[From Jessica Mason Pieklo, Senior Legal Analyst, RH Reality Check, at RH Reality Check.]
The trial over a Wisconsin law that requires abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital or face prosecution came to a close last week, with federal District Court Judge William Conley expressing both frustration at the law and the inability of those challenging it to explain why area hospitals were not responding to admitting privileges requests.
Like admitting privileges requirements passed in states like Texas, Alabama, North Dakota, Mississippi, and Louisiana, supporters of the requirement in SB 206, which has been on hold since July, insist the law is necessary to protect patient safety.In support of that claim attorneys for the state offered the testimony of Lena Wood, an Oshkosh woman who claimed she was hospitalized after becoming ill following an abortion nearly 20 years ago and that her provider never followed up with her. Wood, an anti-choice activist, admitted under cross-examination that she did not understand her medical records, and there were no facts to back up her assertion that it was the abortion that had caused her hospitalization.
The state’s second witness in support of the law was James Linn, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Columbia St. Mary’s and advisor to Wisconsin Right to Life, the main group supporting the law. During his testimony, Linn said he hoped Affiliated Medical Services in Milwaukee—one the providers challenging the law—would close so that fewer legal abortions would be performed in the state. The clinic, the only one in the state that performs abortions beyond 19 weeks, faces closure under the law because its doctors have so far been unable to obtain the required admitting privileges. Judge Conley said he was “bewildered” by the fact that local hospitals had not yet stated whether they would grant privileges to Affiliated Medical Services providers and ordered the parties to continue to pursue privileges, indicating he would order the hospital to respond if they continued to evade the request. One of those providers, Dr. Dennis Christensen, testified he had been pursuing admitting privileges at two Milwaukee hospitals for months but had not had any response from the hospitals. Christensen testified he believed the lack of response from the hospitals is connected to the hospital credentialing officials’ demand for information on patients he has treated in a hospital. Christensen testified he has no such data to provide in response to their demand because he hasn’t treated an abortion patient in a hospital for at least a decade.
“The fact that we’ve managed to keep our patients out of the hospital appears to be a detriment to getting hospital privileges,” he said.
A ruling on whether or not the law will go into effect is not expected from Judge Conley for at least a month, and in the meantime he ordered the parties to continue to pursue obtaining hospital privileges. Should providers be able to obtain those privileges, it could resolve, at least temporarily, the legal challenge. That was the case in North Dakota, where the state’s only abortion clinic faced closure under the state’s admitting privileges requirement. But just as a trial over the constitutionality of North Dakota’s law was about to begin, Sanford Health, a Dakotas-based health-care system, granted admitting privileges to the providers, prompting attorneys for the state and those challenging the law to reach a settlement and end the legal challenge. At the close of last week’s trial, Judge Conley suggested a similar possibility for Wisconsin, noting he was troubled by the inflexibility of the law.
“I’m being asked to strike down a law,” said Conley. “I take no pleasure in that. If there’s a way to get privileges short of that you should do that.”
The US Food and Drug Administration announced that it would AGAIN go against the courts ruling, and limit the access to Plan B emergency contraception to people ages 15 and up, with proper ID shown at check out. Judge Edward R. Korman, of the U. S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York ruled in Tummino v. Hamburg, that Emergency Contraception (EC) “should be available without a prescription for any age or point-of-sale restrictions within 30 days”.
The legal battle surrounding Plan B has gone on for over a decade, and extended through two Presidencies. Judge Korman’s ruling was issued in response to the Center for Reproductive Rights’ (CRR) renewed lawsuit against the FDA seeking to expand over-the-counter access for all women to all brands of the morning-after pill, including Plan B One-Step and Next Choice. The CRR again filed suit against the FDA when Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, overruled a 2011 FDA decision to make emergency contraception available over-the-counter to all ages.
Lon Newman, Executive Director of Family Planning Health Services, Inc states, “Young teenagers are most at risk of rape and most likely to engage in unplanned unprotected sex. They are also most likely to be afraid to purchase emergency contraception when they have to show identification and they are least likely to have it.
FPHS will continue our efforts to make EC quickly and confidentially available to teens and adults who want to prevent a pregnancy. We will also continue to support health care policy based on medical science and evidence and not on politics or ideology . . . apparently, in this case, that will be contrary to the White House’s position.
The primary obstacles to emergency contraception are lack of knowledge and cost. Neither of those obstacles are changed because of over-the-counter status. However, the Obama administration’s now repeated politicization of this issue for insupportable reasons, only adds to the stigma and misunderstandings surrounding this safe and vital service that safely reduces pregnancies and prevents abortions.”
[From Pam Belluck at the Ny Times]
The Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday that it would make the most widely known morning-after pill available without a prescription to girls and women ages 15 and older, and also make the pill available on drugstore shelves, instead of keeping it locked up behind pharmacy counters.
Until this decision the pill, Plan B One-Step, which is used after sexual intercourse to help prevent pregnancy, was available without a prescription only for ages 17 and older.
The decision did not address a federal judge’s ruling in early April that gave the drug agency 30 days to make the pill available for all ages without a prescription. In a scathing opinion handed down three weeks ago, Judge Edward R. Korman in the Eastern District of New York said the Obama administration had put politics before science in restricting access to the drug.
The F.D.A. and the White House said Tuesday that the Department of Justice was still deciding whether to appeal the ruling, something it can do independently of the drug agency’s decision on Tuesday.
That decision, which takes effect immediately, represents a compromise on the politically charged issue of access to emergency contraception, which has pitted conservative and anti-abortion groups against advocates for women’s health and reproductive rights.
The Justice Department is most likely weighing not only the substance of the judge’s ruling, but also the precedent the ruling would set in countermanding an order by a White House cabinet member, Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services. In 2011, she decided the pill would be available without prescription only to those 17 and older, despite the F.D.A.’s finding that it was safe and effective and should be available without any age restrictions. She said the pill had not been studied for safety in girls as young as 11. It was the first time the F.D.A. had been publicly overruled by a cabinet secretary.
After her order, the pill’s manufacturer submitted an amended application seeking access for 15-year-olds. On Tuesday, a Health and Human Services Department official said that Ms. Sebelius was comfortable with the F.D.A.’s decision to approve that application.
Besides lowering the age restriction, the new rule addresses concerns of women who were unable to get the pill if their drugstore’s pharmacy counter happened to be closed. Now, Plan B One-Step will be available in drugstore aisles where family planning or women’s health products are displayed.
The packaging will include a product code that, when scanned by a cashier, will indicate that the customer’s proof of age is required. To try to prevent theft, the manufacturer, Teva Pharmaceuticals, has arranged for each box to have a security tag, the drug agency said.
Margaret A. Hamburg, the F.D.A. commissioner, said in a statement that data proved that 15-year-olds “were able to understand how Plan B One-Step works, how to use it properly, and that it does not prevent the transmission of a sexually transmitted disease.”
The agency’s decision applies only to Plan B One-Step, which is a one-pill dose, not to the two-pill generic versions, because there is not enough data to show the two-dose versions can be used responsibly by younger teenagers without the intervention of a health provider, said an F.D.A. spokeswoman, Erica Jefferson.
Marty Berndt, a vice president and general manager for Teva, called the agency’s decision “a significant milestone for women.”
But it did not completely satisfy either side of the emergency contraception debate. Anna Higgins, the director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council, accused the administration of trying to “placate both sides,” adding that “allowing this to young teens will be something that we will remain very concerned about.”
Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, called the decision “an important step forward” because it “will eliminate some of the biggest barriers and hurdles that women face in getting emergency contraception.”
But Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which filed the lawsuit that Judge Korman ruled on, said the decision on Tuesday was unsatisfactory.
“We will continue our battle in court to remove these arbitrary restrictions on emergency contraception for all women,” she said.
[Jodi Jacobs0n of RH Reality Check wrote this today]
Today, in a proposal that can best be described as adding insult to injury, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved making emergency contraception (EC) available over-the-counter for teens and women ages 15 and up. This convoluted proposal from the Obama administration comes despite a court order in early April by U.S. District Court Judge Edward R. Korman to make EC available over-the-counter to all ages within 30 days of his decision. It comes from an administration which pledged to make science the cornerstone of public policy and instead has consistently flouted a wealth of accumulated evidence on emergency contraception. It also comes after several studies showing that current policy requiring prescriptions for some groups and not others has confused so many pharmacists that access to EC has been denied to many who were in fact legally eligible to obtain it quickly. In practice, the new policy will almost certainly perpetuate, not resolve, that confusion.
The battle to make EC available over-the-counter has gone on for over a decade and spanned both the Bush and Obama administrations. Judge Korman’s ruling was issued in response to the Center for Reproductive Rights’ (CRR) renewed lawsuit against the FDA seeking to expand over-the-counter access for all women to all brands of the morning-after pill, including Plan B One-Step and Next Choice. The most recent CRR lawsuit was filed after Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services,overruled a 2011 FDA decision to make emergency contraception available over-the-counter to all ages, underscoring that the Obama administration, like its predecessor, has difficulties dealing with the realities of sex and pregnancy prevention.
The administration’s newest plan is to make EC available over-the-counter to individuals ages 15 and up, but still require prescriptions for those under age 15. While pharmacies can stock it in the family planning section of main store shelves, people seeking to buy EC will have to show identification with a birth date to a cashier. The newest plan comes after approval this week by the FDA of an amended application submitted by Teva, the manufacturer of Plan B One-Step, to allow OTC sale to those ages 15 and over, after an earlier request to do so had been denied by FDA in December 2011. The amended application was in any case superceded by the scientific evidence that led the FDA to rule in 2011 on making emergency contraception available OTC to all ages, the decision that was, as noted above, subsequently overturned by Sebelius. So in using the approved Teva application as the reason for this newest decision, the FDA is essentially reversing itself and ignoring the science on which its 2011 decision was based. Confused yet? Me too. It’s a complete circus, and I have no doubt that leadership at the FDA, which tried to make evidence-based policy in 2011, came under pressure from the White House to find the “fix” it announced today.
According to the FDA press release:
The product will now be labeled “not for sale to those under 15 years of age *proof of age required* not for sale where age cannot be verified.” Plan B One-Step will be packaged with a product code prompting a cashier to request and verify the customer’s age. A customer who cannot provide age verification will not be able to purchase the product. In addition, Teva has arranged to have a security tag placed on all product cartons to prevent theft.
In addition, Teva will make the product available in retail outlets with an onsite pharmacy, where it generally, will be available in the family planning or female health aisles. The product will be available for sale during the retailer’s normal operating hours whether the pharmacy is open or not.
NPR reported that “the FDA said … Plan B One-Step will be packaged with a product code that prompts the cashier to verify a customer’s age. Anyone who can’t provide such proof as a driver’s license, birth certificate or passport wouldn’t be allowed to complete the purchase. In most states, driver’s licenses, the most common form of identification, are issued at age 16.”
There are several serious problems with this approach, apart from the fact that it ignores scientific and medical findings that call unequivocally for over-the-counter access for all.
First, the policy is not in compliance with the court ruling and therefore may in fact be thrown out. The Department of Justice will have to bring it before Judge Korman for approval and potentially seek a stay of his ruling altogether, throwing EC once again back to the courts.
Second, it still requires a prescription for a subset of the population potentially in need of EC, and therefore creates a significant barrier, especially for low-income teens under 15 years of age or those without ID who “look” younger and are denied access. Emergency contraception is for emergencies. It prevents unintended pregnancy by preventing ovulation, and is therefore most effective when taken within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse (including in cases when another contraceptive method may have failed). The need to see a physician to obtain a prescription that the public health and medical communities have deemed unnecessary is both time-consuming and expensive, and will entail additional indirect costs in terms of loss of time at school and work, likely on the part of both teens and their parents. This requirement serves the interests of no one except anti-choice opponents of birth control, and those in the Obama administration who still seem unable or unwilling to think beyond their own fears of teens and sex, or to go beyond personalizing policy to accommodate their own paternalistic fears of their daughters as sexual beings.
Third, language, lack of identification, and other potential barriers will remain an obstacle for many communities. Many 15- and 16-year-olds do not have IDs that display birth dates, and those who are well above the age limit but “look younger” to a clerk will be required to produce identification, documentation that many people in this country still do not have readily available or that, in a hurry, some might not remember to bring with them to the store.
Latinas, for example, face many of these barriers to access. In reaction to the decision, Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, stated:
For too long, this important backup birth control method has been kept out of reach. Immigrant women and aspiring citizens of all ages have been hit particularly hard, since they are less likely to have government-issued identification. Putting emergency contraception on store shelves is a step in the right direction, but this decision still means another unneeded barrier for many Latinas who need contraception. Latinas already face far too many barriers, like poverty, discrimination and language, which prevent Latinas from accessing care.
For Latinas in particular, expanded access to emergency contraception is critical for making the best decisions for our families and ourselves. It’s disappointing that the FDA decided to undermine the recent court victory for immigrant women and young Latinas by introducing more unnecessary obstacles to emergency contraception, which is safe and necessary.
In a press release, Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, also pointed to the barriers to access left unaddressed by the policy:
The FDA is under a federal court order that makes it crystal clear that emergency contraception must be made available over the counter, without restriction to women of all ages by next Monday.
Lowering the age restriction to 15 for over-the-counter access to Plan B One-Step may reduce delays for some young women—but it does nothing to address the significant barriers that far too many women of all ages will still find if they arrive at the drugstore without identification or after the pharmacy gates have been closed for the night or weekend.
These are daunting and sometimes insurmountable hoops women are forced to jump through in time-sensitive circumstances, and we will continue our battle in court to remove these arbitrary restrictions on emergency contraception for all women.
It seems these days that no matter the administration in power, ensuring women have access to basic reproductive health care remains fraught with bias and mismanagement. On one hand, after going to ridiculous lengths to placate the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on something as basic as including coverage for contraception under health insurance, the administration is fighting the USCCB and others in court over a policy to which the litigants are not even subject because these religious groups so hate the idea of women accessing contraception they are willing to empty collection plates to pay for court battles. On the other, advocates are now fighting the same administration in court on access to EC. And meanwhile, many pharmacies and pharmacists refuse to stock or dispense EC, no matter what, claiming personal religious objections.
The only thing that is clear is that the last chapter of this fight has yet to be written. Janet Crepps, a senior counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, told NPR Tuesday night that absent a stay, “we will want to go back to court as quickly as possible and ask the judge to hold them in contempt.”
So teens of any age can now buy prescription-strength drugs such as cough syrup and cold medicine over-the-counter without a prescription, but still cannot buy without hassles and barriers a drug that has been found to be safer than a wide array of other OTC drugs, and which has a small window of usefulness. I guess this administration would rather play Russian Roulette with teen pregnancy than make it easier to prevent.
From Catholics for Choice.
“We welcome Pope Francis,” said Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, “and look forward to hearing about his priorities in the coming days. We do not expect very many changes, but sincerely hope that the culture will change to better reflect the needs of the church and of Catholics. As Cardinal Bergoglio, he was outspoken against the recent liberalization of Argentinian laws on abortion, stating flatly that ‘abortion is never a solution.’ He also opposes adoption by gay couples. But this is no surprise, as he and his fellow electors were all appointed by his two conservative predecessors, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II.
“We recall with fondness Pope John XXIII, who confronted the troubles of his day by convening the Second Vatican Council ‘to open the windows of the church to let in some fresh air.’ Pope Francis needs to go even farther and throw open the Vatican’s doors to shed some light on a bureaucracy that has allowed the management of the Vatican Bank and the sexual abuse crisis to get completely out of hand. Facing this reality, and the other problems within the church, requires leadership, and leadership is something different than simply referring back to the established Vatican playbook. This is where we could use a pastoral pope, one who recognizes that the main role of the hierarchy is not to become enmeshed in politics but to focus on developing relationships within and outside the Catholic community.
“We call on Pope Francis to recognize that he is now the head of a very diverse church, one that includes Catholics who use contraception, who have or provide abortions, who seek fertility treatments, who engage in sexual relationships outside of marriage or with people of the same sex, as well as people who are living with HIV & AIDS. These Catholics are absolute traditionalists in that they live according to their consciences and by virtue of their faith every day. A leader of our church who affirms rather than denies the lived wisdom of the faithful would be well within the Catholic tradition as well.”
Catholics for Choice shapes and advances sexual and reproductive ethics that are based on justice, reflect a commitment to women’s well-being and respect and affirm the capacity of women and men to make moral decisions about their lives.
MADISON- Today Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin announced the closure of four family planning health centers in Shawano, Chippewa Falls, Johnson Creek and Beaver Dam between April and July of this year. These closures are a direct consequence of the Legislature’s elimination of funding benefiting patients at Planned Parenthood in the last budget cycle. Over the past year, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin worked to minimize the impact of the Legislature’s significant budget cuts on our patients. Despite efforts to sustain services to these patients for over a year without state funding, Planned Parenthood has been forced to end health care services in these four health centers. These unfortunate health center closures will result in the disruption and a loss of over 11,400 health care services for approximately 2,000 patients including lifesaving cancer screenings, breast exams, birth control, annual exams, pregnancy tests, STD testing and treatment, HIV screening, and referrals to a network of community resources. Planned Parenthood will maintain health care services in 23 health centers across the state.
“For 78 years, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin has been providing high quality health care including lifesaving cancer screenings, well-woman exams, birth control, and testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections to approximately 80,000 women and families in 27 health centers across Wisconsin,” said Deb Bonilla, Vice President of Patient Services. “Continued patient care is our top priority. Health center staff are working with the affected patients to identify health care alternatives to minimize the impact of these closures.”
Nearly 165,000 Wisconsin women who are in need of publicly supported reproductive & sexual health services go without needed health care. Despite this unmet need, during the last budget cycle Governor Walker ended state funding for 12,000 women who receive health care at Planned Parenthood. This coupled with the Governor’s recent rejection of federal funds and the resulting drastic rollback of BadgerCare coverage will increase the amount of women who do not have access to health care. These politically motivated actions will have a significant impact on women seeking affordable health care.
“Women are going to have to drive even longer distances just to get basic health care like wellness exams, cancer screenings and birth control,” said Deb Bonilla, Vice President of Patient Services. “We are doing all we can to ensure that women get the care they need, but in some instances the resulting barriers to care will make health care access very difficult.”
In all four of these communities, Planned Parenthood is the only reproductive health provider. Uninsured or financially constrained patients seeking health care will need to travel outside of their county and in some instances up to an hour to receive essential health care services. For some women, this added burden could make the difference in whether they access routine cancer screens, STD tests, treatment or birth control.
“Cutting funds and turning away resources tied to the Medicaid program when people are going without essential health care will negatively impact community health and cost taxpayers’ money,” said Nicole Safar, Public Policy Director for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin. “Barriers to preventative and lifesaving diagnostic health care will most certainly result in an increase of the number of unintended pregnancies, abortions, undetected cancer occurrences and higher STD/HIV rates. This year we will be watching closely to see what impact this budget will have on Wisconsin communities and the women and families that rely on Planned Parenthood.”
At Planned Parenthood, we remain unwavering in our belief that all people deserve access to high quality and affordable health care. As the state’s largest non-profit reproductive health care provider, we will continue to be there for our patients to provide affordable and quality health care and to advocate on their behalf to keep them safe, healthy and strong – no matter what.
Governor Scott Walker and the Republican controlled Legislature eliminated funding for patients accessing reproductive health care at Planned Parenthood in the 2011-2013 Biennial State Budget. The services provided by Planned Parenthood include birth control counseling and options, lifesaving cervical and breast cancer screenings, annual exams, STD testing and treatment, Well Women Exams, pregnancy testing, HIV testing, and colposcopies (advanced cervical cancer tests).
Investing in women’s health is a non-partisan issue as it contributes to healthy women, men and families for Wisconsin while saving taxpayers’ money. For every $1 spent on family planning taxpayers save $4 (The Guttmacher Institute).
The elimination of state funding to Planned Parenthood in 2012 resulted in the loss of funding in 9 of Planned Parenthood’s 27 family planning health centers in Kenosha, Winnebago, Eau Claire, Shawano, Wood, Chippewa Falls, Dodge, Fond du lac, and Jefferson Counties. These health centers serve 12,000 women each year and in 8 of the 9 counties Planned Parenthood is the ONLY family planning provider.
According to the latest data, there are 282,000 women in Wisconsin in need of publicly funded reproductive health care services. Current provider networks and funding sources provide care for only 95,000 patients. The vast majority of these patients do not have access to affordable health insurance and receive assistance from various public funding sources to access this basic care.
In 2008, the network of family planning providers in Wisconsin averted 24,300 unintended pregnancies, 12,100 abortions and saved taxpayers $94 million in averted health care costs.
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin is closing 4 health centers in Beaver Dam, Shawano, Johnson Creek and Chippewa Falls. Health center staff at the four affected health centers have been serving the communities for decades: Beaver Dam 1977, Chippewa Falls 1984, Shawano 1979, and Johnson Creek 1999.
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin health centers will close on the following dates: Shawano April 19; Chippewa Falls May 17; Beaver Dam June 14; Johnson Creek July 19.
These four health centers provide birth control counseling and options, lifesaving cervical and breast cancer screenings, annual exams, STD testing and treatment, Well Women Exams, pregnancy testing, HIV testing and referrals to a network of community resources.
In just the last 10 years these four health centers have provided services to 26,951 patients.
PPWI’s Role as the Leading Provider of Women’s and Reproductive Health in Wisconsin
For 78 years, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin has been the leading reproductive health care provider in the state. PPWI provided essential health care services like cervical and breast cancer screenings, wellness exams, STD testing and treatment, and birth control education and services to 80,000 patients in 2012.
CFC president Jon O’Brien issued the following response to complaints from the USCCB about the Obama administration’s accommodation over contraceptive coverage.
“What is the matter with the bishops? Last week the Obama administration conceded the health and welfare of women to placate the bishops, and yet they’re still railing that they’re somehow offended. The new, expanded designation of employers who can claim a full exemption to contraceptive coverage—that means no ‘accommodation’—will, for example, affect employees (and their dependents) at more than 6,000 Catholic schools. One million employees and their dependents at thousands of Catholic-related institutions will have to hope that the alternative ways to access contraception work as well as those in the administration claim they will. But the bishops got what they wanted: they and their friends don’t have to provide coverage for birth control, religious liberty of their employees be damned.
“The bishops’ hyperbolic reaction to the provision of basic healthcare reveals how far they have strayed from the social justice tradition that most Catholics embrace. Having failed to convince Catholics to avoid using modern methods of family planning, the hierarchy is reduced to demanding that the federal government enforce their prohibition, or at least make contraception more expensive for the bishops’ employees than it is for the rest of the population. This is an unconscionable attack on the healthcare available to employees at Catholic-related institutions who forsake higher salaries and better benefits because of their own commitment to social justice.
“The bottom line, which the bishops don’t want to acknowledge, is that Catholics use contraception at the same rate as do all Americans. Some 98 percent of sexually experienced Catholic women have used a method that the bishops prohibit. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the bishops are still complaining about contraception—but the administration should stop listening. Catholics already have.”
Catholics for Choice shapes and advances sexual and reproductive ethics that are based on justice, reflect a commitment to women’s well-being and respect and affirm the capacity of women and men to make moral decisions about their lives.
January 31, 2013 — FDA regulators announced they will not take action regarding a vending machine that dispenses emergency contraception on Shippensburg University’s campus in Pennsylvania, MSN News reports.
The machine is located in the school’s health center, which can only be accessed by students and employees, and offers Plan B One-Step for $25. Under federal law, individuals ages 17 and older may purchase EC without a prescription.
The machine has been in place for about three years but it wasn’t widely known until it drew national media attention last year, prompting critics to claim it would encourage students to have sex. In response to the scrutiny, the Student Senate and the University Forum both passed resolutions in support of keeping the machine.
Erica Jefferson, an FDA spokesperson, in a statement said the agency “looked at publicly available information about Shippensburg’s vending program and spoke with university and campus health officials and decided not to take any regulatory actions.”
Peter Gigliotti, executive director for university communications and marketing, in a statement said an additional card reader has been installed on the machine, which students must use before accessing the drugs (Eng, MSN News, 1/29).
[From our friend Carey Pope]
An important fact that is often missing in the debate around abortion is that, for many women, the decision to have an abortion is informed by an already existing family unit. Six out of every ten American women having an abortion already have a child, and more than three out of ten have two or more children. At the same time, more than 40% of American women who have an abortion are living below the federal poverty level ($18,530 for a family of three). For poor women with children, abortion can be a critical financial issue for their families.
Yet, our policies on abortion in the United States don’t reflect this reality. Federal funding—and public funding in general—for abortion is nearly nonexistent. This became headline news again in 2011 when Congress imposed a ban prohibiting the District of Columbia from using its own locally raised revenues to provide abortion services to its residents, thereby obstructing a local government’s autonomy.
The debate around public funding for abortion isn’t a new one. In 1973, before funding for abortion in the U.S. was cut off, the Helms Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act passed, prohibiting the use of U.S. funds for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning, or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions. In 1976, we were given the Hyde Amendment, which forbids federal funding for abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the life of the woman.
Millions of women in the United States and around the world benefit from U.S.-funded programs that improve maternal health. Yet the Helms and Hyde Amendments undermine that important work, harming women, particularly low-income women and women of color. The Helms Amendment has effectively been applied as a total ban on speech and services for safe abortion and on any activity that might enable a health worker to know what to do or to have the means to help when a woman has an unwanted pregnancy. In fact, the United States is the largest single donor for family planning—which of course is a way of preventing abortion—and a huge supporter of postabortion care programs designed to treat complications from unsafe abortion.
In our work at Ipas, we see the impact of unsafe abortion—something that is entirely preventable—all the time. Take, for instance, the story of Meena, a 23-year-old woman with two children in Nepal, where abortion is legally permitted. Meena went to a local health clinic in the remote Kailali District with an unwanted pregnancy. Because the facility was U.S.-funded, the nurse there did not help Meena with a safe abortion and instead referred her to a hospital 60 miles away—too far for Meena to travel on foot or ox cart. So Meena tried to self-induce with sticks. She went back to the clinic two weeks later with a severe infection and was given (more traumatic and expensive) emergency treatment, considered postabortion care and thus available in a U.S.-funded program.
The Hyde Amendment functions in the U.S. in much the same way as the Helms Amendment does abroad, restricting access to abortion care for U.S. women. I haven’t read anything quite as compelling as the testimony from Toni Bond Leonard, former president of the board of directors of the National Network of Abortion Funds and former CEO of Black Women for Reproductive Justice, who shared her story at a 2010 Congressional briefing. Toni was pregnant at age 12. Her mother, who was unable to work and relied on welfare, realized that if Toni carried the pregnancy to term, she’d essentially be raising another child, spreading the family resources even thinner. “She wanted better for me,” said Toni. So the light bill and the rent went unpaid and they didn’t have enough food—all so Toni could get an abortion. “Hyde set off a life-changing course of events for me and my family, which could have been prevented with public funding,” Toni said. “Hyde punishes women for being poor.”
The most striking part of Meena and Toni’s stories is that they aren’t unusual. Every day, everywhere, women make these choices for their families—both the ones they have, and the ones they hope to have. But U.S. abortion funding bans don’t reflect the complexity of women’s reproductive lives and the challenges of low-income women with children. After 40 years, isn’t it time that our policies reflect real women and real families?
Carey Pope is the Senior Associate for Advocacy Communications at Ipas, a global organization dedicated to ending preventable deaths and disabilities from unsafe abortion. Follow her and Ipas on Twitter @IpasOrg.
This post is part of Still Wading: Forty years of resistance, resilience and reclamation in communities of color, a blog series by Strong Families commemorating the 40th anniversary of Roe v Wade.