Tuesday, July 20, 2021
By K.A. Dilday (July 20, 2021)
On July 12, California governor Gavin Newsom, signed into law AB-1764, a bill to pay reparations to people who were forcibly sterilized in California during the years 1909 and 1979 when the state’s eugenic sanctions law (enacted in 1909 and honed throughout the years) was in place, and to people who were sterilized in the state's prison system after that time. California is the third state, following North Carolina and Virginia, that will compensate victims of forced sterilization.
The bill signed by Gov. Newsom is particularly noteworthy as both the issue of reparations and of forced sterilization figure prominently in national dialogue. Just last year, a nurse at a privately owned immigration jail in Georgia joined in a whistleblower complaint alleging that a doctor at the facility performed a high rate of hysterectomies on migrating women without “proper informed consent,” and bills proposing reparations for the descendants of enslaved Black Americans are regularly debated in the U.S. Congress.
According to the final text of California’s AB-1764, the forced eugenics law targeted people deemed afflicted with “mental disease,” “feeblemindedness,” and, “those suffering from perversion or marked departures from normal mentality or from disease of a syphilitic nature.”
During the 70 years that the law was in place, the reparations bill states, “more than 20,000 people were sterilized, making California the nation’s leader by far in sterilizations, a number that was more than one-third of the 60,000 persons sterilized nationwide in 32 states … between 1919 and 1952, women and girls were 14 percent more likely to be sterilized than men and boys. Male Latino patients were 23 percent more likely to be sterilized than non-Latino male patients, and female Latina patients were 59 percent more likely to be sterilized than non-Latina female patients.”
That law was finally overturned in 1979 after 10 Los Angeles women of Mexican origin brought a lawsuit in federal court against the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center for involuntary or forced sterilization in Madrigal v. Quilligan (1978). While the judge ruled in favor of the defendants, ascribing the unwanted sterilizations to miscommunication and language barriers, the women of Madrigal v. Quilligan nonetheless reshaped history. The next year, the state legislature overturned the law. They did not win for themselves but they won for future Californians.
Or so it seemed, since, notably, while the formal eugenics law ended in 1979, a program of sterilization as birth control and for dubious medical reasons led to the sterilization of approximately 150 mostly Latina and Black women in California prisons between 2006 and 2010.
In 2014, the bill SB 1135 made sterilization for birth control in California prisons unlawful, and put in place safeguards to ensure that any sterilization deemed medically necessary for an imprisoned person actually is. However, no reparations for past sterilizations were mandated at that time.
Eugenics-driven sterilization in the United States has always been directed at those deemed mentally infirm or undesirable, a characteristic that is often assigned to people of color and to imprisoned people. This practice was sanctioned federally by the notorious 1927 Buck v. Bell U.S. Supreme Court decision. While Buck v. Bell was discredited by the Supreme Court decision in Skinner v. Oklahoma (1942) that established procreation as a fundamental right protected by the U.S. Constitution, and has been chipped away by other protective laws, Buck v. Bell has never been overturned.
In addition to the eugenics programs in California, throughout the 19th century and through the mid-20th century there was mass forced sterilization of poor people (many black and Latino) in the South, Indigenous people in Western and middle-America, and of Puertoriquenos in Puerto Rico through the 1970s. But forced sterilizations were also performed on people who were deemed either mentally or morally unworthy, regardless of race.
California convened a "Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans" this year, and while some may see AB-1764 as another step toward direct reparations, the bill only authorizes payment to individuals who were sterilized, thus avoiding the complex issue of generational injury. And, unless they adopted or had biological children before the procedure, many people who were sterilized likely do not have offspring, reducing the number of descendants who might protest the bill’s limits on eligibility to bring a claim.
The status of potential claimants who are undocumented is unclear.
The state has allocated $7.5 million to pay the victims. According to The New York Times, the limited number of living potential claimants means that each successful applicant is likely to receive approximately $25,000.
Tuesday, May 25, 2021
By Kelly Folkers (May 25, 2021)
Last week, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that poses a direct challenge to the right to seek an abortion in the United States. It’s a test case that has been expected by reproductive rights advocates since the Supreme Court’s rightward lurch during Donald Trump’s four years in office: Trump appointed three conservative justices, all of whom have signaled willingness to roll back reproductive rights. If the Court significantly alters abortion jurisprudence or overturns Roe v. Wade (1973) entirely, reproductive rights will evaporate in many states, leaving millions of women and people who can get pregnant without a fundamental right to their bodily autonomy.
In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Court has agreed to consider whether all bans on pre-viability abortions are unconstitutional. Although pre-viability bans on abortions are unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the rightward swing of the federal judiciary has emboldened state legislatures to pass pre-viability bans to test the courts. Just this past month, Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) signed into law a bill banning abortion as early as six weeks—before many people know they are pregnant. South Carolina enacted a similar law in February. Texas and South Carolina join more than a dozen other states with similar laws, many of which have been held unconstitutional and enjoined by court order.
Dobbs involves a Mississippi law called the Gestational Age Act, which prohibits abortions if the “probable gestational age” of the fetus is more than 15 weeks. While there is dispute within the medical community regarding the exact age at which a fetus becomes viable and states vary in their definition of fetal viability (i.e., the fetus’s ability to survive outside the uterus), most experts agree that it is clinically improbable for a fetus to be viable under 22 to 24 weeks. Notably, the Act does not contain exceptions for rape or incest, allowing exceptions only for medical emergencies or severe fetal abnormalities. Mississippi’s sole abortion provider filed suit within hours of the law being enacted, and for now, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi’s ruling to permanently enjoin the law.
Though the Supreme Court is more conservative than it has been in decades, abortion jurisprudence has long been settled in the United States: The state cannot place an undue burden on a pregnant person’s right to have an abortion pre-viability. In 1992, the Supreme Court reaffirmed Roe’s “central holding” that pregnant people have a protected right to seek an abortion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Casey adopted the “undue burden” test, which provides that state action violates the right to an abortion if it has the purpose or effect of imposing a substantial obstacle to a person seeking to abort a non-viable fetus. Although Casey permits regulation of abortion before viability, it does not question that bans on abortions before fetal viability are a violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S Constitution.
Since Casey, Supreme Court decisions have focused on how to apply the undue burden test to laws that regulate the provision of abortion. In the 2016 case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Court struck down a Texas law requiring that abortion providers have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and that facilities where abortions are performed meet the requirements for ambulatory surgical centers. The Court found that the requirements placed a substantial obstacle in the path of people seeking abortions and there was no evidence showing that either requirement made abortions safer. Balancing the law’s benefits and burdens, the Court held that the law imposed an undue burden. Even more recently, in 2020, the Supreme Court struck down an almost identical Louisiana admitting privileges law in June Medical Services v. Russo. The outcome of the cases was similar, but a notable difference was the justices who voted with the majority and their reasoning. In 2016, Chief Justice John Roberts was a dissenting justice, but in 2020 he added the crucial fifth vote to strike down the law in a separate concurring opinion. Justice Roberts stated that his respect for precedent motivated his decision to vote with the Court’s liberal bloc in June Medical, but he stood firm in rejecting the balancing test the Court applied in Whole Woman’s Health.
After June Medical, it remains uncertain what test the Court will apply to determine if restrictions on the provision of abortion impose an undue burden. But Dobbs presents the court with a different issue that goes to the heart of Roe’s central holding: whether a law banning abortion before viability can ever be constitutional.
Some constitutional law experts predict that if the Court holds that bans on pre-viability abortions are permissible, it will effectively allow states to outlaw abortion. Indeed if Roe v. Wade is reversed, more than 20 states have laws banning abortion at various points in fetal viability that are designed to be triggered automatically, enacted swiftly, or dormant only because of Roe, according to Nancy Northup, the president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. These laws would make abortions difficult or impossible to obtain in many states.
A decision in Dobbs is not expected until the spring or summer of 2022, but some state legislatures are already taking action to codify protections for pre-viability abortions if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Some states are going even further: In Oregon, Governor Kate Brown (D) recently signed the Reproductive Health Equity Act, which requires private insurers to cover abortions with no out-of-pocket costs. Similar bills are pending in New Jersey and Virginia. These bills go beyond what the federal Constitution guarantees because they obligate public and private insurers within their states to pay for abortion; the Supreme Court has previously held in Maher v. Roe and Harris v. McRae that state and federal payers, respectively, are not constitutionally obligated to cover abortions.
Until the Supreme Court hands down what may be a landmark decision for reproductive rights, people seeking abortions retain their right to do so, but just barely.
Tuesday, April 13, 2021
By Kelly Folkers (April 13, 2021)
On April 6, the Arkansas state legislature overrode a gubernatorial veto and enacted a bill (H.B. 1570) that will ban access to gender-affirming care (GAC) for people under the age of 18, the first law of its kind in the United States.
H.B. 1570 is one of 80 bills regulating transgender and gender expansive (TGE) people’s access to societal resources that were introduced in state legislatures during the first three months of 2021. Considering the already hostile landscape for reproductive rights in Arkansas, the new law further threatens reproductive rights by legalizing discrimination in healthcare.
The Arkansas law creates a blanket ban on GAC for minors, carving out exceptions only for persons with disorders of sex development, people who are injured by or later regret GAC (an extremely rare occurrence), and people who require surgeries similar to gender-affirming operations for reasons unrelated to gender transition. Notably, the law states that medical care under these circumstances is not gender-affirming care, although patients meeting the criteria for the exceptions receive the same or similar prescription medications and surgeries. This disparate treatment among patients receiving the same or similar care raises an important question: Why is the Arkansas legislature so concerned with TGE youth specifically?
Across the board, professional medical associations consider GAC to be a safe, ethical, and a sometimes life-saving form of healthcare for minors and adults. GAC includes a wide array of psychosocial, medical, and surgical care options aimed at helping TGE people achieve a physical appearance consistent with their gender identity. (It is important to note that not all TGE people choose some or any of these options; having a TGE identity is not a medical or psychological condition that, in and of itself, requires treatment.)
For minors who want treatment, they can start with the administration of puberty suppressing hormones, which prevent potentially distressing bodily changes like breast growth, voice deepening, or facial hair development. Medical experts say that puberty suppression is fully reversible although there is ongoing study of its long-term effects.
For those who want more treatment, gender-affirming hormone therapy involves the administration of estrogen or testosterone aimed at enabling the development of secondary sex characteristics that more closely align with an individual’s gender identity. As gender-affirming hormone treatment can affect adolescents’ fertility, professional medical guidelines state that clinicians should counsel youth on possible options for fertility preservation, which involves harvesting and storing gametes. Though fertility preservation is expensive and often not covered by insurance, the standard practice is to ensure that TGE youth and their families receive fertility counseling before starting any treatment that may affect future reproductive choices.
Even in states with liberal GAC policies for minors, gender-affirming surgical procedures are typically only accessible to individuals who have reached the age of majority, with some limited exceptions.
The Arkansas legislature claims it has a compelling government interest in “protecting the health and safety of its citizens, especially vulnerable children.” The bill’s title is the “Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act,” implying that GAC is a form of medical experimentation on unwilling youth. Bioethicists have long held that there is a distinction between clinical care and medical research, each of which requires different ethical standards and responsibilities toward patients and research participants. It is uncontroversial within the medical field that GAC is a valid form of healthcare.
Additionally, the bill perpetuates the “desistance” myth, or the erroneous notion that the majority of youth who begin puberty suppression or gender-affirming hormone therapy eventually stop treatment and identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. The conservative right wields these and other claims to justify policies that serve to exclude TGE people from accessing healthcare and other public accommodations, thinly veiling their transphobia as a “compelling government interest” to protect youth.
Combined with another recently passed Arkansas law (S.B. 289) that allows doctors to refuse to treat patients because of religious or moral objections (even though clinicians already have federal protections for conscientious objection to abortion and sterilization procedures), TGE people’s right to medical care is rapidly being eroded in the state. S.B. 289’s opponents, including the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union, predict that it could allow doctors to refuse care to LGBTQ+ patients altogether in addition to further justifying limits on access to abortion, contraception, and other forms of reproductive healthcare.
This recent legislative action in Arkansas is part of an alarming nationwide policy trend of discrimination against TGE people. Anti-trans policies are continuing to diffuse throughout the United States, including state legislation restricting transgender girls from participating in sports and requiring TGE people to use bathrooms that correspond to their gender assigned at birth. This wave of new legislation is not random: the sheer volume of bills that have been introduced this year suggests a highly organized attack on the rights of transgender people that will require an equally coordinated response.
Author’s note: The author of this article, a cisgender white woman, wishes to note that her perspective does not fully capture the variety and nuance of perspectives among TGE people.
Tuesday, March 2, 2021
By Fallon Parker (March 2, 2021)
In the wake of Amy Coney Barrett’s fast-tracked ascendance to the U.S. Supreme Court last fall, headlines have spotlighted the flurry of anti-abortion legislation making its way through state legislatures in anticipation of a receptive Supreme Court. However, in the four months since Barrett's confirmation, several states have introduced measures that would shore up reproductive rights and protect them against federal assault.
This legislation is vital given the conservative majority on the Supreme Court and the 17 pending abortion cases that could be argued before the court in 2022.
New Mexico made headlines on February 19th when state legislators voted to repeal a 1969 law that banned most abortions in the state after a failed 2019 attempt to rescind it. Although the statute has been dormant since 1973 when Roe v. Wade was decided, it could go back into effect if Roe is overturned. The statute mandated hospital board approval for medical termination of a pregnancy and restricted abortion to situations of incest, rape reported to the police, grave medical risks to the pregnant person, or indications of grave medical defects in the fetus. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) signed the repeal bill on February 26th, making it law as of that date.
In Minnesota, two Democratic state legislators, Representative Kelly Morrison, and Senator Jennifer McEwen, introduced the Protect Reproductive Options (PRO) Act on January 21st. The bill would establish the fundamental right of Minnesotans to make individual decisions about reproductive health care, including abortion; recognize a fundamental right to privacy with respect to personal reproductive decisions; and prevent the state from interfering with reproductive decisions. According to Rep. Morrison's press release, this legislation is in response to the nationwide attack on abortion rights and the possibility of a Supreme Court challenge to Roe. However, Minnesota’s state legislature is under split control, with Democrats controlling the House of Representatives and Republicans controlling the Senate, which makes it unlikely the legislation will pass.
In Virginia, after years of organizing, in 2019 Democrats gained control of both state chambers for the first time since 1996. The Senate quickly passed the Reproductive Health Protection Act in April of 2020 repealing a number of medically dubious restrictions on abortion. More recently, the Senate and House each passed a parallel bill to repeal the ban on abortion coverage for people on the state’s healthcare exchange. This legislation is expected to be signed by Governor Ralph Northam (D) in April. Similar bills mandating healthcare abortion coverage have recently been introduced in Arizona, Hawaii, California, and New Jersey, although only Virginia’s has been brought to a vote.
Massachusetts--a historically liberal state--acted quickly to codify abortion rights following Barrett’s appointment. In late 2020, the state legislature expanded access to abortion beyond 24 weeks in cases of fatal fetal anomalies, and lowered the age of consent from 18 to 16. Governor Charlie Baker (R) vetoed the bill, but the Massachusetts legislature easily overrode the veto by a vote of 107-46 in the House and 32-8 in the Senate making it law as of December 29, 2020.
Overall, since Barrett's confirmation, at least 13 states have introduced measures to protect the right to an abortion. As advocates face what could be a long battle over reproductive rights in federal courts, the importance of state-level organizing and the resulting legislation could prove paramount in the fight for abortion access. If a challenge to abortion reaches the Supreme Court, the disparity in abortion access among states could return the country to pre-Roe v. Wade conditions. If that happens, a pregnant person's access to reproductive choices will depend entirely on the political makeup and policy priorities of their state legislature.
Saturday, November 23, 2019
Bustle (Nov. 13, 2019): SCOTUS Will Hear An Abortion Rights Case With Major Implications, by Jo Yurcaba:
The Supreme Court of the United States will hear the Louisiana abortion case June Medical Services v. Gee. The case was appealed from the 5th Circuit by June Medical and challenges a state law that will require abortion-providing clinics to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.
Louisiana, in the course of the appeal, also seeks the have the Court overturn "third-party standing" precedent. This long-standing rule allows clinics and providers to sue on behalf of their patients. Without such a rule, many pregnant persons would not choose to lose their anonymity by filing a case or else may not have the means to pursue comparable litigation in defense of their rights.
Anti-abortion activists and lawmakers hope to eliminate third-party standing as a way to keep challenges to abortion restrictions out of courts in the first place. Should the court strike down the validity of third-party standing, it may also call into question prior abortion precedent--including 1973's landmark Roe v. Wade--which was won without a direct patient-plaintiff.
Third-party standing was established just three years after Roe. Justice Blackmun at the time held that physicians have a unique ability to speak for their patients, stating that the physician is particularly qualified "to litigate the constitutionality of the State's interference with, or discrimination against" a person's abortion rights. Blackmun specifically acknowledged the gamut of challenges those facing abortions face. Experts cite, for example, that half of all women who get abortions are low-income and certainly cannot match the resources of their abortion providers in defending their rights.
Travis J. Tu, Senior Counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, is arguing the June Medical Services case before SCOTUS and says that overturning third-party standing could "take a wrecking ball to 40 years of abortion jurisprudence."
June Medical Services echoes a prior case SCOTUS decided in 2016: Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt. Hellerstedt ruled that Texas' House Bill 2, which attempted to implement similar targeted regulations of abortion providers (TRAP), was unconstitutional and placed an undue burden on persons seeking abortion access.
Despite the 2016 decision in Hellerstedt, the 5th Circuit decided against precedent, upholding the Louisiana law.
Proponents of laws imposing admitting privileges generally justify them on the purported ground that they protect the health of pregnant persons seeking abortions. In reality, many hospitals will not grant admitting privileges, because they are not necessary.
TRAP regulations at their core are intended by anti-abortion activists to regulate abortions out of legal existence. Like the law at issue in June Medical, TRAP regulations generally require abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals, but they may also impose other requirements, including that abortions only be provided in certain, costly, far-more-complicated facilities than is reasonably necessary. The intended effect of TRAP laws is the same: severely limiting, if not outright abolishing, any clinics or providers who can legally offer abortions.
If the Louisiana law is upheld, June Medical Services will be the only remaining abortion-providing clinic in the state after two others are regulated out of existence. The eventual decision in June Medical will bring comparable consequences, whichever way it goes, for the many pending cases challenging similar abortion-restricting laws around the country.
November 23, 2019 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Anti-Choice Movement, Current Affairs, In the Courts, Politics, State and Local News, State Legislatures, Supreme Court, Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, October 31, 2019
The Washington Post (Oct. 29, 2019): Alabama abortion law temporarily blocked by federal judge by, Ariana Eunjung Cha and Emily Wax-Thibodeaux:
A federal district court in Alabama blocked the state's extremist abortion ban, passed in May, earlier this week. The law would almost entirely proscribe the termination of a pregnancy in Alabama, including in cases of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest. The single exception to to the ban would be in the case of serious risk to the life of the pregnant person.
Alabama state representative Terri Collins--the author of the bill--has framed the law as a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, and stated in response to the preliminary injunction that this decision "'is merely the first of many steps'" in the anti-abortion movement's "effort to preserve unborn life." Rep. Collins aims for challenges to the law to make it to the Supreme Court and called this week's ruling "both expected and welcomed" on the journey to SCOTUS.
Judge Myron H. Thompson, who penned the decision out of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, "wrote that it violates Supreme Court precedent and 'defies' the Constitution."
The Alabama law joins eight other states' blocked attempts at restricting abortion access unconstitutionally.
Tuesday, October 29, 2019
California Governor Signs SB 464 into Law, Requiring Perinatal Health Providers To Receive Implicit Bias Training
Essence (Oct. 10, 2019): California Now Requires Perinatal Health Providers To Receive Implicit Bias Training, by Tanya A. Christian:
California Governor Gavin Newsom signed the "California Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act" (SB 464) earlier this month, which mandates implicit bias training for health care providers serving pregnant persons. State Senator Holly Mitchell authored the bill. Reproductive justice-oriented groups, including Black Women for Wellness, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Act for Women and Girls, as well as California Nurses Association all backed the law, which earned unanimous support in the state legislature.
The law is aimed at reducing maternal mortality among Black women--who face a disproportionately high rate--in the United States. It will require all care providers to both engage with bias training and improve their data collection processes in order to better understand the causes behind pregnancy-related deaths.
"As it stands, the U.S. leads the developed world in the number of pregnancy-related deaths. Black women compromise a large portion of those casualties, presenting a risk of mortality that is three to four times that of White women."
California currently has the lowest maternal mortality rate in the country and hopes to improve it further through SB 464.
Thursday, September 12, 2019
Sept. 10, 2019 (CBS News): Medication abortion reversal is "devoid of scientific support," judge rules in North Dakota, by Kate Smith:
Legislators in North Dakota recently mandated physicians tell patients who are receiving medication abortions that the procedure may be reversed. North Dakota House Bill 1336 bases its text "on a pair of studies that have been contested by The American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology."
Judge Daniel Hovland, on Tuesday, September 10, issued a 24-page decision granting an injunction against the bill, which he said is "devoid of scientific support, misleading, and untrue." Further elaborating that:
'State legislatures should not be mandating unproven medical treatments, or requiring physicians to provide patients with misleading and inaccurate information...The provisions of [Bill 1336] violate a physician's right not to speak and go far beyond any informed consent laws addressed by the United States Supreme Court, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, or other courts to date.'
The lawsuit against the Bill was filed by the American Medical Association and Red River Women's Clinic. Red River is North Dakota's only legal abortion provider. According to research conducted by the Guttmacher Institute, people seeking abortions in the state must, in addition to very likely traveling long distances to reach the clinic, "undergo a state-mandated 24-hour waiting period." Minors may not receive an abortion in North Dakota without notifying their parents, and the state limits the ways a private insurance provider may cover the procedure.
A separate North Dakota state law "requires physicians to tell patients that abortion terminates 'the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being.'" The AMA and Red River suit also challenges this law, but the court has not yet addressed this claim, thus far only issuing the preliminary injunction against House Bill 1336.
September 12, 2019 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Anti-Choice Movement, Fetal Rights, In the Courts, Mandatory Delay/Biased Information Laws, Medical News, Politics, State and Local News, State Legislatures, Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, July 26, 2019
July 19, 2019 (Rewire.News): Another State Could Soon Insert Anti-Abortion Propaganda Into Public Schools, by Erin Heger:
Ohio--the only U.S. state without standardized health education--may soon require public schools to focus on the “humanity of the unborn child” in health education curriculum.
House Bill 90, introduced by the state's GOP legislature, infuses anti-abortion language into health and science materials for students and would restrict schools from providing any abortion-related information or referrals to students facing pregnancy. The legislature aims for school programs to thoroughly detail information about fetuses and gestation, promoting carrying any pregnancy to term.
In 2016, Oklahoma also introduced similar legislation (calling it the "Humanity of the Unborn Child Act"), however it has not yet been implemented in the state due to "budget constraints."
Both HB 90 in Ohio and Oklahoma’s Humanity of the Unborn Child Act state their intended purpose is an “abortion-free society.” However, not informing young people of all their options does little to prevent abortion and instead leaves people not knowing what to do or where to turn when they do face an unintended pregnancy, said Cameron Brewer, an educator with Planned Parenthood Great Plains.
“If we are restricting the information students have access, to then we are doing them a disservice as educators,” Brewer told Rewire.News. “My goal as an educator is to make sure my students have all the information they need to make the best decisions for them.”
Thursday, July 25, 2019
July 23, 2019 (Rewire.News): Telemedicine Abortion is Safe, No Matter What Anti-Choice Lawmakers Claim, by Auditi Guha:
A study released July 9 finds that outcomes for medication-driven abortion through telemedicine are comparable in-person medication abortion.
The results support the importance of telemedicine for reproductive health and safety particularly for those who cannot easily reach abortion clinics due to oppressively-restrictive anti-choice legislation.
Medication abortion has been legal in the United States for nearly twenty years and is supported by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, National Abortion Federation, and Planned Parenthood. The procedure uses a combination of mifepristone and misoprostol pills and the telemedicine aspect helps clinicians have a wider reach in authorizing and supervising the process through remote video conferencing.
Telemedicine medication abortions have often been provided in clinics where the licensed clinicians video conference in while the patient is in clinic with nurses or other professionals, but direct-to-patient telemedicine abortion services are growing. Most patients requesting these services live in abortion-hostile states where they cannot easily reach a clinic at all.
The anti-choice movement has responded by working to restrict access to telemedicine abortion as well as in-clinic abortion services. Legal bans or restrictions currently exist in Arkansas, Idaho, Mississippi, and Utah.
The recent study, though, "indicates that telemedicine abortion is 'a safe and effective way of ending an early pregnancy, with very rare complications' and can provide the same quality of health care patients receive at a health center," according to Dr. Julia Kohn, national director of research at Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the lead author of the study.
Kohn further says: "In many ways, this study does reaffirm what we already know: Medication abortion via telemedicine is safe and effective at ending an early pregnancy."
July 25, 2019 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Anti-Choice Movement, Current Affairs, Medical News, Pregnancy & Childbirth, Pro-Choice Movement, Reproductive Health & Safety, Scholarship and Research, Science, State and Local News, State Legislatures, Women, General | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, July 9, 2019
Jun. 26, 2019 (Vice): Med Students Are Doing Vaginal Exams on Unconscious, Non-Consenting Patients, by Hannah Harris Green:
For decades, medical students around the country have been expected to perform pelvic exams on unconscious women--not for the patient's benefit but solely for the student's experience. Sometimes these exams are performed multiple times by different students on the same patient. The exams involve a student inserting "two gloved fingers into the patient’s vagina and [placing] one hand on her pelvis in order to feel the uterus and ovaries." This patient is never asked for consent prior to the procedure nor is she informed of the exam afterward.
One former student--now a pediatrician in Baltimore, Maryland--learned of these procedures during his OB/GYN rotation while studying at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School in the 1990s. He refused to participate, joining in a movement to ban the practice. Ari Silver-Isenstadt took a year out of his medical studies to study the ethical implications of this practice at Penn's School of Education. He subsequently published a study in 2003 in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology that found that over 90 percent of students at the five Pennsylvania medical schools he had focused on had performed vaginal exams on non-consenting, unconscious patients. He noted that students' initial discomfort with the procedure quickly dissipated as it became a regular part of their rotations.
California became the first state to ban these invasive exams in 2003, the same year of Silver-Isenstadt's study. Since then, Illinois, Virginia, Oregon, Hawaii, Iowa, Utah, and Maryland have followed suit. Additional states that have introduced similar legislation this year include Connecticut, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Oklahoma, Washington, and Texas. No federal legislation yet addresses the issue.
Some medical schools have also banned the practice institutionally as well--like Harvard--but others, including Duke University, consistently ask their medical students to perform pelvic exams sans consent throughout their education.
While the procedure invades the privacy of any patient, consequences can be particularly severe for patients with a history of sexual trauma who either find out a pelvic exam was performed on them while unconscious or else wake up during the produce, as did Ashely Weitz in 2007.
Weitz said testifying about her experience in support of Utah's law in February was nerve-racking, especially because she expected there to be other women at the hearing at the state house with similar experiences, but she was the only one. Given the nature of these exams, people don’t know if it's happened to them. She said it was “a very healing practice to say 'this shouldn't happen to me, it shouldn't be happening in the way that it is happening in an institution.'” But there are still parts of the incident that she hasn’t recovered from. “It changed the way that I sought and received medical care,” she said. “I was, you know, thereafter very certain that I was never going to be sedated or unconscious in a manner that would have allowed that situation to happen again. So it was in itself very traumatizing.”
Utah's ban on unconscious pelvic exams was signed into law in March of this year. It requires both medical students and doctors to get explicit consent to perform such exams on anesthetized women. A law professor at the University of Illinois, Robin Fretwell Wilson, credited Weitz's testimony as the primary driving force behind the state legislation.
Wilson herself advocates for requiring specific consent for any pelvic exams. While opponents to legislation requiring consent argue that general consent forms signed upon entering a teaching hospital already cover these exams, Wilson and other advocates for patient protections assert that it is ethically wrong to practice procedures that are of no benefit to the patient without direct consent.
Many advocates, including Weitz, connect the growing opposition to these vaginal exams to the rising tide of the #MeToo movement in recent years. "The #MeToo movement has helped people like Weitz better understand that the violations they endure are part of a wider cultural problem."
Wilson acknowledges that even 10 or 15 years ago, the attitude toward this practice was completely different. "At the time, medical school faculty 'were more than willing to stand their ground and say, "not only do we do it, but the patients in our hospitals have a duty to participate."' . . . 15 years ago, many schools 'did not see it as an issue.'"
Advocates of legal regulations requiring patient consent, though, still fear that enforcement of the new laws will be difficult. "In order for authorities to find out, students would need to both be aware of the law and willing to report wrongdoing by their supervisors, so [Silver-Isenstadt is] hoping the culture is what will ultimately change."
Thursday, June 13, 2019
Jun. 10, 2019 (Politico): Judge says Missouri’s lone abortion clinic must remain open for now, by Rachana Pradhan:
On Monday, a judge blocked Missouri's attempts to close its last remaining abortion clinic. Planned Parenthood, which operates the clinic, has struggled against state officials' attempts to shutter the clinic based on claims of violations, which jeopardize its licensing.
Judge Michael Stelzer had previously granted the Planned Parenthood clinic reprieve from the states' attempts to deny license renewal upon the clinic's license lapse in May, and Stelzer has now directed Missouri health officials to make a decision as to whether to renew the clinic's license by June 21.
Planned Parenthood officials attest that the licensing conditions were essentially pretextual and "accused state officials of orchestrating a politically motivated probe to stamp out abortion." Last month, Missouri lawmakers banned almost all abortions beyond week eight of a pregnancy.
Missouri is just one of six U.S. states that have only one clinic providing abortions.
June 13, 2019 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Anti-Choice Movement, Current Affairs, In the Courts, In the Media, Politics, Pro-Choice Movement, Reproductive Health & Safety, State and Local News, State Legislatures, Women, General | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, June 4, 2019
Jun. 1, 2019 (Vox): Illinois affirms the "fundamental right" to abortion by passing a new bill, by Gabriela Resto-Montero:
Illinois, in a newly-passed bill called the Reproductive Health Act, states that a “fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus does not have independent rights." The passing of this law thus grants pregnant people in Illinois the protected right to terminate their pregnancies. The Act was passed on Friday, May 31, 2019 and is expected to be signed by the governor.
State Senator Melinda Bush sponsored the bill and declared Illinois "a beacon for women's rights, for human rights." The legislation "repeals a 1975 state law that required spousal consent, waiting periods, placed restrictions on abortion facilities, and outlined procedures for pursuing criminal charges against abortion providers." It also "rolls back some state restrictions on late-term abortions by repealing Illinois’ Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act," a law that had not yet been enforced due to court injunctions.
While legislative threats to reproductive rights grow in numbers and severity throughout the country, Illinois is one of the first states to take concrete steps toward cementing the right to abortion--among other reproductive rights--within its borders. Other states (i.e. Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, Missouri, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi) are vying for a slot on the SCOTUS docket and with it a chance at the overturning of Roe v. Wade and its Constitutional protections.
Recently, though, the Supreme Court signaled it is not quite ready to re-consider Roe. "In its decision regarding an abortion law passed by Illinois’ neighbor, Indiana, justices struck down one provision while affirming another part of the law, largely avoiding the question of whether abortion should be legal."
Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union are leading the way with lawsuits aimed at preventing the so-called "heartbeat laws," and comparable legislation threatening reproductive rights and the safety and dignity of pregnant persons, from going into effect within anti-abortion state legislatures. "The Planned Parenthood Action Fund reports that so far in 2019, there have been 300 anti-abortion bills introduced in 36 states."
Illinois is not the only state working to protect abortion rights, though. "Some 13 states including New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Nevada have proposed bills to include a right to abortion in their Constitutions. While many of those efforts are still in their early stages, Vermont passed a bill to include the protection in its Constitution last week."
June 4, 2019 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Anti-Choice Movement, Current Affairs, Fetal Rights, Politics, Pro-Choice Movement, Reproductive Health & Safety, State and Local News, State Legislatures | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, April 9, 2019
The Cut (Apr. 3, 2019): Alabama Lawmakers Want to Make Abortion a Felony, by Amanda Arnold:
States' attempts to severely restrict access to abortion services show no signs of slowing down, and in one state, the race to prohibit the procedure has indeed turned down the path of total criminalization.
The bill, HB314, was proposed proudly by Alabama representative Terri Collins and would classify performing any abortion as a Class A Felony, which carries a sentence of 10-99 years in the state. The single exception included in the bill is if "foregoing the procedure would pose a 'a serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother.'"
Of course, as a blatant violation of precedent under Roe v. Wade and the established Constitutional right to an abortion, the bill, should it pass, would immediately be subject to legal challenges. In a showing of support for the extreme anti-abortion movement, though, 65 of Alabama's 105-member House co-sponsored HB314.
The ACLU of Alabama pointed out that, in addition to the "egregious infringement on women’s reproductive rights" that the bill represents, HB314 "will potentially cost taxpayers 'hundreds of thousands' of dollars to cover the bill’s legal fees."
Saturday, March 30, 2019
New York Times (Mar. 28, 2019): Opinion: The Flood of Court Cases That Threaten Abortion, by Linda Greenhouse:
Within the next few weeks, Linda Greenhouse writes, a challenge to Louisiana’s abortion law will arrive at the Supreme Court as a formal appeal. Louisiana requires that doctors who perform abortions in the state "do the impossible by getting admitting privileges in local hospitals." The law, she writes, is “substantially similar” to the Texas law the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt in 2016, and yet the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit "implausibly upheld the Louisiana law nonetheless."
A majority of the Fifth Circuit is at war with the Supreme Court’s abortion precedents, writes Greenhouse, and was even before the Trump administration filled five vacancies on the appeals court. The Trump-appointed judges "clearly understand their marching orders": one of those judges, James C. Ho, wrote in a published opinion on “the moral tragedy of abortion,” a gratuitous comment that Greenhouse says "served to make him stand out from the crowd."
Meanwhile, Chief Judge Ed Carnes of the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit began his opinion striking down an Alabama law that criminalizes the procedure most commonly used to terminate a pregnancy in the second trimester: “Some Supreme Court justices have been of the view that there is constitutional law and then there is the aberration of constitutional law relating to abortion. If so, what we must apply here is the aberration.” In a footnote to his 36-page opinion, Judge Carnes refused to call doctors who perform abortions either “doctors” or “physicians,” noting that “some people” regarded those designations “as inapposite, if not oxymoronic in the abortion context.” He called them “practitioners.” He also described the constitutional right to abortion as something the Supreme Court had decided to “bestow on women.”
Alabama has appealed the decision, Harris v. West Alabama Women’s Center, to the Supreme Court, noting in its brief that eight other states have enacted the same law. The justices will consider in mid-April whether to hear the case.
Greenhouse, in her decades of reporting on the federal judiciary, says that she cannot "remember seeing such expressions of outright contempt for the Supreme Court. In this age of norm-collapse, something has been unleashed here."
In another appeal pending before the Supreme Court, this one from Indiana, the Seventh Circuit struck down a law that makes it a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion if the patient wants to terminate her pregnancy because the fetus has been diagnosed with Down syndrome or “any other disability.”
In an opinion concurring with the majority decision, Judge Daniel Manion accused the Supreme Court of making abortion “a more untouchable right than even the freedom of speech.” While the outcome of this case was “compelled,” he said, “it is at least time to downgrade abortion to the same status as actual constitutional rights.”
Indiana’s appeal, Box v. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, arrived at the Supreme Court in October. The justices have taken it up at their private conference eight times and will consider it again at the conference scheduled this Friday.
Greenhouse is most concerned by the recent Sixth Circuit decision, where that court upheld an Ohio law that bars state public health money from going to any organization that performs abortions, namely Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood is the largest provider of H.I.V. testing in Cleveland, Akron and Canton. It performs abortions at three of its 27 clinics in the state.
Writing for the court, Judge Jeffrey Sutton found that Planned Parenthood had no right to invoke the doctrine of unconstitutional conditions because while women have a right to obtain abortions, neither Planned Parenthood nor any other abortion provider has the right to perform them.
Greenhouse concludes that she doesn’t "know whether Planned Parenthood will appeal the Ohio decision, Planned Parenthood v. Hodges."
"It’s received little attention — not surprisingly. As framed by the appeals court, it’s not the kind of issue that sends culture warriors to the barricades. But there’s no chance that the justices will miss its significance. Is it the small-target case they have been waiting for? Could be."
March 30, 2019 in Abortion, Abortion Bans, Anti-Choice Movement, In the Courts, Politics, President/Executive Branch, State and Local News, State Legislatures, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, March 12, 2019
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.”
Tuesday, March 5, 2019
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.
Wednesday, February 27, 2019
The Tennessean (Feb. 26, 2019): Bill that bans abortions in Tennessee after fetal heart beat sails through House committee, by Anita Wadhwani:
A Tennessee House committee voted 15-4 in favor of a bill that would ban most abortions in that state, getting one step closer to a vote by the legislature on one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the nations. Tuesday's vote in the health committee means the so-called "fetal heartbeat" ban moves on to a vote by the House of Representatives.
The bill bans nearly all abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which typically occurs early in a pregnancy and usually before a woman knows she's pregnant. The bill includes a medical emergency exception.
A similar bill failed in 2017 after the state's attorney general determined it was "constitutionally suspect" and unlikely to survive legal challenges.
After the hearing, the ACLU of Tennessee announced it plans to file a lawsuit should the measure become law.
The bill includes no exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape or incest — a point Democratic lawmakers stressed during their remarks in the committee room that was packed with both supporters and opponents of the ban.
The ban redefines fetal viability as the point when a fetal heartbeat is detected, typically at about 6 weeks of pregnancy, and would make it a Class C felony for anyone to perform an abortion after this point, punishable by three to 15 years in prison and fine of up to $10,000.
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee supports the bill.
Friday, February 15, 2019
KXAN (Feb. 14, 2019): 'Rosie's law' aims to lift ban on Medicaid coverage of abortions, by Tulsi Kamath:
Austin state representative Sheryl Cole recently introduced "Rosie's Law" in the Texas Legislature to expand insurance coverage for low-income Texans enrolled in the state's Medicaid program.
"Rosie's Law repeals the prohibition on using state funds for abortion care, the Texas version of the federal Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortion care," Lilith Fund officials wrote in a press release. "This bill would add abortion care to the list of services for which Medicaid recipients area eligible."
The proposed bill is named after Rosie Jimenez, a woman who died in McAllen, TX in the late 1970s after she couldn't pay for a legal abortion and had to opt for a cheaper, unsafe option.
"We must fight hard for government assistance for those who just don't have it. We have to stand together as women, regardless of income, regardless of race, regardless of personal circumstances, because we as women are the anchors of our families," Rep. Cole said. "And as the anchors, we have to make sure we are in charge of those decisions and at the very least we don't die."
Medicaid funding in Texas is currently only available for abortions in cases where the pregnancy is a product of rape or incest, or if there is danger to the life of the pregnant person or fetus, according to the press release.
Wednesday, February 13, 2019
The Verge (Feb. 11, 2019): Campus vending machines offer emergency contraception without the stigma, by Lux Alptraum:
Thirteen years after a heated battle resulted in over-the-counter approval for emergency contraception, the product is finally shedding some of its stigma, and college campuses are leading the charge toward normalization.
In the fall of 2018, Yale’s Reproductive Justice Action League proposed a new plan to improve the health and wellness of its student population: emergency contraception vending machines. Unfortunately, the university announced that it was halting the plan because of a little-known state law banning vending machines from being used to distribute over-the-counter medications.
Similar laws exist around the country and are currently being challenged. This week, a bill was introduced in Maine at the request of students at the University of Southern Maine that would allow some over-the-counter medications — including emergency contraception — to be sold in vending machines.
But more broadly, says Alptraum, "there’s no denying that our national conversation about [emergency contraception] has undergone a major shift toward normalization: emergency contraception is now available at health clinics, drugstores, and, yes, in vending machines."
For students on isolated college campuses, though, distance is an additional hurdle, says Rachel Samuels, the Stanford alumna who led the charge for more accessible on-campus emergency contraception. At Stanford, Samuels says, the nearest pharmacy is about a 25-minute walk away with no guarantee that emergency contraception will be in stock. On rural campuses, access to pharmacies is usually even more limited.
When Stanford students began petitioning for on-campus access to emergency contraception a few years ago, they looked to vending machines as a solution. The result of that organizing is a small, high-tech vending machine called a Vengo that is located in the all-gender restroom in Stanford’s student center. It allows students to confidentially access My Way brand emergency contraception (and condoms) at any hour of the day. The pill costs $25, which is less than the $26 that the student health center charges or the $40 or $50 Plan B tends to retail for at pharmacies, though that’s more than twice what the same brand retails for on Amazon.
Still, in 2018, the machines sold 329 units of emergency contraception, and Stanford plans to add a second Vengo machine on campus in 2019. Vengo machines have also started dispensing EC at Columbia University in New York and George Mason University in Virginia.