Birth Control, child birth, health care, pregnancy, women's health

Prosecution of Pregnant Women

            There has been an alarming trend in supposed “pro-life” communities to not only seek to limit abortions, but to penalize women who carry their pregnancies and give birth to healthy babies. Yup, that’s right I said healthy babies.Alabamahas a “Chemical Endangerment law” active in the state. This law, in theory is a really good one at least in my opinion.

Its original designation is to protect children (born, breathing children) by making it a criminal offense for parents to expose their children to meth (methamphetamine) labs. The chemicals and process used to produce meth create an extremely hazardous gas which can endanger anyone inside, especially children. On the surface this law seems reasonable. Parents should not be turning their homes, where they are raising children, into meth labs. This is a simple concept that I fully support.

            The problem is that “pro-life” politicians and law enforcement officials have turned this law into something entirely different. Approximately 60 pregnant women have been arrested for being pregnant, giving birth and testing positive for a controlled substance, even if the substance has been prescribed by her doctor. According to an article on RH Reality Check, the “overwhelming majority of these women have given birth to healthy babies.”

            Despite this, they have been arrested and are facing serious criminal charges, all for having an addiction. It is beyond detrimental for the law to be used in this manner. Yes, it is understood that drugs and alcohol can cause harm, sometimes serious, to a developing fetus. However, penalizing the pregnant woman for having an addiction is counterproductive. Addiction is not something choose. Addictions take time and dedication and resources to recover from.

            Many (though not all) addicts are also in the position of being from a lower socio-economic status meaning they already have limited access to the resources that help recovering from an addiction easier. If they are pregnant and know that they may be arrested for having addiction and being pregnant at the same time, they are less likely to reach out for help with their addiction. This needlessly puts both the pregnant woman and the fetus at higher risk for serious complications.

            In a movement that so loudly proclaims to revere ALL life, these actions against pregnant addicts sends the exact opposite message; that life is of a secondary value to them, what they really want is to impose a strict code of conduct on women. One that requires all women to be pregnant and flawless at all times and if they can’t be that then that aren’t worthy of anything.

Abortion, Abortion Rights, child birth, pregnancy, pro-choice, reproductive rights, women's health care

Assistance to Abortion Patients

To continue our “attitude of gratitude” this week we would like to talk about a few of the groups that go out of their way to support women who are getting abortions. First and perhaps most obviously, are the abortion providers themselves. After all they are the people getting the hate mail, being harassed, being threatened and in some cases even death. They spend their days providing women with abortion care and for that we are grateful. There are some other groups that are also pretty hands on when it comes to supporting abortion patients and we’d like to talk about some of them today.

One such group is the “Doula Project.” Based out of NYC they provide volunteer doula support to low income women. For readers who don’t know, a doula is traditionally an advocate for pregnant women in the delivery room. They are there solely to focus in caring for the patient as she gives birth in settings where the focus is usually on the baby being born. The Doula Project doulas do not only provide support to women who are giving birth, they also support women who chose to terminate their pregnancies. At most clinics, the patients are allowed to have a support person with them in the waiting room, but for insurance reasons are often left with just the doctor and nursing staff for the actual procedure. While most doctors are nurses will try to be compassionate, their main focus has to be on performing the procedure. Doulas are covered by the clinics insurance and are thus allowed in the procedure room but they are there to comfort the patient; not do the procedure. They hold the patients hand, talk to her about the weather, astrological signs, pop culture or whatever helps keep the patient calm and safe. According to their website they work with 4 clinics in the NYC area and have affiliates in Asheville, NC; Piedmont Triad, NC; and Seattle, Washington. They also offer training for clinics, activists, hospitals and other organizations who wish to incorporate doula care into their services.

Another group that provides hands on care in the NYC area is the Haven Coalition. A group of women who volunteer room in their homes for women who have had to travel out of state to get to NYC for a second trimester abortion but can’t afford the cost of a hotel room. Second trimester abortions are significantly more expensive than a first trimester and even just a few days can add another couple hundred to the cost, so many women get there and find that the money they had set aside for a hotel must now go to their procedure. This is where the Haven volunteers come in providing them a place to stay for the night. That is pretty cool.

These group both focus on support during the procedure, one group I’d like to mention focuses on women after the fact. They are called Exhale and consider themselves a “pro-voice” helpline for women after they have had their procedure and who need and/or want help with their emotions relating to their abortions. Women have a huge range of feelings after an abortion from relief to grief and everything in between. Exhale supports women by saying basically that it is ok to feel what you are feeling. They are not pro-choice or pro-life they merely seek to support women in dealing with their emotions after an abortion. They also provide support to family members and friends of women who have had an abortion. There is no limit to when a patient can call Exhale, according to their website they get callers the day after their procedures, to a few months to even years after the fact. Their website also includes links to references including other helplines, websites, even books that have a pro-voice message.

These groups get hands on in providing emotional support to women who have had or are having abortions. They hold their hands, they give them a place to sleep, they tell them whatever they are feeling is ok. They help make sure these women feel truly cared for in a world that far too often tries to condemn them. We are grateful to know there are people out there who truly care about the people seeking abortions and want to ensure they are supported.

Abortion, child birth, pregnancy, women's health

Sex Determination will Increase abortions?

In the U.S., women who want to know the sex of their babies generally need to wait until at least 10 weeks. If the parents want to avoid any tests with a small risk of miscarriage, they must wait until 11 weeks for an ultrasound that will be accurate. Tests that determine sex at only 7 weeks are widely available in Europe. They work by detecting fetal DNA in a sample of the mother’s blood, basically if they find fetal DNA containing Y chromosomes, then congrats it’s a boy! If not then YAY! It’s a girl! It is also possible the test just didn’t detect any fetal DNA. These tests may be ordered online in the U.S., but aren’t used here often.

There are a few reasons as to why they aren’t used much. The tests themselves cost around $25 but the lab costs to have the results analyzed can cost over $250. Some women do get them through their doctors- if there is worry about sex specific genetic disorders, determining the sex early can rule out the need for further genetic testing, if a parent is a carrier of a disorder that only affects boys and the baby is a girl, there is no need to test for it. For the most part though doctors here don’t use them because they aren’t regulated and there are no guidelines the labs testing them must follow.

Another reason for lack of use is that there have been no real measures of their accuracy. A meta-study conducted by Tufts University has changed that. They looked at almost 60 different studies that covered over 6000 pregnancies and determined that blood based sex tests, when done after 7 weeks gestation have a 95%-99% accuracy rate.

Anti-abortion activists in the country have jumped on this news to once again attack a woman’s right to choose. They point to recent studies showing rabid amounts of sex selection in extreme misogynistic countries like China and India that have created a pandemic shortage of women and say “Look, see! America will be next if we allow abortion to continue!”

The makers of the tests state clearly that their tests are not designed to be used in sex selection, one company, IntelliGender, even states in their FAQ’s that results from the test should not be used to “make any financial, emotional, or family planning decisions… This includes painting a nursery!”  Some companies won’t sell their product in India and China because there are high rates of sex selection in those places. Consumer Genetics makes their customers sign a waiver saying they won’t use the results for sex selection. Plus in reality, if the person carrying the pregnancy has decided they don’t want a child of a specific sex no matter what, well they will abort whether they find out at 7 weeks or at 13. This hasn’t stopped anti-abortion activists from using it to promote their anti-abortion agenda.

child birth, gender politics, Government Policy, health care

Teen Pregnancy Rates Drop

For most of the past 20 years teen pregnancy and birth rates have steadily dropped. Until the 2005-2007 time frame at least. During those three years, teen pregnancy and birth rates rose. In 2008 they started dropping again, this time at a much higher rate than prior years. There are many competing theories as to why. Some people claim that the poor economy are driving teens to have less sex and others claim comprehensive sex education is behind the trend.

Looking at the numbers it seems clear that comprehensive sex education is at least a major factor if not the primary driving force behind the drop. Texas has the highest number of abstinence only programs AND has the highest teen birth rate. Meanwhile states with more comprehensive sex education programs like Connecticut and Vermont, have the lowest birth rates. Call me crazy but that seems like clear evidence that abstinence-only sex education just does not work.

Perhaps more importantly, abstinence only programs may actually be dangerous to a teen’s health. Researchers found that students who signed a virginity pledge were just as likely to be having sex at the same age as teens that did not, however they are LESS likely to use condoms or other contraceptives leaving them more vulnerable to pregnancy and STD’s. Considering that almost half of all newly reported STD infections are among people under the age of 25, not using condoms during sex is really a bad idea. The rates go even higher with HIV, 50% of all new HIV cases are under the age of 20.

Luckily across the board these rates are trending down. According to one study the rate of teens that had sex without contraception dropped from 16% to 12% and the rate of teens using two forms of contraception, such as condoms and birth control pills, rose from 5% to 9%. This is likely thanks in part to the teen pregnancy prevention initiative launched by the Obama administration; which awarded $110 million to programs with proven effectiveness.

Considering that 45% of Americans have had sex by the time they turn 18, it is unrealistic to think that an abstinence only education will provide teens with the information they need to protect themselves. Yes, not having sex is the only 100% way to not get pregnant, but clearly that’s not the reality of our society. According to a study in 2002, 95% of Americans between the ages of 15 and 44 had sex before marriage. It’s time people stopped pretending that sex doesn’t happen and start teaching ALL teens about safe sex, not just the ones who are lucky enough to live in more progressive states.

child birth, Government Policy, pregnancy

Birth Certificates for Stillborns

Lawmakers in Pennsylvania recently passed a new law that will allow the parents of a stillborn to receive a birth certificate. Until this law goes into effect on September 5th, they will only be eligible to receive a death certificate. The law will apply retroactively to all parents who may have had a stillborn. Similar laws already exist in 27 other states. These laws have met with varying levels of opposition for two main reasons.

One reason comes from other lawmakers who worry that these birth certificates will lead to increased fraud and harder to recognize identity theft. This stems from the idea that since no one will ever need the identities the birth certificates create, they will be easier to steal. This concern has been addressed in that most of these certificates clearly indicate no living person resulted from the birth; they say things like “Certificate of Birth resulting in Stillbirth.” They in some way acknowledge that no living person resulted so there is no reason to be issuing Driver’s Licenses etc to someone presenting this type of birth certificate.

 Others worry that giving out birth certificates to stillborns will act as a stepping stone towards eroding abortion rights. They worry that a birth certificate acknowledges that the babies were alive before birth, and this ideology has been used in numerous states to try and push forward personhood legislation. These personhood amendments would grant a fetus the same rights as a born child, from the moment on fertilization. Groups wary of these laws, such as NOW (the National Organization for Women), have expressed acceptance of them as long as these certificates are optional and that they exclude abortions. The new law in Pennsylvania has vague language that has worried some legislators when it comes to abortion rights but it is optional and ultimately it was passed.

Given the present anti-abortion climate created by current lawmakers in the state of Pennsylvania, it is easy to see why some would be concerned about this slippery slope. For now we must hope that this law is not used by those with an extreme anti-abortion stance and that the original intent behind this legislation stands, to give parents closure over a stillborn child.