; It Simply Recognizes that the Lives and Dignity of Pregnant People Count Too

NY’s Reproductive Health Act is Not Radical; It Simply Recognizes that the Lives and Dignity of Pregnant People Count Too (Feb. 7, 2019), by Cynthia Soohoo:

Not surprisingly, President Trump’s attack on New York’s Reproductive Health Act during Tuesday night’s State of the Union address blatantly mischaracterized the RHA. But it also underscores a glaring gap in anti-abortion advocates’ pro-life views -- the right to life and dignity of people who are pregnant.

The RHA continues to recognize a state interest in fetal life and prohibits abortions after 24 weeks in almost all circumstances. However, the law also recognizes that in some situations, denying a pregnant person the ability to end a pregnancy imposes serious and irreparable harm on her, including situations where the pregnancy endangers her life and health. And in those situations, the state cannot force the pregnant woman to continue the pregnancy against her will. This is consistent with current Supreme Court jurisprudence and international human rights law. The UN Human Rights Committee made this explicit in a recent General Comment clarifying that while states can regulate abortions, they should not do so in a manner that violates the right to life of the pregnant person or her fundamental human rights.

The RHA does no more than protect the human rights of pregnant people. The law only allows abortions post-24 weeks in two situations. First, abortions are allowed where the fetus will not survive outside of the womb. The RHA recognizes that a woman should not be forced to continue what was often a wanted pregnancy -- knowing that the fetus will not survive -- against her will. In such cases, the state’s interest in protecting a viable fetus is not at issue, and human rights experts have held that denying a woman access to an abortion in these circumstances is cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.  

Second, the RHA allows a woman to have an abortion where continuing the pregnancy endangers her life or health. Some women may choose to continue pregnancies in these circumstances. But the RHA acknowledges that the pregnant person must be allowed to make her own choice taking into account the risk that she faces and the impact her death or disability would have on her family and community.

In both situations covered by the RHA, human rights experts have held that state denial of an abortion violates the human rights of the pregnant person. In fact, concern over state prohibition of abortions in those circumstances led UN human rights experts to write to the U.S. to encourage passage of laws like the Reproductive Health Act. This is not a radical position. It is merely the recognition of the value of the life and dignity of pregnant people. The failure of critics of the RHA to understand this is a glaring gap in their “pro-life” views.

February 8, 2019 in Abortion, Current Affairs, In the Media, International, Politics, Pregnancy & Childbirth, President/Executive Branch, Reproductive Health & Safety, State Legislatures, Women, General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Supreme Court Blocks Louisiana Abortion Restrictions

The New York Times (Feb. 7, 2018): Supreme Court Blocks Louisiana Abortion Restrictions, by Adam Liptak:

The Supreme Court blocked the Louisiana admitting-privileges law that Justice Alito issued a stay for just last week in June Medical Services v. Gee

The law would have effectively limited the abortion providers in the state of Louisiana to one, by requiring such providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Many hospitals either would not extend such privileges or were not in the required 30-mile radius of the abortion-providing clinics at risk under the law. While initially passed in 2014, the Louisiana law has been entangled in lawsuits ever since. SCOTUS struck down a similar statute in Texas in 2016 in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt

The Supreme Court stayed enforcement of the Louisiana law, but it may ultimately decide to take the case for full review.  This would allow the Court to reconsider the clarification provided by Hellerstedt on the "undue burden" standard, initially implemented in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992). This standard says that legislation that has either the purpose or effect of placing a substantial obstacle in the way of a pregnant person seeking to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion creates an undue burden on them, and is therefore unconstitutional. Medically unnecessary laws that offer minimal, if any, health benefits to pregnant persons while increasing their obstacles to seeking an abortion constitute "undue burdens."

The vote was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joining the court’s four-member liberal wing.

February 8, 2019 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Anti-Choice Movement, Current Affairs, In the Courts, Politics, Pro-Choice Movement, Reproductive Health & Safety, State and Local News, State Legislatures, Supreme Court, Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP), Women, General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, December 6, 2018

South Carolina's anti-abortion lawmakers say they’ll push for stricter laws in 2019

Greenville News (Dec. 4, 2018): South Carolina's anti-abortion lawmakers say they’ll push for stricter laws in 2019, by Tom Barton & Avery G. Wilks, The State:

Conservative state lawmakers in South Carolina say they will push for a ban on abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected when the full General Assembly reconvenes in January. If it becomes law, the proposal effectively would bar most abortions in South Carolina and could set up a showdown in the federal courts.

“It’s a common-sense bill. If a heart stops beating permanently, the person is dead,” said state Rep. John McCravy, R-Greenwood, who plans to file the fetal heartbeat bill in the South Carolina House. “Common sense should tell us that when a heart is beating, we have a precious human life that should not be terminated.”

The proposed law would ban nearly all abortions after a fetus has a detectable heartbeat — as early as six weeks in a pregnancy. That would be about two weeks after a woman’s first missed period, and well before many women realize they are pregnant, said Vicki Ringer, the public affairs director for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.

More than 60 percent of the roughly 5,100 abortions performed in South Carolina in 2017 occurred after six weeks of gestation or post-fertilization, according to the latest data from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Iowa passed a fetal heartbeat bill this spring, among the strictest abortion laws in the country. But that law is on hold for now as opponents challenge it in court. North Dakota and Arkansas passed similar laws, only to see them overturned by federal courts. The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review the lower court rulings, but that could possibly change with Justice Brett Kavanaugh now on the court

Efforts to pass a fetal heartbeat law in South Carolina have thus far failed. Bills introduced in 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2018 all died without reaching the House or Senate floor.

The proposal faces a tough road to passage again this year, especially in the state Senate, where Republicans hold a majority but Democrats can filibuster controversial bills and block them. Last year, Senate Democrats took turns stalling a vote on an outright abortion ban for days until Republicans gave in and dropped the proposal.

Anti-choice lawmakers in the General Assembly also plan to reintroduce a ban on dilation & extraction, also known as a D&E ban, as well as the sweeping "Personhood Act," which would establish that fetuses have legal rights at the moment of conception, banning almost all abortions.

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster has promised to sign anti-choice legislation into law.

December 6, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Anti-Choice Movement, Politics, State and Local News, State Legislatures, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Woman who bore rapist’s baby faces 20 years in El Salvador jail

The Guardian (Nov. 12, 2018): Woman who bore rapist’s baby faces 20 years in El Salvador jail, by Nina Lakhani: 

In the wake of fetal personhood, or similar, ballot measures being proposed and passed throughout the U.S., it's important to look to other countries where abortion is criminalized to see the effects of living in a world where abortion and those who seek or perform them are punished.

A survivor of habitual sexual abuse by her grandfather has been imprisoned in El Salvador since April 2017 on charges of attempted murder. Last April, Imelda Cortez, then 20-years-old, gave birth to a child fathered by her rapist.  She experienced intense pain and bleeding before the birth, which caused her mother to bring her to the hospital. The doctors there suspected an attempted abortion and called the police. The baby was born alive and well, but Imelda has never been able to hold her, as she's been in custody since her time in the hospital last year. 

Authorities conducted a paternity test, which confirmed Imelda's claims of rape, yet her grandfather has not been charged with any crime. Imelda's criminal trial began this week and a decision from a three judge panel is expected next week. 

Abortion is illegal in all circumstances--no exceptions--in El Salvador. The strict ban has led to severe persecution of pregnant people throughout the country, often most heavily affecting impoverished, rural-living people. Most people accused of abortion simply experienced a pregnancy complication, including miscarriage and stillbirth.

This pattern of prosecutions targeting a particular demographic suggests a discriminatory state policy which violates multiple human rights, according to Paula Avila-Guillen, director of Latin America Initiatives at the New York based Women’s Equality Centre. Cortez’s case is a stark illustration of how the law criminalises victims.

Abortion has been criminalized in El Salvador for 21 years. While a bill was drafted nearly two years ago--with public and medical support--aiming to reform the system and relax the ban to allow the option of abortion at least in certain cases (for example, rape, human trafficking, an unviable fetus, or threat to a pregnant person's life), it remains stuck in committee and is not expected to make it to vote. 

 

November 13, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Current Affairs, In the Courts, International, Politics, Poverty, Pregnancy & Childbirth, Reproductive Health & Safety, Sexual Assault, Women, General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 9, 2018

What the Election Results Mean for Abortion in America

The Cut (Nov. 8, 2018): What the Election Results Mean for Abortion in America, by Irin Carmon:

"Tuesday’s results were messy and contradictory, just like the current reality of reproductive rights," writes Irin Carmon for The Cut.

With federal courts failing to protect abortion access, it will be up to the states to give and take away. “We made huge gains at the state level, which is going to be crucially important as we face the post-Roe reality,” says NARAL president Ilyse Hogue. Exit polls showed broad support for Roe v. Wade, but Republican voters in states like Indiana and North Dakota were motivated by Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to vote Republican.

First, the bad: the Senate and the federal judiciary "are gone." Republicans took a firm majority in the Senate, which has the sole authority to select federal judges and Supreme Court justices. Should Donald Trump have the chance to make another pick for the Supreme Court justice, writes Carmon, "the impact would be catastrophic."

Plenty of damage has and still can be done by Trump-controlled federal agencies, too. Earlier this week, the Department of Health and Human Services issued rules to limit abortion coverage on insurance plans on the exchange and to grant employers broad ability to opt out of including birth control in their plans.

But the good news is that without Republican control of the House, no major legislation restricting access to contraception or birth control — including defunding Planned Parenthood or a ban on abortion at 20 weeks — is likely to go anywhere.

At the state level, pro-choice Democrats didn’t lose a single governor’s seat and actually picked up seven seats. Former governors in some of the those states — like Kansas, Michigan, and Wisconsin — were zealous in limiting abortion access, making the replacements especially significant. Blue states also saw a total of 300 state legislature seats flipping Democratic, paving the way for stronger protections for abortion access.

In New York, eight state Senate seats went to Democrats, after a concerted campaign highlighted Republican opponents’ refusal to a Reproductive Health Act that would safeguard abortion liberty in New York in the event that Roe v. Wade is overturned. Democrats now control the New York State Senate for the first time in a decade.

Some Republican supermajorities, which can override vetoes, were shrunk to simple majorities. Perhaps most promisingly, pro-choice champions won in red states, like Colin Allred in Texas. In Orange County, California, 31-year-old Katie Hill, who spoke openly about how her miscarriage at 18 had informed her support for reproductive freedom, bested the anti-abortion Steve Knight.

November 9, 2018 in Abortion, Congress, Contraception, In the Courts, Politics, President/Executive Branch, State Legislatures, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Voters in Alabama, West Virginia Approve Abortion Restrictions

TIME (Nov. 7, 2018): Voters in Two States Approved Abortion Restrictions on Tuesday, by Abigail Abrams:

Two out of three states that were considering adding restrictions on abortion approved ballot measures on Tuesday.

Alabama and West Virginia approved measures that would significantly restrict access to abortion care if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court. Another measure in Oregon failed.

In Alabama, voters approved an amendment to the state’s constitution that would effectively give a fetus the same rights as a person who has been born. Amendment 2 would add language to the Alabama constitution that would “recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children.”

Abortion rights advocates worry this could make it more difficult for women to get access to abortion through the courts or that it could lead to criminalizing contraception or in-vitro fertilization. Other states have passed similar amendments, but Alabama’s is especially restrictive and does not include exceptions for incest, rape or life of the mother.

In West Virginia, the “No Constitutional Right to Abortion Amendment”, or Amendment 1, would explicitly change the state’s Constitution to read “nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.”

The amendment would effectively mean that people in West Virginia do not have a right to abortions with Medicaid funding. Medicaid in the state currently covers abortions considered medically necessary, but the amendment does not include such an exception.

Finally, in Oregon, Measure 106 would have prohibited public funds from paying for abortions, except in the cases of rape, incest or threats to the pregnant person’s health. Voters in the state rejected the measure on Tuesday. The measure would have meant that public employees and people on Medicaid could not get coverage for abortion care in the state. 

November 7, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Anti-Choice Movement, Politics, State and Local News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Abortion May Be Mobilizing More Democratic Voters Than Republicans Now

FiveThirtyEight (Oct. 31, 2018): Abortion May Be Mobilizing More Democratic Voters Than Republicans Now, by Daniel Cox:

Two new surveys reveal a remarkable shift in how important the issue of abortion is to Democrats and Republicans ahead of the 2018 midterm election this Tuesday, November 6.

A recent PRRI survey found that nearly half (47 percent) of Democrats said abortion is a critically important issue to them personally; 40 percent of Republicans said the same. That represents a dramatic swing since 2015, when 36 percent of Democrats and 43 percent of Republicans said abortion was a critical concern. Democrats are almost twice as likely today as in 2011 to rate the issue as critical.

Meanwhile, a recent Pew poll showed that abortion is a far more central voting concern for Democrats today than it has been at any point in the last decade — 61 percent of Democratic voters said abortion is very important to their vote this year. In 2008, only 38 percent of Democratic voters said the same.

Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court appears to have elevated the perceived threat level to the right to abortion. A PRRI poll conducted during Kavanaugh's confirmation process found that nearly two-thirds of Democrats believed that Kavanaugh would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. Another likely reason for the rising concern among Democrats, Cox reasons, is the years-long campaign to curb abortion access at the state level. 

Cox also finds that reproductive health care has taken a more central place in the Democratic agenda as women, particularly young women, have taken on more prominent roles in the party. Many Democratic women, Cox writes, see abortion access as inextricably linked to the financial security and autonomy of women.

However, polls show that when most Democrats make voting decisions, they still weigh the issue against a host of competing concerns, such as other health care issues and the environment. It is not a litmus-test issue for most Republican or Democratic voters. Only 21 percent of Republicans and 30 percent of Democrats say they would only ever support a candidate whose views on abortion align with their own, according to a PRRI poll.

Democrats are likely to continue to prioritize abortion so long as its legal status appears to be threatened and access to it is limited. This may mean that fewer Republicans campaign on their explicit opposition to abortion, at least in the short-term. Conservative Christians, who have worked for decades to overturn Roe, have been conspicuously tight-lipped about abortion in recent months, indicating that they are worried about the possible political fallout of discussing their views. The 2018 election will show if that strategy comes too late and the abortion issue has given Democratic voters another reason to head to the polls.

 

November 6, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Anti-Choice Movement, Congress, Politics, Pro-Choice Movement, State Legislatures, Supreme Court, Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 2, 2018

Abortion Is on the Ballot in These States Next Week

Rewire.News (Nov. 1, 2018): Abortion Is on the Ballot in These States Next Week, by Lauren Holter: 

Midterm voting is already well underway throughout the country with election day officially falling on Tuesday, November 6. While the citizenry waits to see whether Republicans or Democrats will next control their state legislatures, next week's elections will also implicate specific issues in addition to deciding our leaders. Abortion rights are on the ballot in Alabama, Oregon, and West Virginia. 

Alabama's ballot measure proposes "personhood" rights for fetuses, which could criminalize access to certain contraceptives or in vitro fertilization. The measure, if passed, would act as a "trigger ban"and would completely outlaw abortion under the circumstances of a post-Roe world. Similar ballot measures have previously been proposed--and failed--in Colorado, Mississippi, and North Dakota. Republican legislators in Alabama want the state Constitution to explicitly elevate the rights of unborn fetuses over any right to an abortion. The Amendment does not include any exceptions to a prohibition on abortion--not even in the cases of threat to the mother's life. 

In West Virginia, the No Constitutional Right to Abortion Amendment also aims to update their state Constitution. Lawmakers wish for the text to explicitly assert that nothing in the instrument protects the right to or funding for an abortion. The state already has a pre-Roe abortion ban that remains on the books, which would enter into force should Roe v. Wade be overturned, criminalizing abortion and punishing providers with imprisonment. The new Amendment proposal focuses on eliminating Medicaid funding for abortions. Medicaid currently covers "medically-necessary" abortions in West Virginia. While the Amendment does include exceptions for cases of rape, incest, fetal anomaly, or threats to life, opponents are particularly concerned that the new restriction would disproportionately harm low-income patients who do not qualify for exemptions. 

Finally, the proposal in Oregon, called Measure 106, "would prohibit public funds from paying for abortions in Oregon except in cases of rape, incest, ectopic pregnancies, or a threat to the pregnant person’s health." Public employees and people on Medicaid would lose access to abortion as well. This measure would specifically override the Reproductive Health Equity Act, which Oregon passed last year to guarantee cost-free access to abortion and reproductive health services.

In the era of a Kavanaugh Supreme Court, advocates are particularly zealous about preemptively protecting abortion access on the state level, and those involved in these three states' campaigns are no exception. 

November 2, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Anti-Choice Movement, Congress, Politics, Reproductive Health & Safety, State and Local News, State Legislatures | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 22, 2018

Queensland parliament votes to legalize abortion

The Guardian (Oct. 17, 2018): Queensland parliament votes to legalise abortion, by Ben Smee:

Abortion will become legal in Queensland after the Australian state’s parliament voted to support new legislation and erase a 119-year-old “morality” section of its criminal code.

Loud cheers in the legislative assembly chamber on Wednesday evening brought an end to a 50-year struggle by women’s groups in a state once notorious for its conservative politics.

Abortion was codified as an “offence against morality” under the Queensland criminal code, which the current premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, said in parliament was written before women had the right to vote.

Both the Labor and the Liberal National party granted their members a conscience vote, and most expected a close result. In the end, the laws passed 50-41.

Abortion will become legal until 22 weeks gestation, and after 22 weeks with the approval of two doctors. Safe access zones will restrict protesters and people who harass patients from coming within 150 meters of abortion clinics. Doctors under the law may refuse to treat a woman on moral grounds, but will also be legally required to refer patients to another medical practitioner.

Children by Choice, the all-options counselling service, was at the forefront of debates about abortion in Queensland for decades.

“Children by Choice has been fighting for this important reform to cruel and archaic laws since 1972 and we are so proud of all of the people who have advocated on behalf of Queenslanders who couldn’t advocate for themselves,” Children by Choice manager Daile Kelleher said.

The anti-abortion group Cherish Life put out a statement vowing to continue its campaign and to target Queensland members of parliament who supported the new laws at the next state election.

October 22, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, International, Politics, Pro-Choice Movement | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 11, 2018

When Abortion Is Illegal, Women Suffer

The Atlantic (Oct. 11, 2018): When Abortion Is Illegal, Women Rarely Die. But They Still Suffer, by Olga Khazan:

On Thursday, The Atlantic published a piece surveying nations that maintain bans on abortion, in light of the belief that abortion is expected to become further restricted with Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court.

Khazan writes that legal experts believe the majority-conservative court likely won’t overturn Roe v. Wade, but rather will chip away at abortion rights by narrowing the circumstances in which a woman can obtain the procedure. Still, abortion rights advocates fear that increasing restrictions will force low-income women into desperate situations and increase the rate of self-managed abortion, in which interest has spiked in recent years as access to safe and legal abortion erodes in many states.

If other countries provide guidance, Khazan writes, "abortion restrictions won’t reduce the number of abortions that take place." According to the Guttmacher Institute, abortion rates in countries where abortion is legal are similar to those in countries where it’s illegal, and in countries where abortion is illegal, botched abortions still cause about 8% to 11% of all maternal deaths, or about 30,000 deaths each year.

But, Khazan observes, doctors have gotten better at controlling bleeding in recent decades, and there has also been a major revolution in how clandestine abortions are performed thanks to medication abortion (mifepristone and misoprostol).

Mifepristone and misoprostol have made Brazil's rate of treatment for severe complications from abortion decline by 76 percent since 1992. In Latin America overall, the rate of complications from abortions declined by one-third since 2005.

Meanwhile, in El Salvador abortion is illegal, but one in three pregnancies still ends in abortion. Many women there who want to abort their pregnancies, Khazan finds, obtain misoprostol on the streets.

"Those who have internet access and reading skills can look up information about how to take it properly."

Federal prosecutors in El Salvador are known to visit hospitals and encourage doctors to report to authorities any women who are suspected of self-inducing their abortions. But because federal prosecutors are only visiting public hospitals and not private hospitals, poor women are much more likely to be reported for their illegal abortions than rich women.

In Brazil, where abortion is also illegal, about 250,000 women are hospitalized from complications from abortions, and about 200 women a year die from the complications. About 300 abortion-related criminal cases were registered against Brazilian women in 2017.

In Ireland prior to the repeal of its criminal abortion ban, women would travel to England to get the procedure—often using a fake English address so they could get the procedure for free under the United Kingdom’s National Health Service. Others, Khazan writes, "would order abortion pills from Women on Web, a Canada-based service that ships the pills to women in countries where abortion is illegal."

Whether a self-induced abortion is dangerous likely depends on where a woman gets her pills and what kind of information is available to assist her. Irish women’s outcomes were better than the Brazilian women’s possibly because they had access to regulated services like Women on Web. Brazilian customs officials, meanwhile, confiscate shipments of medication abortion into the country, forcing women to turn to the black market.

The American market for abortion drugs will boom under a Kavanaugh Supreme Court, says Michelle Oberman, a Santa Clara University law professor, but it will also become more difficult to penalize abortion providers for illegal abortions, since with medication abortion there is no doctor, only the woman. In that case, Oberman says, “everything I saw [in Ireland] will happen here”: the hospital reports, the prosecutions, the jail sentences.

Many states have already prosecuted women for doing drugs while pregnant or for otherwise allegedly harming their fetuses. Overwhelmingly, those punished tend to be poor women and women of color.

October 11, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Incarcerated Women, International, Politics, Religion and Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Irish Parliament Debates Bill to Legalize Abortion

BBC News (Oct. 4, 2018): Irish Parliament Debates Bill to Legalise Abortion, by Deirdre Finnerty:

The Irish parliament is debating legislation to legalize abortion services nationwide. It is the first time the Irish parliament has addressed the issue since the Eighth Amendment - a near total constitutional ban on abortion - was removed by referendum in May.

Irish Health Minister Simon Harris hopes abortion services will be available in Ireland starting in January.

Known as the Regulation of the Termination of Pregnancy Bill, the legislation allows for abortion services to be provided "on demand" up to the 12th week of a pregnancy, and in the case of a fatal fetal abnormality or where the physical or mental health of the mother is in danger.

Harris has said that abortion would be made available free of charge.

Introducing the bill in the Irish assembly, Harris said the referendum was a resounding affirmation of support for right of women to make choices about their lives.

"More on women's health, women's equality, more on continuing to shape an inclusive and equal society," said Harris.

Separate legislation will be introduced at a later date to allow for "safe access" zones - designated areas that prevent protests around abortion providers.

The Irish government must work with doctors to implement services and provide training and support. Dr. Mary Favier, founder of Doctors for Choice, told the Irish Times that planning for abortion by the Department of Health had been "a shambles."

"There's been no clinical lead appointments. There's been no technical round tables established. There's been effectively no meetings held," she said.

Mike Thompson, a general practitioner in east Cork, told the BBC that the government's proposed timeline of January 2019 was "ambitious" and "challenging."

"Unless there is a clear and robust guideline, no GP will provide the service. It has to be safe," Dr. Thompson said.

Earlier, anti-abortion doctors said they did not wish to be forced to refer a pregnant woman seeking a termination to another doctor. A bill allowing for doctors to opt out of providing a medical or surgical abortion if they do not wish to perform the procedure was introduced in the Irish parliament earlier this year. The legislation requires that doctors refer a woman seeking an abortion to another doctor who will perform the abortion.

The health minister said that conscientious objection was one thing, but refusing to refer women wishing to terminate their pregnancies to other doctors was quite another.

It is unclear how a small number of doctors objecting to providing abortion care will affect the rollout of abortion services in Ireland.

October 9, 2018 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Anti-Choice Movement, International, Politics, Religion and Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 8, 2018

House Republicans Jam ‘Personhood’ Language Into New Tax Bill

Rewire.News (Oct. 1, 2018): House Republicans Jam ‘Personhood’ Language Into New Tax Bill, by Katelyn Burns: 

The U.S. House of Representatives last week passed a bill that would extend "the ability to count 'unborn children' as beneficiaries under 529 education savings plans."

The bill, referred to as the Family Savings Act, is a part of a current push for updated tax legislation. Anti-choice activists have promoted the addition of personhood language--effectively defining zygotes, embryos, and fetuses as persons with all the rights that entails--to legislation for some time. The cause is now embraced by many Congressional Republicans as well.

"Personhood laws" have consistently been rejected in ballot measures across the country. 

Representatives and activists alike warn lawmakers to be vigilant of the tactic of sneaking anti-choice provisions into larger bills. “This is how extremist views creep into the mainstream," said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO). "Provisions like this one should never become law—they can lead to limits on access to abortion and even birth control.”

Supporters of the legislation--personhood language and all--claim that it will "finally" allow expectant parents to begin saving for their future child's education through a 529 plan. Parents-to-be, however, "can already open a 529 plan listing themselves as the beneficiary before switching it over to the child once they are born."

The Family Savings Act is not expected to pass in the Senate ahead of the midterms, but this is not the first time--and surely not the last--lawmakers have tried to slip similar provisions into tax reform or other legislation.  

October 8, 2018 in Anti-Choice Movement, Congress, Contraception, Current Affairs, Fetal Rights, Politics, Pregnancy & Childbirth | Permalink | Comments (0)