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

New Hampshire Planned Parenthood

Most of the time when I read about conservative efforts to defund Planned Parenthood at a federal level, it’s all pretty much the same nonsense over and over like the “Planned Parenthood kills babies and taxpayers shouldn’t have to support that…” type arguments. Never mind that no taxpayer money actually goes to provide abortions due to the Hyde amendment, anti-abortion activists just can’t seem to accept any money going to Planned Parenthood and similar groups at all. The situation in New Hampshire is just a smidge different that it feels like a whole new topic.

Since defunding Planned Parenthood at the federal level failed miserably, many anti-abortion lawmakers decided to try it on the state level to varying degrees of success. In New Hampshire, the Executive Council there decided to decline a $1.8 million state contract with Planned Parenthood, cutting a huge source of its income. The federal government then gave Planned Parenthood in the state a federal grant of $1 million to make sure they could keep their clinics open and continue to provide services to the members of the community. Again, none of this money goes to pay for abortions, it just helps low income patients receive the reproductive healthcare they need and deserve.

Apparently this action is not sitting well with the anti-abortion groups in the state. Particularly the New Hampshire Right to Life group. According to them, these services could be provided at a regular hospital: “With the recent cuts in subsidies to hospitals, the full service hospitals located in each of the communities where Planned Parenthood operates an abortion clinic would be better able to provide a variety of health care services to people in need…’’ Because apparently hospitals don’t have other things to do… like take care of sick people.

 So the NHRTL filed a Freedom of Information act request to the Department of Health and Human Services to find out why they money was granted to Planned Parenthood instead of other health care groups. The HHS responded saying they would not be able to fill the request in the normally allotted time frame so the NHRTL filed a suit to have a federal judge order the documents be handed over. I have to say, this just seems to extreme to me. Like really, is it that serious that the federal government handed out a grant to a family planning group under Title X, an act created to provide funding to family planning groups? Sometimes I wonder if anti-abortion advocates just have too much time on their hands.

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

More Governmental Attacks on Women via Abortion Providers

A while back, we told you about SB 574 and SB 732, bills out of the Pennsylvania legislature devoted to limiting access to abortion by placing burdensome regulations on abortion clinics. These regulations include room size requirements, staffing requirements, even elevator requirements. Experts say the passing of these regulations would likely cause most, if not all of the abortion clinics in the state.

Both bills are incredibly similar and either getting signed into law would have a similar impact. Right now, SB 732 is closest to passing. It originated and passed in the State Senate and this week it passed in the House.It passed with a 151 to 44 majority with only a few voting against it. It seems Pennsylvania lawmakers are unconcerned with the women in their state.

Though they say they are passing the law to protect women their actions will in fact only harm them. I’d love to say that maybe they just don’t realize the impact these regulations will have on the women in the state, maybe they think it will only impact the abortion providers. I’d love to, but I can’t. The few Representatives who voted against the bill made statements regarding its potential impact on women. In fact, during the 2011 session, lawmakers in Pennsylvania have spent 30% of their time debating abortion, so they are fully aware of the consequences of this bill.

According to Pittsburg Live “Rep. Phylllis Mundy, D-Luzerne County, said the legislation would mark a return to back-alley abortions because the physical changes needed to comply with the new law will put clinics out of business.” And “Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrell Hill, said it is part of national effort by pro-life legislators to circumvent the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.”

But lack of access to an abortion provider due to physical proximity is only one of the problems women will face. If any of the clinics in the state are able to make the necessary renovations, they will have to increase their prices in order to pay for the renovations. One estimate says costs for a first trimester abortion will likely go from in the $300’s range to approximately $1000. So not only will most women likely not have access to one near them, they will also have to come up with a significant amount of money they likely don’t have. One of the primary reasons women give for wanting an abortion is not having the money to support another child.

Let’s be real here for a second, although abortion may have been made legal as recently as 1973, it is not a new phenomenon. Women have been seeking ways to avoid getting pregnant and to end unwanted pregnancies for almost as long as we have been able to have cogent thoughts about pregnancy. The earliest recorded evidence of abortion was from an ancient Egyptian papyrus dated from around 1550 B.C.E., or in other words around 3500 years ago.

Women are not going to stop having abortions just because they can’t afford one. What they will do is go to illegal abortion providers or try to self induce with dangerous substances. They will get hurt and potentially die because state lawmakers refused to acknowledge these laws are not going to help anyone.

SB 732 heads back to the state Senate for final approval of alterations made by the House, (it is expected to pass there) and then goes to Governor Corbett (who is pro-life and also expected to approve it). The ACLU and Planned Parenthood have already indicated they will challenge the law in the court system if/when it is approved. Similar legislation has already been successfully challenged in other states.

Birth Control, reproductive rights, women's health

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.”

Abortion, Birth Control, Emergency Contraception, feminist policy, pregnancy, pro-choice

Siri and Abortion

So there has been some online buzz about how Siri (the personal assistant app on the new iPhone) handles issues related to women’s health. Apparently she can’t help you find any useful information. If you ask her where to get an abortion in NYC she tells you she can’t help you, if you ask her the same question in Washington D.C. she directs you to 2 CPC’s- one in Virginia and one in Pennsylvania. This is in spite of the fact that multiple abortion clinics exist in both of these areas.

Many websites have noted this omission and many commenters’ have pointed out that if you ask Siri directly where is there a Planned Parenthood she is able to find them for you. This has many people deducing the problem is a programming error related to a lack of female programmers in the various stages of Siris development. The lack of female programmers means that Siri just didn’t get the information she needed to properly handle this type of question.

While I fully admit I am not a programmer and don’t know much about artificial intelligence; I can’t help but think that there is more to the story here than that. I say this because a writer in Pittsburgh decided to see how Siri responded to requests for abortion information in her city. Her general questions got much of the same responses that general questions in D.C. and NYC got- vague answers and a lack of real help; So she tried searching for the specific names of abortion clinics in her area: American Women’s Services and Allegheny Reproductive Health Center. She was unable to get results for either in spite of the fact that Google searches for both topics bring up numerous results. If this were a simple programming oversight that caused Siri to not understand how to respond to requests for abortions, abortions clinics or abortion centers; then why can’t she find specific businesses with online presences?

It isn’t just abortion she can’t help you with. She sends you to local Emergency Rooms if you ask her for emergency contraception and can’t get you anything at all if you ask her for Plan B or the Morning After Pill. She also fails to respond properly to request for help for rape victims. This is possibly the worst oversight because she when asked for rape resources all she says is “I didn’t find any sexual abuse treatment centers.” So she knows what rape is but is apparently incapable of searching for rape resources online.

I’m not the only person who feels these omissions are suspect; Perivision “An iPhone Centric Blog… Full of Tech Goodness” says this:

“I do believe its possible that this is just a glitch in the lexicon set, but given how well Siri and interpret other requests, AND that google and bing will give you the proper responses when doing a search, AND it offers CPC sites (thus it must understand the word abortion) this has to have been something placed in the code or taught to Siri by someone(s).  Also, ask it for planned parenthood, and it will find four places in San Francisco. Say, ‘I need an abortion’ and it will say it cannot find any abortion clinics.  As if those institutions were erased from the dataset.”

They understand far more about the tech side of this then I do so reading that just added to my curiosity. Many others have pointed out that even if it is an intentional oversight, it may not be that Apple had anything to do with or knows anything about as they didn’t develop Siri; they purchased the technology from its creators in 2010. Whether it is intentional or not what I am most curious about is how Apple will respond to it now that they know about it. And they must know about it… at least 3 writers on the topic reached out directly to Apple to see what they had to say though it seems no one has gotten a response yet.

What do you think? Is this all an omission based on a lack of female programmers or is there something deeper going on? I’d especially love to hear from anyone who has a deeper understanding of programming.

Abortion, Abortion Rights, child birth, pregnancy, pro-choice, reproductive rights, women's health care

Assistance to Abortion Patients

To continue our “attitude of gratitude” this week we would like to talk about a few of the groups that go out of their way to support women who are getting abortions. First and perhaps most obviously, are the abortion providers themselves. After all they are the people getting the hate mail, being harassed, being threatened and in some cases even death. They spend their days providing women with abortion care and for that we are grateful. There are some other groups that are also pretty hands on when it comes to supporting abortion patients and we’d like to talk about some of them today.

One such group is the “Doula Project.” Based out of NYC they provide volunteer doula support to low income women. For readers who don’t know, a doula is traditionally an advocate for pregnant women in the delivery room. They are there solely to focus in caring for the patient as she gives birth in settings where the focus is usually on the baby being born. The Doula Project doulas do not only provide support to women who are giving birth, they also support women who chose to terminate their pregnancies. At most clinics, the patients are allowed to have a support person with them in the waiting room, but for insurance reasons are often left with just the doctor and nursing staff for the actual procedure. While most doctors are nurses will try to be compassionate, their main focus has to be on performing the procedure. Doulas are covered by the clinics insurance and are thus allowed in the procedure room but they are there to comfort the patient; not do the procedure. They hold the patients hand, talk to her about the weather, astrological signs, pop culture or whatever helps keep the patient calm and safe. According to their website they work with 4 clinics in the NYC area and have affiliates in Asheville, NC; Piedmont Triad, NC; and Seattle, Washington. They also offer training for clinics, activists, hospitals and other organizations who wish to incorporate doula care into their services.

Another group that provides hands on care in the NYC area is the Haven Coalition. A group of women who volunteer room in their homes for women who have had to travel out of state to get to NYC for a second trimester abortion but can’t afford the cost of a hotel room. Second trimester abortions are significantly more expensive than a first trimester and even just a few days can add another couple hundred to the cost, so many women get there and find that the money they had set aside for a hotel must now go to their procedure. This is where the Haven volunteers come in providing them a place to stay for the night. That is pretty cool.

These group both focus on support during the procedure, one group I’d like to mention focuses on women after the fact. They are called Exhale and consider themselves a “pro-voice” helpline for women after they have had their procedure and who need and/or want help with their emotions relating to their abortions. Women have a huge range of feelings after an abortion from relief to grief and everything in between. Exhale supports women by saying basically that it is ok to feel what you are feeling. They are not pro-choice or pro-life they merely seek to support women in dealing with their emotions after an abortion. They also provide support to family members and friends of women who have had an abortion. There is no limit to when a patient can call Exhale, according to their website they get callers the day after their procedures, to a few months to even years after the fact. Their website also includes links to references including other helplines, websites, even books that have a pro-voice message.

These groups get hands on in providing emotional support to women who have had or are having abortions. They hold their hands, they give them a place to sleep, they tell them whatever they are feeling is ok. They help make sure these women feel truly cared for in a world that far too often tries to condemn them. We are grateful to know there are people out there who truly care about the people seeking abortions and want to ensure they are supported.