John Edwards’s Reproductive Health Questionnaire

Andrea Lynch

John Edwards responds to Rewire's questions on reproductive health issues -- sharing his position on parental notification laws, emergency contraception, gay and lesbian adoption, and much more!

In October, Rewire developed a questionnaire for the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, designed to help our readers distinguish between the various contenders' positions on sexual and reproductive health and rights — beyond the sole issue of abortion. Our questions were designed to get under the surface of the candidates' rhetoric on reproductive rights and clarify how far each one was willing to go to support concrete policy changes to back up his or her stated beliefs. Sen. John Edwards's campaign staff answers Andrea Lynch's questions below.

Why do you consider Sen. Edwards to be the strongest candidate on reproductive health and rights?

I have consistently worked to protect and promote a woman's right to choose and to ensure that all women have access to the resources they need to make and act on their family planning decisions. As a senator, I earned a 100 percent voting record with both NARAL and Planned Parenthood.

What sets Sen. Edwards's platform apart from the other contenders on issues of reproductive health and rights?

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Supporting reproductive health rights must include supporting the decision of women who decide to bear children – including children born to low-income women. I am proud to have a truly universal health care plan that will require by law that every American is covered. I have set a national goal of ending poverty in America by 2036. I believe in One America where everyone has an equal chance to succeed. To support low-income families, my plan will invest in home visits to help at-risk families during pregnancy and infancy, universal pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds. I will also raise the minimum wage and cut the earned income tax credit marriage penalty to make pay and advance a broad range of other initiatives to eradicate poverty. These proposals, taken as a whole, will support the choices that women make.

How does Sen. Edwards's healthcare plan specifically address sexual and reproductive health, family planning, pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, and other STDs?

I am proud to be the first major presidential candidate to propose a specific plan to guarantee quality, affordable health care for every man, woman and child in America. My plan will establish new "Health Care Markets" that will give families and businesses purchasing power and a choice of quality plans, including one public plan. This will give every woman the opportunity to choose an insurance plan that meets her personal reproductive and sexual health needs.

I will also expand Medicaid to cover HIV-positive individuals in every state before they reach later stages of disability and AIDS, and I will develop a national HIV/AIDS strategy through an honest, comprehensive and fast-tracked process that involves stakeholders from the public and nonprofit sectors.

Does Sen. Edwards support comprehensive sexuality education? Does he believe that the federal government should continue to fund abstinence-only until marriage programs, despite evidence that they are ineffective at preventing unintended pregnancy and STDs?

I do not believe that abstinence-only sexual education programs are effective. I support comprehensive, age-appropriate sex education for young people that includes information on both abstinence and contraception. I believe that sex education programs should be comprehensive and include information about contraception as well as abstinence. They also must be scientifically and medically accurate.

Does Sen. Edwards support adolescents' access to confidential family planning and reproductive health services, without having to seek permission from their parents? Why or why not?

Yes, I support maintaining the integrity of the confidential doctor-patient relationship for all women.

Does Sen. Edwards believe that contraception should be covered by private insurance plans and under insurance plans for federal employees? Why or why not?

Yes, I believe all health insurance plans that cover prescription drugs should cover prescription contraceptives and I support measures that would require such coverage.

Does Sen. Edwards agree with the FDA's decision to make emergency contraception over the counter for people 18 and over? Does he think adolescents should be able to access emergency contraception over the counter as well? Why or why not?

Yes, I believe that we must educate about, increase and protect access to emergency contraception.

Does Sen. Edwards support any restrictions on abortion, or does s/he believe it should be entirely up to women?

No, I do not support restrictions on abortion. The decision about whether to become a parent is one of the most important life decisions that a woman can face. She should make it with her family, her doctor, and in the context of her religious and ethical values; government and politicians should not make the decision for her. I have opposed bans on abortion procedures (such as the so-called "partial birth" legislation) that do not make an adequate exception for a woman's health.

Does Sen. Edwards support the Hyde amendment? Under what circumstances does he believe that Medicaid should cover abortions (all pregnancies, life- or health-threatening pregnancies, pregnancies that are a result of rape or incest, extreme fetal malformation)?

I oppose any effort to restrict abortion as an option for women who depend on the government for their health care needs. I support public funding of abortion services for low-income women. While in the Senate, I voted against restrictions on funding for abortions for federal employees and District of Columbia residents.

Does Sen. Edwards believe adolescents should have the right to choose abortion, or should they be required to seek their parents' consent? Why or why not? Are there any circumstances that might make a compelling case for waiving the parental consent requirement?

Yes. I also oppose the Child Custody Protection Act and other measures that unduly burden a young woman's right to choose and endanger her health.

Does Sen. Edwards support continuing federal funding for crisis pregnancy centers? Why or why not?

No, federal tax dollars should not endorse or support programs that knowingly include medically or scientifically inaccurate information and that mislead and intimidate women.

If elected president, what specific measures would Sen. Edwards support for women who choose to become mothers (prenatal care, maternity leave, childcare, healthcare for children)?

There is much we need to do to help families balance work and home life. To help millions of families with child care expenses, I will expand the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit to pay up to 50 percent of child care expenses up to $5,000 and make it partially refundable to benefit low-income working families. To help stay-at-home parents, I will allow them to claim the credit to help pay for child care for newborn infants. I will also create a National Family Trust to offer 8 weeks of paid family and medical leave to all American workers. Finally, my plan for truly universal health care will guarantee quality, affordable health care for every woman, man and child in America.

Does Sen. Edwards believe that gay and lesbian couples should be able to adopt children?

Yes, I believe that gay and lesbian parents should be able to adopt children just like any other parents. There are over 120,000 children waiting for homes in our nation's foster care system. Adoption placements should be decided by judges and adoption agencies based upon the best interests of the children. Both members of a same-sex couple raising children together should be able to form a legal relationship with their children.

If elected president, would Sen. Edwards overturn the Global Gag Rule or reinstate funding for UNFPA?

Yes. I oppose the "global gag rule" that prohibits overseas organizations receiving family planning aid from using their own funds to provide information about the option of abortion.

Want More? We've Got It!

Check out Sen. Barack Obama's and Sen. Hillary Clinton's completed questionnaire.

Read the statement from Sen. Chris Dodd's campaign.

What about the Democratic contenders who didn't respond to our questionnaire? We did their homework for them, mining through their previous public statements to find their positions, right here.

And the Republicans? Concrete information on the Republican candidates' positions and commitments on reproductive health and rights is harder to come by, since their websites generally only include information about the issue of abortion. But here's what we were able to come up with.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: The Sexually Transmitted Infections Edition

Martha Kempner

A new Zika case suggests the virus can be transmitted from an infected woman to a male partner. And, in other news, HPV-related cancers are on the rise, and an experimental chlamydia vaccine shows signs of promise.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Zika May Have Been Sexually Transmitted From a Woman to Her Male Partner

A new case suggests that males may be infected with the Zika virus through unprotected sex with female partners. Researchers have known for a while that men can infect their partners through penetrative sexual intercourse, but this is the first suspected case of sexual transmission from a woman.

The case involves a New York City woman who is in her early 20s and traveled to a country with high rates of the mosquito-borne virus (her name and the specific country where she traveled have not been released). The woman, who experienced stomach cramps and a headache while waiting for her flight back to New York, reported one act of sexual intercourse without a condom the day she returned from her trip. The following day, her symptoms became worse and included fever, fatigue, a rash, and tingling in her hands and feet. Two days later, she visited her primary-care provider and tests confirmed she had the Zika virus.

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A few days after that (seven days after intercourse), her male partner, also in his 20s, began feeling similar symptoms. He had a rash, a fever, and also conjunctivitis (pink eye). He, too, was diagnosed with Zika. After meeting with him, public health officials in the New York City confirmed that he had not traveled out of the country nor had he been recently bit by a mosquito. This leaves sexual transmission from his partner as the most likely cause of his infection, though further tests are being done.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s recommendations for preventing Zika have been based on the assumption that virus was spread from a male to a receptive partner. Therefore the recommendations had been that pregnant women whose male partners had traveled or lived in a place where Zika virus is spreading use condoms or abstain from sex during the pregnancy. For those couples for whom pregnancy is not an issue, the CDC recommended that men who had traveled to countries with Zika outbreaks and had symptoms of the virus, use condoms or abstain from sex for six months after their trip. It also suggested that men who traveled but don’t have symptoms use condoms for at least eight weeks.

Based on this case—the first to suggest female-to-male transmission—the CDC may extend these recommendations to couples in which a female traveled to a country with an outbreak.

More Signs of Gonorrhea’s Growing Antibiotic Resistance

Last week, the CDC released new data on gonorrhea and warned once again that the bacteria that causes this common sexually transmitted infection (STI) is becoming resistant to the antibiotics used to treat it.

There are about 350,000 cases of gonorrhea reported each year, but it is estimated that 800,000 cases really occur with many going undiagnosed and untreated. Once easily treatable with antibiotics, the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae has steadily gained resistance to whole classes of antibiotics over the decades. By the 1980s, penicillin no longer worked to treat it, and in 2007 the CDC stopped recommending the use of fluoroquinolones. Now, cephalosporins are the only class of drugs that work. The recommended treatment involves a combination of ceftriaxone (an injectable cephalosporin) and azithromycin (an oral antibiotic).

Unfortunately, the data released last week—which comes from analysis of more than 5,000 samples of gonorrhea (called isolates) collected from STI clinics across the country—shows that the bacteria is developing resistance to these drugs as well. In fact, the percentage of gonorrhea isolates with decreased susceptibility to azithromycin increased more than 300 percent between 2013 and 2014 (from 0.6 percent to 2.5 percent).

Though no cases of treatment failure has been reported in the United States, this is a troubling sign of what may be coming. Dr. Gail Bolan, director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, said in a press release: “It is unclear how long the combination therapy of azithromycin and ceftriaxone will be effective if the increases in resistance persists. We need to push forward on multiple fronts to ensure we can continue offering successful treatment to those who need it.”

HPV-Related Cancers Up Despite Vaccine 

The CDC also released new data this month showing an increase in HPV-associated cancers between 2008 and 2012 compared with the previous five-year period. HPV or human papillomavirus is an extremely common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, HPV is so common that the CDC believes most sexually active adults will get it at some point in their lives. Many cases of HPV clear spontaneously with no medical intervention, but certain types of the virus cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, penis, anus, mouth, and neck.

The CDC’s new data suggests that an average of 38,793 HPV-associated cancers were diagnosed each year between 2008 and 2012. This is a 17 percent increase from about 33,000 each year between 2004 and 2008. This is a particularly unfortunate trend given that the newest available vaccine—Gardasil 9—can prevent the types of HPV most often linked to cancer. In fact, researchers estimated that the majority of cancers found in the recent data (about 28,000 each year) were caused by types of the virus that could be prevented by the vaccine.

Unfortunately, as Rewire has reported, the vaccine is often mired in controversy and far fewer young people have received it than get most other recommended vaccines. In 2014, only 40 percent of girls and 22 percent of boys ages 13 to 17 had received all three recommended doses of the vaccine. In comparison, nearly 80 percent of young people in this age group had received the vaccine that protects against meningitis.

In response to the newest data, Dr. Electra Paskett, co-director of the Cancer Control Research Program at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, told HealthDay:

In order to increase HPV vaccination rates, we must change the perception of the HPV vaccine from something that prevents a sexually transmitted disease to a vaccine that prevents cancer. Every parent should ask the question: If there was a vaccine I could give my child that would prevent them from developing six different cancers, would I give it to them? The answer would be a resounding yes—and we would have a dramatic decrease in HPV-related cancers across the globe.

Making Inroads Toward a Chlamydia Vaccine

An article published in the journal Vaccine shows that researchers have made progress with a new vaccine to prevent chlamydia. According to lead researcher David Bulir of the M. G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at Canada’s McMaster University, efforts to create a vaccine have been underway for decades, but this is the first formulation to show success.

In 2014, there were 1.4 million reported cases of chlamydia in the United States. While this bacterial infection can be easily treated with antibiotics, it often goes undiagnosed because many people show no symptoms. Untreated chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can leave scar tissue in the fallopian tubes or uterus and ultimately result in infertility.

The experimental vaccine was created by Canadian researchers who used pieces of the bacteria that causes chlamydia to form an antigen they called BD584. The hope was that the antigen could prompt the body’s immune system to fight the chlamydia bacteria if exposed to it.

Researchers gave BD584 to mice using a nasal spray, and then exposed them to chlamydia. The results were very promising. The mice who received the spray cleared the infection faster than the mice who did not. Moreover, the mice given the nasal spray were less likely to show symptoms of infection, such as bacterial shedding from the vagina or fluid blockages of the fallopian tubes.

There are many steps to go before this vaccine could become available. The researchers need to test it on other strains of the bacteria and in other animals before testing it in humans. And, of course, experience with the HPV vaccine shows that there’s work to be done to make sure people get vaccines that prevent STIs even after they’re invented. Nonetheless, a vaccine to prevent chlamydia would be a great victory in our ongoing fight against STIs and their health consequences, and we here at This Week in Sex are happy to end on a bit of a positive note.