Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration took an important step for millions of women by moving emergency contraception out from behind the pharmacy counter and making it available to people ages 15 and older with valid identification.
As a doctor, I know that this is good news and a great first step. Emergency contraception is a safe and effective form of birth control that can prevent pregnancy if taken within five days of unprotected sex. By reducing barriers, this announcement will help more women prevent unintended pregnancy.
At the same time, the Obama administration said this week that it is appealing last month’s federal ruling that would have eliminated the age restriction completely. Citing scientific research and evidence, the judge removed the age and point of sale restrictions that made it harder for all women to access emergency contraception. That ruling should stand.
Unprotected sex sometimes happens – a condom breaks or non-consensual sex occurs. When it does, all women, regardless of their age, need access to emergency contraception quickly and confidentially.
Remember, emergency contraception prevents pregnancy. The sooner it is taken, the more effective it is (but if you are already pregnant, it won’t work). That’s why removing unnecessary barriers that delay access can help a woman prevent an unintended pregnancy.
The research shows that emergency contraception is safe for women of all ages, including young people. Research also indicates that teens understand how to use emergency contraception and understand it is not intended for ongoing, regular use. It doesn’t increase risky behavior either.
A recent study published in the medical journal Pediatrics found that sexual activity is exceedingly rare among the youngest adolescents. However, when sex does occur among teens under 14, it is often non-consensual and contraceptives are not used.
So despite some of the myths out there, emergency contraception is a safe, effective way to prevent pregnancy for all women, regardless of age (though, as someone who talks to parents everyday about health care, I also know it’s crucial that parents have conversations with their children about these issues).
The good news is that this week’s decision makes it a whole lot easier for women to get access to emergency contraception. More should be done to remove all barriers and unnecessary hurdles. While the teen birth rates have declined significantly in the last two decades, they are still high, including in states that lack access to medical providers and preventive health care.
That’s why, as a doctor, I know it makes good scientific and medical sense to expand access to emergency contraception to all women.
By: Deborah Nucatola, MD, Senior Director of Medical Services for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Debate Club, U. S. News and World Report, May 3, 2013
“There Is No Gosnell Coverup”: Blame Existing Policies And Public Indifference To Low-Income Communities
This week, the right wing has been working the refs, demanding to know why the press has been allegedly silent on the trial of Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia doctor who allegedly committed horrific acts against his patients with impunity for years. Fox News’ Kristen Powers kicked it off with an Op-Ed in USA Today, claiming, “The deafening silence of too much of the media, once a force for justice in America, is a disgrace.” Michelle Malkin has helped spearhead a Twitter campaign. Breitbart.com calls it “a full-blown, coordinated blackout throughout the entire national media.”
And mostly, the campaign is working, generating a series of sheepish responses (and a near-instant BuzzFeed listicle). In an Atlantic piece headlined, “Why Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s trial should be a front page story,” Conor Friedersdorf admits, “Until Thursday, I wasn’t aware of this story … Had I been asked at a trivia night about the identity of Kermit Gosnell, I would’ve been stumped and helplessly guessed a green Muppet.” Slate’s Dave Weigel congratulated the tweeters for getting his attention and then filed a piece sympathetic to the coverup claim, lecturing pro-choice people that “You really should read that grand jury report,” and concluding, “Social conservatives are largely right about the Gosnell story.”
No, they aren’t right about the Gosnell story. If you’ve never heard of the Gosnell story, it’s not because of a coverup by the liberal mainstream media. It’s probably because you failed to pay attention to the copious coverage among pro-choice and feminist journalists, as well as the big news organizations, when the news first broke in 2011. There would be something rich, if it weren’t so infuriating, about these (almost uniformly male, as it happens) reporters and commentators scrambling to break open this shocking untold story. You know, the one that was written about here, here and here, to name some disparate sources.
I can’t speak for big news organizations like CNN and the networks, but let’s think about this question another way: How often do such places devote their energies to covering the massive health disparities and poor outcomes that are wrought by our current system? How often are the travails of the women whose vulnerabilities Gosnell exploited — the poor, immigrants and otherwise marginalized people — given wall-to-wall, trial-level coverage? If you’re surprised that in the face of politicized stigma, lack of public funding or good information, and a morass of restrictive laws allegedly meant to protect women, the vacuum was filled by a monster — well, the most generous thing I can say is that you haven’t been paying attention.
But since you’re here, guys — welcome. Here are some important things to know about the tragedies committed in Gosnell’s clinic, based on the sources you missed. This week, as Virginia-based pro-choice activist Michelle Kinsey Bruns noted on Twitter, “Fitting that the right is trying to whip folks into a frenzy over
#Gosnell the same day VA is trying to put safe abortion care out of reach.” She’s referring to so-called TRAP laws, which are regulations aimed at abortion clinics that have nothing to do with safety — say, the size of parking lots — to seek to drive them out of business, and which are expected to go forward in a vote today. According to Tara Murtha, a Philadelphia-based reporter who has been covering the Gosnell case from the start, in the aftermath of Pennsylvania’s own TRAP laws, the state went from 22 free-standing clinics to 13. As Murtha puts it, “The bottom line is that politicizing abortion led to Gosnell. Their answer? Politicize it more.”
After all, the question is not just why the state failed to respond to the complaints of women and advocates who visited the clinic, although that matters hugely. It’s why women kept going there anyway: because they felt they had no alternative. Read this account from Jeff Deeney, a social worker from Philadelphia, who points out that the lack of public funding for abortion is a big factor leading desperate women to Gosnell: “It’s worth noting for outsiders that Health Center #4 which serves the same neighborhood is the best in town, providing quality care for the uninsured poor. But Health Centers don’t do abortions, and Medicaid, where a TANF mom’s insurance coverage would come from, if she had any at all, doesn’t pay for them. And for these women the cost of paying for an abortion out of pocket breaks the budget, leaving mom scrambling to make next month’s rent or possibly wind up on the street.” Cost is also how women often get past the legal gestational limit, as they struggle to save up enough money — and Gosnell’s willingness to break the law was what made him their last chance. To everyone who thinks his case was a reason for more abortion restrictions: What he did was already illegal.
A new abortion clinic opened up recently in Kansas, a rare event that itself directly pointed to why there are ever-fewer legitimate abortion providers. It’s housed in a clinic that once housed the practice of Dr. George Tiller, murdered by an antiabortion extremist. As RH Reality Check reported, the clinic’s new providers are already being threatened, and in a jailhouse conversation with Tiller’s murderer, another extremist said of the opening, “It is a reckless act. It is not the act of someone who values their own safety. It is a gauntlet thrown down, by someone who wants a fight.” How much have you heard about that?
By all means, be up in arms about Kermit Gosnell. But blame existing policies and public indifference to low-income communities.
By: Irin Carmon, Salon, April 12, 2013
According to a recent United Nations report, North Dakota is torturing women. Seriously. Juan Méndez, the United Nation’s special rapporteur on torture, has included lack of access to abortion in his yearly report on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Considering North Dakota’s new law which bans abortion after six weeks, it stands to reason that the state is torturing its female citizens.
I’m not trying to be trite—I do believe, as Méndez does, that forcing women to carry pregnancies they don’t want is cruel:
International and regional human rights bodies have begun to recognize that abuse and mistreatment of women seeking reproductive health services can cause tremendous and lasting physical and emotional suffering, inflicted on the basis of gender. Examples of such violations include abusive treatment and humiliation in institutional settings; involuntary sterilization; denial of legally available health services such as abortion and post-abortion care.
But if you believe abortion is a “convenience,” rather than a human right, saying as much is controversial. To the American anti-choice movement, it’s even laughable.
But how else would you describe laws that are meant to punish women for being sexually active? Sure, anti-choice legislation and activism prides itself on showy pro-woman rhetoric. Women’s Right To Know! Women Deserve Better Than Abortion! But at the end of the day, forced pregnancy is less about protecting women or “life” than it is about punishment and humiliation.
Rape exceptions are the clearest example. While I agree that forcing a woman to carry a pregnancy that is the result of rape is an even further assault on women’s bodily integrity, the foundation of a rape exception is that some women “deserve” abortions and some don’t. The underlying message is pretty clear—a woman who has been forced to have sex has done nothing wrong, a woman who had consensual sex has. (Bill Napoli’s now-infamous example of a “sodomized virgin” comes to mind.”)
Other restrictions and attempted limits on abortion access prove just as transparent. In 2007, for example, legislators in Ohio pushed a bill that would have mandated women get a written not from the father of the fetus before being able to obtain an abortion. If they didn’t know who the father was, they would not be allowed to access the procedure. This is about humiliating women and making the decision to have an abortion as difficult as possible.
A report from the Center for Reproductive Rights, Reproductive Rights Violations as Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment: A Critical Human Rights Analysis, points out that degrading treatment is defined as an act “aimed at humiliating the victim, regardless of whether severe pain was inﬂicted.” Anti-choice legislation seems to be written with that exact goal in mind.
Ultrasound laws—frequently called women’s “right to know” laws—are pushed under the guise of making sure women fully understand what they’re about to do. As if women are so stupid that they don’t realize what getting an abortion is. One Rhode Island doctor said a bill mandating ultrasounds before abortions “turned the ultrasound into a torture machine.” And for women whose wanted pregnancies are ending, these laws are beyond cruel. One woman in Texas who was forced to have three sonograms in one day and listen to a doctor describe her doomed fetus in detail called the experience a “superfluous layer of torment” and recalled sobbing throughout the procedure.
Can anyone really argue that Savita Halappanavar was not tortured in Ireland? Despite excruciating pain and the fact that her pregnancy was ending, Savita was denied an abortion because doctors wanted to wait for her fetus’s heartbeat to stop. She died in pain asking for help. It’s the same fate Republicans would have for American women—don’t forget the ironically named “Protect Life Act” that would have allowed hospitals to deny dying women life-saving abortions.
Americans are catching on. The majority of people in the U.S. consider themselves “pro-choice,” and though most support some sort of limits on access, many are wary of punitive legislation like ultrasound laws and laws that allow health care providers or pharmacists to deny procedures or medications. And the more people find out what these restrictions are really about—as they did with ultrasound mandates thanks to media and social media—the more likely, I believe, they’ll be to oppose them.
So perhaps there is progress being made. But the fight won’t end until all women—whether they’re in North Dakota, Ireland or anywhere else—can access abortion without shame, fear, humiliation or government interference. Anything else is cruel—and yes, torture.
By: Jessica Valenti, The Nation, April 3, 2013
Outlawing abortion doesn’t make it go away, it only makes it dangerous
To understand what the country would be like if we outlawed abortion we need to look no further than the 136 countries where abortion is still illegal in all or most circumstances. In Africa, 14 percent of all maternal deaths are attributed to unsafe abortion. In Latin America and the Caribbean, one million women annually are hospitalized for the complications of unsafe abortions. In South Africa, where the abortion law was liberalized in 1997, the annual number of abortion-related deaths fell by 91 percent by 2001.
The countries where abortion is illegal have significantly higher abortion rates than countries where abortion is safe and legal. Outlawing abortion doesn’t make it go away, it only makes it dangerous.
Women in these countries are fighting for recognition that their lives have value. That women deserve full futures. That women should have the right to personal and political agency. That a women should be the one to determine what her family will look like. That a woman deserves the right to decide what happens with her body without the fear of risking her life to exercise that right.
We have the luxury in this country to be able to ask ourselves whether abortion should be legal while we enjoy the freedom to choose what’s right for ourselves, even if it makes someone else uncomfortable. A person in this country who faces an unintended pregnancy has the legal right to make the best decision for herself and her family without having to fear that her decision will land her in jail or worse. That is not something I am willing to give up.
I am not interested in an America that takes away these most personal rights. The world is becoming more complex. We have big issues to solve. Let’s not spend our energy, our time, and our creative minds restricting and removing rights from our citizens.
The decision about whether and when to become a parent is the most intensely personal and important decision that many will make in life. Let’s have respect for those decisions and the lives that are making them.
By: Kierra Johnson, Washington Whispers Debate Club, U. S. News and World Report, January 22, 2013
“Please Just Shut Up”: Phil Gingrey’s Valuable Expert Validation That Many Rape Victims Are Actually Liars
From the “They Just Can’t Help Themselves” file, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s intrepid Jim Galloway informs us that U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA), an OB-GYN, went out of his way in a local speaking appearance to express sympathy for the “legitimate rape” comments of his former colleague Todd Akin:
And in Missouri, Todd Akin … was asked by a local news source about rape and he said, “Look, in a legitimate rape situation” — and what he meant by legitimate rape was just look, someone can say I was raped: a scared-to-death 15-year-old that becomes impregnated by her boyfriend and then has to tell her parents, that’s pretty tough and might on some occasion say, “Hey, I was raped.” That’s what he meant when he said legitimate rape versus non-legitimate rape. I don’t find anything so horrible about that. But then he went on and said that in a situation of rape, of a legitimate rape, a woman’s body has a way of shutting down so the pregnancy would not occur. He’s partly right on that….
And I’ve delivered lots of babies, and I know about these things. It is true. We tell infertile couples all the time that are having trouble conceiving because of the woman not ovulating, “Just relax. Drink a glass of wine. And don’t be so tense and uptight because all that adrenaline can cause you not to ovulate.” So he was partially right wasn’t he? But the fact that a woman may have already ovulated 12 hours before she is raped, you’re not going to prevent a pregnancy there by a woman’s body shutting anything down because the horse has already left the barn, so to speak. And yet the media took that and tore it apart.
Well, thanks, Phil, for that valuable expert validation of the perspective that many rape victims are actually liars and thus we shouldn’t be reluctant to force them to carry pregnancies they claim are the product of rape to term.
Now please just shut up.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, January 11, 2013