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.

Birth Control, health care, HIV Awareness, reproductive rights

April is STD Awareness Month… Here are some things you should know

            In case you didn’t know, April is National STD Awareness month. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) press release announcing this points out that although young people account for approximately 25% of the sexually active populations, people aged 15-24 account for nearly half of all new cases of STD’s/STI’s. This is a disproportionate number to say the least.

            Young people are not the only group that needs to worry about STD/STI’s. According to a news report on STD/STI rates among seniors have doubled over the past decade. Though there are likely a number of factors causing this increase, the article points out the widespread availability of Viagra and similar drugs that enable sexual activity at older ages as a major contributing factor.

Most people think that they will have symptoms if they are infected with an STD/STI. In some cases this is true; a few STD’s do have very noticeable and sometimes painful symptoms. For example, herpes sores can be quite painful, especially the first time you have one. Other STD’s/STI’s might cause pain during sex or urination and off color discharge from the genitals. Most of the time though STD/STI’s are symptom-less; unless you are tested for them there is no real way to know if you have one. Check out these fact sheets from the CDC, they give symptom and treatment information for the most commons STD/STI’s in theU.S.

It is important that EVERYONE get tested regularly if they are sexually active. STD/STI’s can be transmitted through intercourse, oral sex and anal sex. If you are sexually active, it is important to protect yourself and your future partners. Here are some things you can do to limit your exposure to STD/STI’s. Remember to use a condom every time, even if you are using another form of birth control. Other forms of birth control do not decrease risk of STD/STI’s. Use dental dams or a condom when performing oral sex. Using protection whenever you engage in sexual activity will greatly decrease your chances of contracting or spreading any infections.

Some people may be worried about getting tested because of the social stigma attached to STD/STI’s in our culture; but having an STD/STI doesn’t have to be a life changing event. Most are curable; those that aren’t like herpes can be treated and made manageable. Even HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence if you are diagnosed early enough. New studies show that the earlier you begin treatment for HIV/AIDS the longer  life span you will have and the less likely you are to spread it to some one else.

            To treat any STD/STI’s and to prevent spreading to others, you have to know you have one, so get yourself tested regularly and often. Contact your local health care provider or use the widget below to find a testing facility near you.

Birth Control, Emergency Contraception, feminism, gender politics, health care, pro-choice, reproductive rights

Rush’s Sponsors Stand up for Women

               Ever since the birth control mandate debate has erupted, I have been wondering if those opposed to it really understand how health insurance works. You see they keep complaining about how Catholics (while others may also be opposed it seems to be Catholic leaders who are most vocal in their opposition) who are morally opposed to birth control shouldn’t have to pay for other people to use birth control. Except that isn’t how this works, even if you are an employer you are not paying for birth control. While it is true that some employers pay a higher percentage of their employees health insurance premium, in nearly all circumstances the employee also pays part, if not most, of their premium. This buys them an insurance plan. Period. The only thing the premium pays for is an insurance plan. What that plan covers is paid for by the insurance company, what it doesn’t is paid for out of pocket by the plan recipients. No One is paying for anyone else’s birth control.

                Even big names in conservative media don’t seem to grasp that. Cue Rush Limbaugh, who entered the fray with a bang last week by attacking a Georgetown law student who testified in a panel on the birth control mandate. Her testimony included the story of a fellow student who was taking birth control pills for a health related matter but who couldn’t afford her prescription because the school refuse to cover birth control under their health care plan. Rush then called her a “slut” and a “prostitute” who wants American taxpayers to pay her to have sex because he is under the impression that taxpayers are somehow involved in paying for other people’s private health insurance plans. He even went so far as to say that if taxpayers are going to pay her to have sex, then they should be able to watch it and she should post videos of herself and her partner being intimate on youtube. Classy, right?

                Except, that isn’t how insurance plans work and taxpayers are not paying for other people’s private health plans, they pay for their own plans. While it’s true that taxpayer money does fund contraception through programs like Title X and Medicaid, this is nothing new. The debate has focused on private insurance plans. So not only is Rush wholly wrong in the argument he is making, he does it while being beyond rude, misogynistic and offensive to anyone who has used contraception and particularly to Sandra Fluke, whom he could not gather enough respect for to get her name correct.

                His offensive remarks last week brought out the ire of women and men throughout the country who have been calling on his sponsors to pull their advertising dollars. So far, 7 of them have listened and pulled their ads from his program; including online storage company Carbonite, who pulled funding after Rush issued a farce of an apology.  Hopefully this will garner enough attention to get the attention of other conservatives who keep trying to frame the debate in terms of slut shaming instead of in terms of health care, but considering both Romney and Santorum (the two current Republican primary front runners) have issued statements criticizing only the language Rush used and not the sentiment behind the language, I won’t be holding my breath.

Abortion, Abortion Rights, health care, pro-choice

CRR Files to Re-open FDA Plan B Suit

                Teva, the pharmaceutical company that manufactures Plan B has been attempting to get Plan B approved for over the counter status for over a decade. The Center for Reproductive Rights has been assisting them as they pursued lawsuits seeking interventions from the court system when it became clear that the FDA was putting political ideologies above science. The full background is a little complex so if you want the long version read our earlier posts regarding this topic.

                The long and short of it was that the FDA under former President George W. Bush’s administration was under orders to decline Teva’s application for OTC status. This information came out so Teva and the CRR sought a court injunction regarding it. The judge who presided over it ordered the FDA to re-examine the evidence and make the decision based on science instead of ideology. They did this but it took them a while so Teva and the CRR filed a motion of contempt against the FDA. While all this was going on President Obama got elected and appointed Kathleen Sebelius to be Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

                While the contempt hearing was pending, the FDA announced its intention to approve the OTC status of Plan B. Sadly, Secretary Sebelius decided to step in and (for the first time in American history) overrode the FDA’s decision. The contempt hearing was still scheduled and Judge Korman (the same judge who ordered the re-examination) dismissed the contempt charges because the FDA tried to follow science. He also recommended Teva and the CRR file to have their original suit re-opened and to add Secretary Sebelius as a defendant.

                Last week, they did exactly that. According to the press release on the CRR website “The new suit asks U.S. District Court Judge Edward Korman to issue a preliminary injunction that would allow all levonorgestrel-based emergency contraceptives —both the single-dose Plan B One-Step and the two-dose generic brands — to be immediately approved for unrestricted over-the-counter sale.” Specifically, they want it available in 30 days.

                During all of this, President Obama and his administration have pushed forward regulations that will require all women with health insurance get birth control without a co-pay. This includes Plan B so his seems to have a two-sided view of Plan B; he wants people to have it as long as they are over 17.

                Judge Korman has been demonstrably clear in his support for the greater access to Plan B given that science supports it. It is possible he will grant the CRR’s petition, but we will keep you posted.

Birth Control, health care, pregnancy

Maryland Expands Access to Reproductive Health through Medicaid

In the world of reproductive health, the overall “war” tends to be a back and forth of wins and losses to the conservative anti-sex, anti-choicers. 2011 was so full of losses that some of the wins were overlooked. One win in particular just went into effect in Maryland.

Last year Maryland lawmakers passed the “Family Planning Works Act” with bipartisan support in both the state Senate and House. As of January 1st it went into effect giving access to family planning and reproductive health care to over 30,000 women. According to the Washington Post the old laws in effect provided coverage for pregnancy expenses to low-income women as well as family planning coverage, but only to women who had already had a child. As they point out “That’s quite an odd policy, of course, because family planning is best begun before a family is started.” The new law will provide family planning coverage to low and moderate income women before they get pregnant. The coverage doesn’t only apply to contraception; it will also provide access to STI/STD testing as well as screens for: cervical/breast cancer, high blood pressure and diabetes. It will give women without access to these life altering health care services a chance to be in control of their health.

One of the primary reasons the bill had bipartisan support is that the change could save the state anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000 per year. The fact that covering pregnancy costs and subsequent health care cost for children with low-income parents is far more expensive than covering family planning services is no secret to family planning advocates. However it doesn’t seem to be as understood by politicians who continue to attempt to cut funding from organizations that provide low-income families with health care. Maryland politicians have put aside ideology and realized that not only does providing family planning coverage make social sense, it also makes fiscal sense.

Experts have predicted the new law will reduce the number of unintended pregnancies by almost 8000 a year. This is important because study after study have shown that babies that were planned for have much higher birth weights and a much lower rate of infant mortality than babies born to mothers who did not plan their pregnancy. This reason alone should be enough to get support on a national level to continue federal support of family planning groups, but the law will also reduce the number of abortions in the state by over 2000. For the anti-abortion crowd if an actually born baby having a better chance of survival isn’t enough of a reason to support family planning, then surely reduced abortions should be right?

Let’s not forget that 82% of Americans actually support expanded access to birth control. Unfortunately, for many in the anti-abortion group these reasons are not enough to support legislation that would expand federal support for family planning services. They don’t just want people to not have abortions, if people are having sex they want to have babies, regardless of whether they can take care of said baby or not.

Abortion, Abortion Rights, health care, pregnancy, pro-choice, reproductive rights

More on the Abortion and Mental Health “Link”

The results of a new meta-analysis by the U.K.’s National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health on the mental health risks purported to be associated with abortion were released recently. The study looked at 44 different studies spanning over 20 years to determine if abortion does in fact increase risks of having mental health issues. They found, once again, that having an abortion does not increase a person’s risk of having/developing mental health issues.

The results showed that while between 11% and 12% of the general female population have mental health issues, women with unintended pregnancies have a rate of about 33%. The raised risk of mental health issues does not increase in women who chose to have abortions versus those who chose to carry their pregnancies to term. The researchers concluded that it is unwanted pregnancy that correlates to raised instances of mental health issues.

We have talked before about how women with mental health issues such as drug abuse or depression are more likely to engage in riskier sexual behavior so that may be the case, but researchers were unable to make any conclusions from the data available. The authors of the study have stated they think it is likely a mix of prior existing conditions and the unwanted pregnancy itself in others. Either way what this study shows us is that, as pro-choices have known for quite some time now, abortions do not cause mental health issues.

Perhaps more importantly it also shows us how important comprehensive sex education is. If unwanted pregnancies can be correlated to a raised rate of depressions and anxiety issues etc, they we need to ensure that all people understand how reproduction works and that they have access to the contraception of their choice.

Groups opposed to abortion have already chimed in on the “inaccuracies” of the study claiming that it downplays feelings of guilt or shame or grief some women may feel after having an abortion. According to the Guardian an online news journal based in the UK, Anthony Ozimic of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children even “dismissed the study’s findings as predictable, accused its authors of ignoring key studies and said evidence showed that abortion involved an increased risk of depression and post-traumatic stress.”

Yes, it is true that some women do feel regret, shame, or grief after an abortion. These reactions are especially likely when the patient has no one in their support network to confide in without judgment. And yes, these women are allowed to have these feelings, but regret and shame are not actual mental health issues like substance abuse or depression. That does not mean they are not entitled to their feelings or to seek support for them. A great resource for anyone who wants to talk about their own abortion or even the abortion of a loved one can reach out to Exhale, a pro-voice support line. They take calls regardless of how you feel about your abortion.

health care, HIV Awareness

World AIDS Day 2011

                Today is World AIDS Day and the internet is blowing up with stories about people impacted by HIV/AIDS, articles about how we can help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, calls to action to help people already infected and even lists of products that will help support HIV/AIDS research.  Though HIV/AIDS awareness should not be a once year a thing, it is always good to help increase exposure and to help educate people about the issue. Here are the highlights of what people are talking about:

                A few weeks ago Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a new initiative of PEPFAR (the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV by 2015. This included $60 million in funding for HIV/AIDS groups worldwide. Today, President Obama committed an additional $50 million in funding for domestic HIV/AIDS groups. This includes $15 million to the Ryan White program which funds clinics and $35 million for state AIDS Drug Assistance Programs. Between the two that’s $110 million extra funding to help eliminate HIV/AIDS. Way to go U.S. government!

                The Hill and The Huffington Post both address the importance of combating the social stigma against people with HIV/AIDS. They point out how important it is to remember HIV/AIDS is a disease affecting a person not a person’s entire identity. At The Huffington Post, the article is written by Elton John who expresses his hope that by continuing to support HIV/AIDS research and combating the stigma around HIV/AIDS and reminding those who have it that their lives are still valuable and worth living; his son will live to see a world free from HIV/AIDS. Even former President George W. Bush got in on the action writing an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal about the importance of continuing to fund HIV/AIDS research.

                As we pointed out last week, globally the rate of new HIV infections has been dropping as have AIDS related deaths. Clearly we are moving in the right direction. With that in mind it is important to not get ahead of ourselves and start thinking the “war” is over. Now more than ever it is important to remember that unless we continue to fund HIV/AIDS programs all that progress will be lost and a cure will never be found.

                Most importantly it is vitally important that you always, always remember to protect yourself. Use condoms with every new partner and get tested regularly. Early treatment is the most effective way to ensure HIV/AIDS has a minimal impact on your life and the lives of the people who care about you. Until everyone is able to and does take responsibility for their sexual health we will never really see HIV/AIDS eradicated. To find a testing center near you check here.  Find treatment centers and places for housing assistance here if you need it.