Abortion, Abortion Rights, anti-abortion, Government Policy, pro-choice, reproductive rights

North Dakota

                Non-surgical abortions are a safe and effective way to terminate a pregnancy without requiring a surgical procedure. In the U.S. it is generally administered with two medications; the first to stop fetal growth and the second to induce a miscarriage. While is it likely that a miscarriage will occur naturally after fetal growth is halted it can take longer for this to occur which is why the second medication is used. This option is commonly chosen by women who want to avoid the invasiveness of a surgical procedure or who want to pass the pregnancy in the privacy of their homes. Whatever their reasons are for choosing a medication termination over a surgical are personal to each individual and should not be limited.

Last summer, North Dakota lawmakers banned the off label use of a common medication used in medication terminations. Most medications are approved by the FDA for one or two uses but are useful for many other medical conditions. For example Topamax® is a prescription medication FDA approved for the treatment of epilepsy in adults or children; however it has been found to also be effective in treating migraines. Doctors who prescribe it for migraine sufferers are prescribing it for an off-label use. The North Dakota law only bans off label use for a medication used in abortions; not off label use in general which makes it unconstitutional and unfairly limits the options available to abortion patients.

According to the Huffington Post the Red River Women’s Clinic performs approximately 1300 abortions a year and about 250 of them are medication based. They use mifeprex to stop fetal growth and this medication is FDA approved for that use. The problem comes with the second medication used to induce a miscarriage, misoprostol which is FDA approved for the treatment of ulcers but not abortion.

In July the Center for Reproductive Rights, on behalf of Red River Women’s Clinic, (the only abortion provider in the state) filed suit against the law and was successful in obtaining a temporary restraining order to block the law from taking effect. The judge has been hearing arguments both for and against the law and has continued the order until he makes a decision regarding a permanent block on the law.

The law leaves women with access to the drug that stops cell growth but not the drug that will actually cause the miscarriage, according to CanadianBusiness.com this is one of the issues the judge has with the law. He is quoted as saying “You’ve got one drug … that’s labeled for use in abortions, but you’ve got another drug that isn’t, and you need them both… I don’t get it. How do I get around that?” The lawyer for the state replied that mifeprex alone could induce an abortion. Judge Corwin replied: “So you’re suggesting that a doctor should give patients the (mifeprex) and just hope that that works? And if it doesn’t, then what do they do?” He also pointed out that the state didn’t provide evidence that medication abortions are unsafe or even less safe than the surgical procedure.

                Though Judge Corwin has yet to make a final decision, it seems there is reason to be hopeful that this law will be overturned.

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Abortion, Abortion Rights, Government Policy, pro-choice, reproductive rights

Congressman seeks to Limit D.C. Abortions Rights

As the capital city of the United States Washington, D.C. is not a state and has only a nonvoting representation in Congress. Congress has the power to create and pass any laws for D.C. that it pleases so basically D.C. has only a facsimile of self-government. For the most part Congress doesn’t abuse this power and lets city officials be a government without a large amount of interference. One area of D.C. life that Congress is apparently totally ok with interfering in is abortion rights.

Last year as part of a national spending bill they included a ban on spending local D.C. taxes on abortion coverage through the city’s Medicaid program. This was in spite of the fact that D.C. officials and residents made it abundantly clear that they should have the right to determine how they want to spend their own money and they want to cover abortions in the city Medicaid program.

This year it seems they want to go after D.C. abortions rights again. Representative Trent Franks (R- AZ) has introduced the “District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” which would prohibit women in D.C. from having abortions past 20 weeks. Similar legislation has been introduced in a number of state legislatures based on the shaky theory that a fetus can feel pain as early as 20 week and is currently active in 5 states.

The research supporting this claim is shaky at best and in fact most researchers and medical associations including the American College of Gynecology and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists assert that fetal pain doesn’t develop until much later in a pregnancy. In fact research done by researchers at the University of California San Francisco shows a fetus most likely doesn’t feel pain until around 28 weeks. In other words a full two months after this kind of ban prohibits abortions.

The proposed law does have an exemption for the life of the mother but it does not include one for when the fetus has a defect that makes it incompatible with life even though this is one of the primary reasons people have abortions past 20 weeks. So basically the law is pointless in protecting against pain for two primary reasons. First a fetus likely can’t feel pain that early anyway. The second reason it doesn’t protect against pain is because it will actually cause pain. A pregnancy that would have been ended due to a defect will have to be carried to term; the pregnant person would have to give birth which is in fact pretty painful. Then the parents have suffered through losing the baby that can’t survive outside of the womb. It seems to me that this law is not protection; it’s mostly just cruel.

Birth Control, Government Policy, pro-choice, reproductive rights

Birth Control Coverage Exemption

If you are a regular reader of this blog or if you follow news about reproductive health then you are probably aware that last summer the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it would include contraceptives as preventative care. This means that health insurance plans must cover contraceptives without a co-pay for all new and renewed plans as of August 2012. This is a huge step forward for reproductive health because it means everyone with health insurance will have access to their preferred method of birth control with no out-of-pocket expenses. This means more people will be able to prevent unintended pregnancy without straining their bank accounts.

Since the decision was made the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and other anti-contraception religious groups have been lobbying to get a broad exemption included that would allow workplaces that are run by religious groups but that employ or service people who do not participate in that religion to purchase plans that DO NOT include contraceptive coverage. For example a school owned/operated by the Catholic Church would be able to deny its employees coverage for birth control as well as refuse to provide it to their students through an on campus health center or student insurance program. This is in spite of the fact most professors and students are the school are not Catholic themselves.

Many liberals and groups that support greater access to contraception have been lobbying just as hard to ensure that the exemption doesn’t go through so that the people who work for this institutions would not lose their access to no co-pay birth control. On January 20th, their hard work has been rewarded because the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it would NOT expand the exemption. As it stands only groups that employ predominantly members of that religion are allowed to have plans that do not cover contraceptives. This means that the local Catholic Church itself can choose to not provide birth control to its direct employees but the hospital it is running must provide it to the people who work there.

The DHHS has included a one year extension to religious groups that are currently not providing coverage but that will be required to cover it in the future. The extension will not apply to any groups that are already providing some kind of coverage for contraceptives. While the extension will cover any schools/universities that don’t currently offer contraceptives it will not included the students. Schools must begin to supply their students with birth control through health centers and insurance plans. Any employer who takes advantage of the delay must also provide their employees with information regarding local resources where they can obtain low cost birth control until their insurance coverage begins.

Abortion, Abortion Rights, Government Policy, pro-choice, reproductive rights

Anniversary of Roe v Wade

               January 22nd marks the 39th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v Wade. Prior to this decision, abortions were illegal in most of the states because there was no federal ruling to support women’s access to it. Prior to this decision, if a woman wanted to control her own body, her own future, her own health she either had to have the money to travel to a state where abortion was legal or risk having an illegal abortion. While there were many reliable underground abortion providers such as Chicago’s Jane; most abortions were provided by untrained, unlicensed practitioners who preformed a procedure and hoped it worked. This resulted in severe injuries and often death for the woman.

                Roe v Wade brought abortion out of back alley providers and into the hands of legitimately trained and licensed health care providers. This has had huge implications for women being able to determine their own lives and values. Along with being one of the most monumental decisions in terms of women’s equality; it is also one of the controversial. Groups opposed to abortion rights have been working for the past 39 years to slowly and surely chip away at the protections Roe v Wade gives.

                According to the decision abortions cannot be restricted up to the point of viability which is generally considered to be around 24 weeks. Over the past few years however states have been passing laws that in fact restrict abortion prior to 24 weeks. The first, though not the only, to do so was passed in Nebraska and bans abortion past 20 weeks on the theory that a fetus can feel pain at that gestation. The research on the theory is spotty at best and most medical experts seem to concur that the reality is that a fetus cannot feel pain until much later in the pregnancy.

                The spotty research however was more than enough for the anti-choice zealots to pass this law and many others similar to it in other states. The Ohio State Senate is now actually debating a law that would ban abortions past the time that a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually around 5 or 6 weeks. These laws are intentionally being passed with the purpose of getting an abortions rights group to challenge them with the hopes that when the lawsuit makes it to the Supreme Court, the conservative majority will actually overturn Roe v Wade as part of the decision.

                In order to celebrate the rights granted by Roe V Wade as well as to raise awareness to the threats these rights are facing NOW, NARAL Pro-Choice America and other abortions rights groups are hosting a myriad of events over the weekend. If you can, go and participate. And If you go, share your experiences in the comments, we’d love to hear about it!

Abortion, anti-abortion, Government Policy, pro-choice, reproductive rights

Virginia’s Potential Ultrasound Law

               Well, it looks like Virginia might be jumping on the required ultrasound bandwagon. As we mention earlier this week, the most extreme required ultrasound law exists in Texas, where not only do doctors have to give patients an ultrasound, they also have to describe the image and make the fetal heartbeat audible. Awesome right? While Texas is the only state to require forcing the doctor show the ultrasound, they are far from the only state to require an ultrasound be preformed. According to the Guttmacher Institute, at present, 6 states require ultrasounds to be preformed. Nine more require that if an ultrasound is performed, then the doctor must offer the patient an opportunity to see it. Keyword here is offer.

                Now Virginia lawmakers are jumping on board and they aren’t being tentative about it. There are currently 2 different required ultrasound bills in committee in the Virginia Legislature. Both were submitted this week by 2 different lawmakers. The more extreme of the two was submitted by Delegate Mark L. Cole (R- Fredericksburg). This law requires that patients give written informed consent before they can get an abortion done and part of that “informed consent” is having an ultrasound done and offer the patient the opportunity to view the image. The ultrasound according to this bill must be done at least 48 hours before the procedure is done unless there is a medical emergency. Apparently forcing patients to have a medically unnecessary ultrasound isn’t enough for Del. Cole, no he seems to think people seeking abortions haven’t actually thought about the decision yet.

                The second bill was introduced by Delegate Kathy J. Byron (R- Campbell County) and also requires written informed consent and an ultrasound be preformed and the image offered to the patient. Her bill only requires a two hour waiting period from the time the ultrasound is done to the time of the procedure. Her bill is clearly the lesser of two evils because at least it won’t require two trips on the part of the patient. This is especially important in Virginia because the trap laws recently enacted there have the potential to close most if not all the clinics in the state making it harder for patients to get to a clinic for even just one appointment much less a second appointment.

                This is the fifth time Delegate Byron has introduced an ultrasound bill to committee, each time getting the bill passed by the state House of Delegates. The state Senate Education and Health Committee however, never let the bill out to the floor. The most recent election however, changed the Senate population and the Committee will have a stronger Republican influence this year than it did in past years, so if either bill makes it through the House, it may well pass at least the Senate committee.

                If either bill passes and is then signed into law it will be a ridiculous intrusion into the medical care of people seeking abortions. Sadly, there is a strong chance that at least one of them will pass because as the recently enacted TRAP laws prove, Virginia has a pretty conservative government.

Government Policy

FBI Director Approves Rape Definition Change

On the opposite spectrum of yesterdays post about the invasive ultrasound law in Texas, we have to great news to talk about today. We have discussed previously that the Women’s Law Project, Ms. Magazine and The Feminist Majority foundation have been spearheading a campaign to get the FBI to change the definition of rape for use in the annual Uniform Crime Report (UCR). This report is the primary source that law and policy makers have for determining what kind and amount of funding/support should go to organizations that help victims of rape.

Until this decision the definition of rape was the “carnal knowledge of a woman forcibly and against her will.” This severely limited the number of rapes reported to the UCR because it doesn’t include victims who were drugged, victims who were underage or men as victims. While most law enforcement agencies had reports of these rapes, they were not passed on the UCR as rapes because they didn’t meet the definition. For example Chicago didn’t report any rapes for the year 2010 because the reported rapes didn’t match the UCR definition.

The new definition is much broader; it states that rape is “the penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” This definition includes men as victims, underage victims and victims who were drugged.

As of January 6th 2012, FBI Director Robert Mueller has approved the new definition and it will officially go into effect. This change will have a lot of numerical implications. Since so many law enforcement agencies were getting reports of rape but were unable to give them to the UCR, the official numbers of reported rapes in many areas is going to rise. While many may see this rise in numbers as alarming it is important to remember that the actual rates have not changed, only the way the crimes are reported has. This is a good thing because it means that policy and lawmakers will be better able to judge the needs of victim support groups such as RAINN and ensure they get the funding they need.

This is especially relevant now because although victim support groups have long recognized that the number of rapes that are reported are only a fraction of the actual rapes committed, governmental officials have finally conducted research to corroborate it. Unfortunately, since it is only reported rapes that go into the UCR, rape will still be an underrepresented crime; but with a more accurate way to define rape as well as raised awareness of the prevalence of unreported rape there is room to hope that rape prevention and education can become a more important policy issue.

Abortion, Abortion Rights, Government Policy, pro-choice

Texas Sonogram Law

                So last year, Texas law makers passed an anti-abortion law that that required doctors to perform ultrasounds on patients seeking abortions. This is, sadly, not unusual a number of other states also require sonograms before an abortion procedure. This law takes it one giant step forward however and also requires that the doctor show the ultrasound image to their patient. The patient can choose to opt-out of seeing the image; however they cannot opt-out of hearing a description of the image and hearing the fetal heartbeat if there is one. The only exemptions to this are if a patient CERTIFIES that they are a rape or incest victim or if the abortion is the result of fetal defects.

                The Center for Reproductive Rights filed suit against the law on behalf of the states abortion providers with the argument that it violates a physician’s first amendment right to free speech by forcing them to provide medically unnecessary and biased information to their abortion patients. Well the 5th circuit judge Sam Sparks agreed and blocked the law from being enforced until the final hearing determines the laws status.

                The state’s legal team decided to appeal this decision and the 3 judge panel decided to overrule Judge Sparks decision on the grounds that the law only requires the doctors to provide “truthful, non-misleading information” and is therefore totally not unconstitutional. Except that, in my (not a legal expert) it in fact does. It requires doctors to perform a (usually) medically unnecessary sonogram and tell their patient details about it that are not medically relevant to the procedure being done. How is that not violation of the doctors right to freedom of speech? And for that matter how is it not violating the patient’s right to bodily autonomy? The patient is choosing to have an abortion; they are not choosing to see images of a fetus on a sonogram machine.

                In the decision the authoring judge even states that the patients’ rights are not being violated because although the doctor has the obligation to display and describe the sonogram image and make the fetal heartbeat audible, the patient can “simply choose not to look or listen.” So what? People seeking abortions can put on eye covers and headphones? Or just look away and plug up their ears? That is the recommended solution for forcing women to have a sonogram done when they don’t want one? That is absurd.

                In some cases, particularly in earlier gestational abortions, a trans-vaginal sonogram may be required to get an image. This is in itself a whole bag of ridiculousness and for more information on that check out what Andrea Grimes has to say over at Hey Ladies.

                While it is important to note that most providers will perform an ultrasound of some kind prior to an abortion, to determine fetal size etc, the issue at hand isn’t so much the giving an ultrasound so much as it is REQUIRING them. Unless you can CERTIFY you are a rape or incest victim, but considering that most rapes go unreported this is likely going to be a rarely used exception.