Category Archives: 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.

Wisconsin Defunds Well Women Program

               It’s no secret that right-wing politicians don’t like Planned Parenthood. They have made that fact incredibly clear over the past year. They have claimed throughout most of their defunding efforts, that they only oppose Planned Parenthoods abortion services. Wisconsin is showing us that really, they don’t care what services Planned Parenthood provides, they just want them closed no matter who it hurts.

                For the past 17 years Wisconsin has run the Well Women’s Program, which provides free breast cancer, cervical cancer and multiple sclerosis screenings to uninsured women ages 45-64. The program runs on both federal and state funding used to pay contractors to provide the services. The program provides life saving services to women in the state.

                Yet Governor Walker doesn’t seem to care about that. He has decided not to renew a contract with Planned Parenthood to provide the screenings. In some areas the impact will be minimal. Women who may have previously gone to Planned Parenthood for care, who may have a doctor they are comfortable with, will have to find a new provider. Who cares if they have an existing relationship with a provider right?

                But in at least 4 counties, there are no other Well Women providers aside from Planned Parenthood. This means women in these areas will be disproportionately impacted. Some may be able to travel to counties farther away to get care, but many will be stuck between a rock and a hard place. With nowhere convenient to go they will be less likely to catch health issues early because they will get care less frequently.

                Last year Planned Parenthood did 1260 screenings and found 15 cases of breast and cervical cancer in the 4 counties that are set to lose their sole provider. Had it not been for Planned Parenthood, those cases may have gone undiagnosed. According to a report from Mother Jones “The county health officers in two of those counties have already issued statements decrying the state for targeting Planned Parenthood for the cut and for risking the health of their residents. ‘If it’s not Planned Parenthood, then who’s going to coordinate? Where do women go?” Atkinson asks. “We don’t have any indication at this point.’”

                It is unconscionable politicians consistently put their political needs above the health and well-being of the women in their states all in the name of “protecting the unborn children.” What about the living, breathing, feeling, thinking women? What about the mothers and daughters, the sisters and wives, co-workers and friends. Why is their health less important than politics?

Wisconsin GOP and the Attack of Abstinence Only Sex Ed

I readily admit that the anti-abortion, anti-women attitude of the GOP often perplexes and annoys me. I think the one the thing that really makes me legitimately angry is abstinence only sex ed. If you are so opposed to abortion, how can you justify being anti-birth control. It is mind boggling and infuriating at the same time. Plus, it doesn’t work.

Yet, for some reason, Republican legislators in the Wisconsin state government are trying to bring aback abstinence only sex ed. Last year, the then Democrat controlled government passed the Healthy Youth Act which included provisions for sex education. The law does not require schools to offer sex education curriculum but it does say that if sex education is offered, it must be evidence based and comprehensive, meaning must include contraceptives.

 Sen. Mary Lazich has introduced a bill that would overturn the contraceptives requirement. It would also add requirements that would put it firmly into abstinence territory. It would require an emphasis on abstinence being the only reliable way to prevent pregnancy as well as require lessons in parental responsibilities and the benefits of marriage. Reports say the author of the bill claims that the bill is really about putting control into the hands of each district and that schools would still be able to teach birth control methods if they want to, but the Democrats in the state government seem to realize how ridiculous this bill is.

Wisconsin law makers need to ask the state of Texas about the effectiveness of abstinence only sex education programs. They use them and have a teen pregnancy rate that is almost double the national average. Advocates have started a campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of encouraging an abstinence only sex education program. According to the State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) has said the bill will likely pass through Senate.

All I can think to say is “Ridiculous.”

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?

VAWA Reintroduced

Back in 1994 Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to help eliminate domestic abuse, dating violence and sexual assault direct towards women. It created federally funded programs to support batter women’s shelters, advocacy and educational groups, and programs to improve law enforcement protocols. Following the passage of VAWA, all 50 states created anti-stalking and anti-domestic violence laws to fall in line with the requirements of VAWA.

Since its creation, nationally the number of women reporting domestic abuse has gone up 51%. The number of women killed by a partner has dropped by 34% and since women now have access to support in leaving an abusive relationship the number of women killed by an abused partner has dropped by 57%. The rate of intimate partner homicide in Maryland dropped by 41% in only 4 years using VAWA funding to institute a “Lethality Assesment Program.” Clearly VAWA is working, it is demonstrably decreasing violence against women and supporting women who are already in abusive relationships.

Despite its success VAWA has to be reauthorized every few years or it expires. This year while conservatives were so busy focusing on limiting women’s access to reproductive healthcare VAWA’s renewal date passed and it expired back in September. Finally on November 30th of this year Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) announced they would be filing the VAWA Reauthorization bill for 2011. The bill includes a few additions to help build on the success VAWA already has. According to a PDF by the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women the major changes are:

-Streamlining programs and increasing accountability;
-Supporting coordinated, community-based responses and direct services for victims;
-Enhancing criminal justice responses to the crime of sexual assault;
-Strengthening housing protections for victims;
-Providing services and prevention programs for young people including those on college campuses;
-Giving law enforcement tools to hold offenders accountable in cases where the victim is from another country; and
– Improving the response to violence against Indian women and other underserved communities

The bill unfortunately cuts 19% of its 2005 funding budget, about $144 million. This cut could have major consequence for programs that are already suffering from limited budgets stretched to accommodated rising rates of domestic violence. As reported by RH Reality Check “the National Domestic Violence Hotline, set up by VAWA, reported that calls to the hotline increased by over 19 percent in the 12 months after the September 2008 market crash.”

Regardless of the funding cuts, I’m grateful VAWA has finally been introduced for reauthorization, especially with the programs in place. Until the problem has been fully eradicated, VAWA has an integral role by allowing the federal government to assist victims of domestic violence.

CRR takes the FDA to Court

When it comes to emergency contraception, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has a questionable past. Back in 1999 the FDA approved Plan B as emergency contraception by prescription only. At the Start of 2001 the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a Citizen Petition to have them reconsider this and make it available as an OTC (over-the-counter) medication and two years after the Plan B’s manufacturer filed a petition with the FDA to get OTC status.

While a panel of FDA experts recommended approval of OTC status, the head of the office in charge of the final decision told his employees that normal procedure would not be followed and they would not be making the decision. The FDA then denied the application and recommended the manufacturer re-file the application for OTC status for women over 16 only. Pretty shady huh? Well while all this was going on the head of this department Dr. Steven Galson, told a colleague that he had to deny the application or risk losing his job. Also during the time, the second most important person at the FDA during this time Dr. Janet Woodcock told a colleague that they have to deny the application and later approve it with an age restriction to “appease the administration’s constituents.”  They manufacturer did re-file with an age restriction did but by 2005 the FDA still had not approved it.

The Center for Reproductive Rights then filed a lawsuit against the FDA for letting politics determine their decisions instead of science. In 2006, with the lawsuit still pending, the FDA approved Plan B for women 18 and older as an OTC medication. In 2009 a New York court orders the FDA to approve Plan B for women 17 and older without a prescription and to reconsider the Citizen Petition filed in 2001. Also in 2009 the FDA approves Plan B, the new Plan B One-Step, and Next Choice ( a generic brand of Plan B) for women 17 and older without prescriptions but still requiring them for women 16 and under. In 2010 a new brand of emergency contraception Ella, is approved for women by prescription only. The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a motion to have the FDA found in contempt of court for failing to reconsider the Citizens Petition.

This ten year back and forth seems poised to be ended by the end of this year. The motion to have the FDA held in contempt of court will be heard on December 13. While the hearing relates specifically to Plan B the Center for Reproductive Rights has an online petition going to have the FDA also remove the age restriction and prescription requirement from Ella. That is a lot of information so if you’re interested in seeing it in a timeline check out this page on the CRR’s website. While you’re at it sign their petition to get all emergency contraception approved for OTC sale as well including Ella.

Sex Ed for Twenty-Somethings

This will be our last post about “things we are grateful” for this week and  though this is list is by no means all encompassing of the amazing things going on in the world of reproductive health it does include the things we most wanted to share. The final topic we will be sharing about is Sex education for young adults who have already left high school. While there are many groups that focus on teaching teens about sex education topics, much less attention gets paid to groups that reach out to people in their twenties.

One such group is the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancy. They have two separate initiatives going on right now to educate people in their twenties. The first is a new PSA/Website campaign called Bedsider. It focuses on teaching women about ALL of the available birth control options. According to the Bedsider website 7 out of 10 pregnancies among women ages 18-29 are unplanned. To help reduce that number the website has a number of features aimed at educating and encouraging birth control use. The “Methods” feature provides a chart with pictures representing each of the different available methods of birth control.

They cover everything from natural planning to condoms to hormonal birth controls to IUD’s. There is even a nifty compare and contrast chart so you can see the difference between methods including cost, effectiveness, ease of use and side effects. The site also features a reminders section to set up automatic reminders for appointments with your ob/gyn and reminders to take your method of birth control. It can be set to daily if you take the pill or weekly if you use nuva ring or even monthly if you prefer. They can be sent via email or text. There is also a “where to get it” feature to help you find doctors or pharmacies that provide the various form of birth control you might need.

The NCPTUP also has a website direct towards students at community colleges called Student Sex Life. It features educational sections on birth control, STD’s and forming healthy relationships. It also features a “Man Cave” section with videos on how pregnancy happens, condoms and how to be a father and a student at the same time.

Another group that uses the web for disseminating education is UWIRE for College Students. The website covers all sorts of topics in an in depth manner. They have a “your love life’ section which provides essays and information about how to have healthy romantic relationships. “Your sex life” includes information about how to prevent pregnancy and STD’s and even the basics of how the human body works in terms of sex and reproduction. “Your self” focuses on how to determine what you want from your sex/love life and how that impacts the other areas of your life.

On group that provides information about sex and sexuality directly to college students is The Consensual Project. They give presentations about the importance of consent in sexual relationships and how to ensure you are having the kind of sex you want to be having. They are intentionally gender and sexual identity neutral to ensure anyone who wants to learn more about consent feels comfortable at their presentations and workshops.

Every one deserves access to accurate sex education so they can help keep themselves happy both emotionally and physically and that is why we are grateful to these organizations for focusing on a group that is often overlooked in terms of sex ed. We’ll be back next week.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!