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, pregnancy

Birth Control Recall

Birth control pills come in numerous brands and types with varying degrees of manufactured estrogen and progestin. These hormones stop ovulation and help prevent an unplanned pregnancy. Most pill packs have two types of pills, one set of 21 pills with active ingredients and 7 pills that are placebo pills usually only containing sugar or sometimes a lower dose of the hormones used. To ensure effectiveness it is important to take the pills in the proper order.

Pfizer Inc, a pharmaceutical manufacturer, announced this week that they are recalling 14 lots of their Lo/Ovral-28 tablets and 14 lots of Norgestrel/Ethinyl Estradiol tablets. They state that a manufacturing error led to some of the pills being placed in an incorrect order leading some inactive pills to be mixed in with the active pills. They were alerted to the problem when a customer called and reported that pills in her pack were out of order. The problem was found and corrected immediately.The affected lots numbers can be found on the official press release located here.

 According to a report by the Huffington Post, doctors and pharmacists are not expecting a lot of patients being impacted by this as Lo/Ovral and the generic version Norgestrel/Ethinyl Estradiol are not commonly prescribed as they are an older version and newer options with lower hormone levels are available.

However, taking inactive pills in the wrong order can significantly lower the effectiveness of prescription birth control so if you take either of these pills please compare your lot number to those listed. If your lot number matches, return them to the pharmacy you pick up your prescriptions at and begin using a non-hormonal back up method such as condoms or sponges right away. The press release from Pfizer also advises informing your doctor if you are using one of the affected lots.

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, Government Policy, pregnancy, pro-choice, reproductive rights

The Problem with Parental Consent Laws

                Parental Consent and Notification laws are a bit of sensitive topic. On the surface they seem well intentioned and in fact in the best interest of the teen. We all want to believe in the ideal family; that parents will always, without question, help and support their children to the best of their abilities. We want to believe that parents will always do what is best for their child. In many, even most, cases of teen pregnancy this ideal is true. Yes, parents may be disappointed in their child upon finding out about an unwanted pregnancy. They may be surprised and sad, but they will still help the teen obtain an abortion if that is their decision.

                There is a fallacy in anti-choice ideology that if left to their own devices, pregnant teens would never tell their parents about an unintended pregnancy and subsequent abortion. This is simply not true, even in states without any parental consent or notification laws, the majority of pregnant teens DO tell their parents. Teens who don’t tell their parents usually have solid reasons for not telling them such as fear of being kicked out of their home, fear of physical abuse, or in cases of incest the parent might be the parent of the fetus and the teen fears further assaults.

                Requiring parental consent or notification laws put teens in less than ideal home situations at needless risk and are beyond unfair. Many would argue that cases such as these extremes are exactly why these laws usually include a judicial bypass option.  Again, in an ideal world would be true. Since we don’t live in an ideal world, judicial bypasses just aren’t a realistic solution.

                An article at Alas, a Blog details exactly why judicial bypasses don’t work. Judges are afraid to give them for fear they won’t be re-elected or they are anti-choice and don’t think people should be having an abortion at all. The article even shows how judicial bypasses are impractical even in cases where one of two parents has already given consent; it’s a very interesting read so check it out. A real world example of this comes from a teen in Pennsylvania who sought a judicial bypass because she was afraid her mother would kick her out if she knew about the pregnancy.

                In her case, she was 3 months away from turning 18, had average grades and planned on going to college to pursue a law career. The judge assigned to her case decided to let a personal bias cloud their judgment by refusing the bypass on the grounds that she was too immature for an abortion because she didn’t want to risk losing her home by telling her mother. This case went to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, who overturned the decision because the judge was wrong to decline her bypass. The option of a judicial bypass exists for precisely the reason the girl sought it, she was afraid to tell her mother. The purpose of the law cannot be used to justify denying access to the law… it’s just ridiculous.

                So yes, I get it. Parental consent and notification laws seem to be in the best interest of teens, but in reality they just make life harder for teens that don’t have the ideal parents. That is why I am so disheartened to see that a parental notification law in Illinois is going to the State Supreme Court to determine if the state will begin to enforce it and for the fourth time, there is a push to get a notification law on the ballot in California. These efforts only hurt teens.

Abortion, Abortion Rights, Birth Control, Emergency Contraception, pregnancy, pro-choice

Personhood Comes up Again

                Recently in Mississippi a proposed “Personhood Amendment” failed. The amendment was a pro-life measure that would have granted legal “personhood” to a fetus from the moment of fertilization. Had this measure been successful it not only would have banned abortion, it could have impacted the legality of certain birth control options as well as aspects of in vitro fertilization. It was soundly beat by Mississippi voters, but apparently that has not stopped other states from attempting similar initiatives.

                Personhood Nevada attempted to get an amendment added to the 2012 ballot. As in Mississippi, the language was intentionally left vague because they know the vast majority of people support birth control and in vitro fertilization. Banning these or at least birth control is a central goal of “person” groups so they know to achieve this goal they have to be subtle about it. In Mississippi this vagueness was combated by pro-choice, pro-family planning and pro-fertility treatment groups using grassroots efforts to explain the ramifications of the amendment to as many people as possible.

                In Nevada, they won’t need to. According to the Florida Independent “Nevada law requires that all initiatives be accompanied by an official explanation of their effects, so that voters can make more informed decisions. But the explanation accompanying the Nevada personhood measure only discussed its effects on the legality of abortion, and said nothing about the effects it could have on other health care services.” Because of this law, the ACLU brought Nevada Personhood to court claiming that their wording in their initiative doesn’t properly explain the consequences of the  proposed amendment.

                Judge James E. Wilson agreed and re-wrote the initiative to say, “The initiative would protect a prenatal person regardless of whether or not the prenatal person would live, grow, or develop in the womb or survive birth; prevent all abortions even in the case of rape, incest, or serious threats to the woman’s health or life, or when a woman is suffering from a miscarriage, or as an emergency treatment for an ectopic pregnancy. The initiative will impact some rights Nevada women currently have to access certain fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization. The initiative will impact some rights Nevada women currently have to utilize some forms of birth control, including the “pill;” and to access certain fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization. The initiative will affect embryonic stem cell research, which offers potential for treating diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, and others.”

                So now when supporters of the initiative try to get the signatures needed to get the amendment on the ballot, they will have to explain why they are opposed to birth control, in vitro fertilization and stem cell research. While they are likely to get some signatures maybe even enough to get on the ballot, with the consequences so clearly spelled out for the voters, the initiative is even less likely to pass through a vote than it was in Mississippi.

                Groups in Ohio and Arkansas have also submitted proposal for “personhood” amendments. In Ohio the Attorney General has previously rejected the measure for being too vague, so the group rewrote and resubmitted it. In Virginia, a Republican as already submitted a bill for next year to make fetal “personhood” happen in the state, this time through the legislature instead of an amendment. We’ll keep you posted on how these attempts turn out.

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.

Birth Control, pregnancy, women's health

YAZ Lawsuit

If you have ever taken any kind of medication, you have likely noticed the list of potential risks and side effects. For example most antibiotics have a do not drink alcohol while on this medication warning. A common warning for birth control is a raised risk of blood clots particularly in women over 35 or women who smoke. The manufacturers of prescription medications are supposed to keep track of any potential side effects during trial periods and let the FDA know what they are so the FDA can weight them against the benefits of the medication. If approved the medications then come with warnings about the potential effects. Having risks will not necessarily preclude a medication from getting FDA approval but it is a possibility.

Bayer, the company that produces YAZ and Yasmin, a family of birth control pills that use drospirenone (a synthetic progestin) reported similar levels of blood clot risk to previous types of birth control pills when submitting data for the drugs to be approved. Newer reports are actually showing that medications containing drospirenone may actually have a 1.5 times higher risk of blood clots compared to birth control pills that use different hormones. This has led many to speculate that Bayer may have intentionally provided false information about the safety of the YAZ family of pills. There are currently over 10000 pending lawsuits over it.

Bayer is also accused of falsely advertising the benefits of YAZ and what it has been approved to treat. In the U.S. doctors may prescribe a medication for uses other than what it has initially been approved by the FDA for, however the manufacturer may not advertise for anything other than the approved uses. YAZ was approved by the FDA to treat a severe form of PMS (Pre-Menstrual Syndrome) known as PMDD (Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder) and moderate acne. In their commercials however, YAZ is advertised to treat PMS and mild acne. This led to an inquiry by the FDA and Bayer having to create a new series of advertisements clarifying what the approved uses for YAZ are.

In spite of all this controversy there is no disputing over the effectiveness of YAZ as a birth control method. The FDA does not seem to be considering removing its approval of YAZ and other drospirenone containg pills, but they are meeting on December 8th to decide if the warning labels that go with it should be altered to include warnings about the higher blood clot risk. This is not a new idea; Ortho Evra- the birth control patch, already has a warning label for its increased blood clot risk.

 Even with the raised risk, the chances of experiencing a blood clot for women under 35 who are none smokers is still relatively low so many doctors say they will continue to prescribe YAZ and other drospirenone containing birth control prescriptions because it is more effective than older types and comes with fewer mild side effects. For many women the raised risk of blood clots it worth getting rid of severe PMS symptoms. What do you think, is not getting pregnant worth a slightly higher risk of clotting or would you ask your doctor for a different prescription if they recommended YAZ?