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.

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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 CBSNews.com 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.

http://www.cdcnpin.org/GYTWidgets/GYTWidget.aspx

Abortion, Abortion Rights, Birth Control, Breast Cancer, pro-choice

Susan G. Komen Defunds PP

                Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how insidious the anti-choice movement can be. With loud, boisterous opposition like Randall Terry and Operation Rescue; not to mention the very distinct attacks on abortion rights going on at the state level recently it can sometimes seem like everything they do is intentionally portrayed to “save the unborn babies.” Sometimes though, they are sneaky.

                Last fall we wrote about a Congressional investigation into Planned Parenthoods financial records to determine if they are using federal funds to pay for abortions, something that is expressly forbidden by the Hyde Amendment. Planned Parenthood maintains they have not used the funds for abortions and that any funding for abortions comes from private or state level donations (in states where this is legal.)

                Planned Parenthood provides a number of services aside from abortions including STD testing, access to birth control, pap smears and breast exams. Money from the federal government goes towards these services. They also receive money from private sources for these services as well. 19 Planned Parenthood affiliates were recipients of grants from the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation to help them provide breast exams for low-income, uninsured and under-insured patients in the communities they serve.

                They have been receiving these grants for years and the Susan G. Komen foudation has defended them saying they provide life saving services by giving breast exams. Sadly, less than a year ago, the foundation hired Karen Handel is a vocally anti-choice activist who ran for Governor of Georgia on an anti-choice platform. Since hiring her, the foundation has changed their polices for grant giving forbidding giving grants to any group that is under investigation by any local, state, or federal government agency.

                This new policy means that the Susan G. Komen foundation will no longer be giving grants to the 19 Planned Parenthood affiliates. They claim it is not a political move and is not meant to reflect any anti-choice sentiments, but this seems insincere given that the change to policy came only after they hired an anti-choice activist and after a Congressional investigation began.

                Some local chapters of the foundation are not happy with the national headquarters decision; and at least one, SGK of Connecticut has posted a public statement against the decision.  Planned Parenthood has also issued a statement expressing their disappointment in losing the grants and to announce that in spite of the lost funding they intend to ensure that no one in the communities served by these affiliates loses access to health care. They have created the Breast Health Emergency Fund to provide emergency funding to these affiliates and make sure that there is no interruption to their funding to the services they are able to provide.

                If you want to support full access to women’s health care, check out this article at GOOD.com, they give some awesome ways to help support broader access.

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.

Government Policy, Immunizations, reproductive rights

Should the HPV Vaccine be given to both Sexes?

The HPV vaccine has been FDA approved for girls and women since 2006 and for boys and men since 2009. HPV is also one of the most common STD’s in the US with at least 50% of all sexually active men and women having it at some point in their lives. Since HPV is linked to multiple types of cancer and especially to cervical cancer, getting vaccinated has the benefit of preventing these cancers. The vaccine is low risk and has minimal side effects but people are still questioning who should get it.

A new study out of Venice uses a mathematical model to show how the spread of HPV can most effectively be stunted by only vaccinating one sex. Herd immunity is the result of widespread vaccination. Basically if enough people in a community are vaccinated against something (75%-95% of the population) then everyone else is protected too. The concept is true enough, that is pretty much how polio was eradicated. Because the vaccine was approved for women first and most countries already have programs in place to encourage girls getting the vaccine, the researchers conclude that it would be most efficient to have only girls get vaccinated. On the surface it seems pretty logical.

The problem with applying herd immunity to the HPV vaccine is that it would require a perfect world in which ALL or nearly all women were able to be vaccinated. This just isn’t really feasible at this point. The vaccine is approved for people over 26. Anyone over 26 when the vaccine was approved is not eligible to get it, but that doesn’t mean they are necessarily out of the dating community for someone who was under 26 at the time of FDA approval. So a 31 year old woman is dating a 30 year old man. Since only women “need” to be vaccinated, her partner is still at risk. It’s only a year but it makes a huge difference.

On top of that problem, a girl’s only model completely ignores the reality of gay men. Some men have sex with both men and women so by not getting vaccinated these men are still at risk of getting and transferring HPV to their non-vaccinated partners. Plus, we can’t forget the conservative backlash against all things sex related.  Some parents seem to think this will cause their daughters to be promiscuous if they get the vaccine. This isn’t true, but it isn’t keeping people from believing it. This belief is keeping them from getting their daughters vaccinated.

So until we live in a more perfect world where the majority of women are able to get vaccinated at a young enough age, applying a girls only standard to the HPV vaccine will not help the other half of the population.

Abortion Rights, Government Policy, reproductive rights

Appropriations Bill Passes

               Congress passed the 2012 Appropriations Omnibus. On the one hand this is good and it determines the budget for 2012 and budgets are important. During negotiations Republicans wanted to demolish the family planning as well as all grants to Planned Parenthood. They also wanted to require all grants for sex education programs go to abstinence only programs. The Democrats were able to block these measures, but a few slipped in that are incredibly troublesome from a reproductive health standpoint.

                First is that the bill contained a provisions which bans the Washington D.C. from using its own local funds to help low-income women pay for abortions. The Mayor of D.C. along with other city politicians were actually arrested protesting a temporary ban that was already in place. D.C.’s nonvoting representative Eleanor Holmes Norton released a statement lambasting the hypocrisy of congress. In it she states “We will never be satisfied as long as there is a single prohibition on D.C.’s use of its local funds… It is especially ironic that the final sticking point in the negotiations on the conference report was how to promote democracy in Cuba while the bill tramples on democracy in the ‘capital of the free world’ with a rider keeping its residents from spending their own local funds on abortion services for low-income women.”

                Another disheartening policy rider included in the bill is a ban on using federal funds to support needle exchange programs. These programs have been proven effective at preventing HIV and Hepatitis C transmission in intravenous drug users as well as their spouses and children. These programs benefit more than just the people using the needles, but apparently Congress decided that drug users and their families are not worthy of protection.

                Of course if we look at a third feature of the bill, it makes you wonder if maybe Congress just doesn’t care about reducing HIV/AIDS transmission at all. Another part of the bill cuts 25% of the CDC’s budget for the Division of Adolescent and School Health, specifically to their HIV/STD prevention program. According to a SIECUS press release “For more than two decades, DASH has effectively worked with schools across the country to provide an evidence-based and data driven approach to school health education, including sex education for the prevention of HIV, other STDs, and unintended pregnancy. Research has shown that school health programs can reduce the prevalence of health risk behaviors among young people, have a positive effect on academic performance, and are cost effective.” Meanwhile, another part of the bill adds funding to abstinence only sex education programs which have been proven ineffective numerous times.

                So yes, it’s good that the bill passed and it clearly could have been a lot worse. That doesn’t mean I’m not left wondering when the health of American’s became a political bargaining chip.

Abortion Rights, Birth Control, Government Policy, pro-choice, reproductive rights, women's health, women's health care

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?