What the Hell Is Going On In Spain?

Frances Kissling

Why do I find the Spanish clinics' broad interpretation of "serious mental health risks" ethically problematic when I have no problem with the hundreds of doctors throughout Latin America, Africa and Asia that are routinely breaking the law and providing safe first trimester abortions?

The usually tranquil European abortion landscape has in recent weeks resembled a Jackson Pollack painting as Spain became embroiled in a nationwide one-week strike by abortion clinics. Marcy Bloom, a long time and respected advocate of reproductive rights, reporting on the crisis for Rewire, focused on the strike in Spain as a response to the frequent persecution and stigmatization of physicians and women who seek abortion. I'd like to offer a second opinion and an ethical analysis of the Spanish case.

The full circumstances of the crisis bear repeating. In italics, I highlight some important information that was left out of Ms. Bloom's story. On November 26th, 2007, police agents searched four Barcelona clinics owned by Dr. Carlos Morin. The raid was ordered by the Court of Justice following a complaint by a Catholic anti-abortion group, e-Christians, which claimed abortions were being performed illegally. Dr. Morin had been shown on TV in a secretly recorded tape offering an abortion to a Danish woman who was in her seventh month of pregnancy, and explaining that "loopholes" in Spanish law that would make this possible. Further raids followed at other clinics; 13 people were arrested, including doctors and anesthesiologists. In Holland, a Dutch woman returning from Spain was arrested and charged with having undergone an illegal abortion. Almost all Madrid clinics were then raided — and a number of irregularities were allegedly found. These included forged signatures of physicians performing abortions, presigned blank medical forms signed by a psychiatrist who certified that the "patient" — unnamed and unexamined — suffered from a serious mental health problems that justified an abortion under Spanish law, and evidence of an attempt by one clinic to destroy medical records in anticipation of police action.

There is no doubt that the actions by Spanish authorities were excessive and in some instances possibly violated doctor patient confidentiality. Ms. Bloom does a service in pointing this out. At the same time, moral outrage requires equal attention to and a constructive critique of how Spanish abortion providers interpret and implement the highly flawed Spanish law.

Spain's Ambiguous Abortion Law

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Under a 1985 Spanish law a woman can have an abortion during the first 22 weeks of pregnancy for fetal malformation or during the first 12 weeks in cases of rape. Abortion can be performed at any point in the pregnancy if an appropriate specialist physician certifies that the woman faces serious physical or mental health risks. Ms. Bloom says that abortions can "theoretically" be performed under this provision. In fact, they are performed and women travel from throughout Europe to Spain for late term procedures.

The Spanish abortion providers' association recognizes the ethical and legal dilemmas such a law places on them and the subjectivity involved in evaluating performing abortions as late as 26 to 32 weeks gestation based on an "assessment" of serious mental health risks. They have repeated asked the government to pass a law that would set a firm gestational limit and eliminate the need for certification of risk. The providers' association has also established internal guidelines that prevent members from performing abortions beyond 26 weeks of pregnancy, two weeks beyond the most liberal European law, that of the UK.

This is not the first time that Spanish law has come under international scrutiny. In 2005, an undercover reporter for one of the UK's more scurrilous tabloids was referred by the Bpas, the largest non-profit provider of abortion services in the UK, to Spain for an abortion at 26 weeks. Once in Spain, the reporter did not claim any mental or physical health problem, but was told by the Spanish clinic that this was not a problem; the clinic would simply say there was a risk to her health and perform the abortion. British health authorities investigated Bpas and ruled that they had broken no laws, although Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer who conducted the inquiry recommended, that Bpas tighten its procedures before referring women beyond 24 weeks, the legal limit in the UK abroad.

What Gestational Limits Are Reasonable?

For advocates of a woman's right to choose and especially those who provide abortions, the Spanish case is not an opportunity to laud courageous doctors (although there are plenty of those). Rather it is an opportunity to examine whether any gestational limits on abortion are reasonable and the circumstances under which protocols designed to ensure evaluation of medical and psychological conditions are ignored in pursuit of deeply held beliefs about women's rights. When is civil disobedience justified?

This is not just a question Spanish providers ask. The Supreme Court's trimester frame in both the Roe and Doe decisions require that American providers make tough decisions in the third trimester. Roe allows states to ban third trimester abortions unless the woman's health is at risk. In Doe v Bolton, the Court defined the health exception quite broadly. Associate Justice Blackmun stated in Doe that "the medical judgment [of health] may be exercised in the light of all factors – physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age – relevant to the wellbeing of the patient. All these factors may relate to health. This allows the attending physician the room he (sic) needs to make his best medical judgment."

And so, I asked myself: Why do I find the Spanish (and US) clinics' broad interpretation of "serious mental health risks" ethically problematic when I have absolutely no problem with the hundreds of doctors and clinics throughout Latin America, Africa and Asia that are routinely breaking the law and providing safe first trimester abortions to women throughout these regions? When a Spanish clinic certifies that a physically healthy woman more than 24 weeks pregnant with no clinically determined mental health problem has a "serious mental health risk" that justifies an abortion are they playing fast and loose with medical ethics and the law or just acting on their conscientious belief that carrying a fetus to term, no matter what stage of pregnancy you are in when you don't want to is ipso facto a serious mental health risk?

What Does "Clinically Justified Mental Health Risk" Mean?

I had to unpack the question. What did I mean by "healthy women" and "no clinically justified mental health risk"? These are subjective criteria. I am sure my colleague and favorite intellectual sparring partner Ann Furedi of Bpas (with whom I have shared this article) believes that being 16 years old, out of school and having avoided admitting you are pregnant for 7 months constitutes a serious mental health condition. Further, I bet she believes that even a 26 week pregnant lawyer who changed her mind because she was offered a human rights post (or a good corporate job) in Uganda has a very good reason to have an abortion at 33 weeks. And then there are the few people I've met who sincerely believe that a fetus being carried by a woman who decides she does not want to be a mother is better off not being born. Some health professionals believe that a pain-free life is a human right and women have a mental health right to avoid any emotional discomfort or suffering that might occur if they were denied an abortion at any stage of pregnancy. And of course, there is the principle that reproduction is a completely private matter and that the there should be no laws related to abortion. Women can be trusted and when it comes to reproduction the law should trust them absolutely.

None of these opinions can be rejected out of hand. It is difficult to bite the bullet and say one would tacitly force any woman, no matter how pregnant, to carry to term a fetus she can't accept. But respecting women as well as holding medical and social services providers accountable demands that tough issues be discussed. Movement leadership requires that one express opinions about the moral as well as the legal issues of our time. Strong advocacy of a legal right to choose does not require silence on what is moral. Civility demands that one find a way to express views about morality in a way that does no harm and acknowledges that more than one view is respectable.

Reproduction is both a private act and a social phenomenon with public consequences. We want doctors to perform abortions, nurses to assist at the procedure, counselors to be there for women and states to pay for the procedure. At the same time, doctors should not become machines whose only function is to fulfill every patient's every wish. Women are also strong competent moral agents who have made the decision to have abortions or babies regardless of what anyone else thinks. There is nothing even the cruelest anti-abortionists have said that women seeking abortions have not themselves thought. Doctors, even those we consider heroes, are not perfect and feminists have been criticizing them for years, with good cause. The decisions of Spanish doctors are rightfully subject to public reflection and approval or disapproval.

Balancing the Public/Private Dichotomy in Abortion

Advocates of choice will have different views on whether and how to balance the private/public dichotomy in relation to abortion. Setting legal limits on abortion rights is not automatically to be condemned. For me, a legal limit that gives women ample time to decide honors both women's rights and a growing social concern about treating viable fetuses as if they had no claim on our humanity. Accepting that some women and girls will not meet the legal limits and not get an abortion may make us sad but is not wrong. It makes me sad that some women can't find the money to pay for even a first trimester abortion, but I don't conclude that the clinics that do not provide free abortions for all who have financial hardships are responsible for forcing them to carry a pregnancy to term.

This brings me back to those among the Spanish abortion providers who believe that the current requirement for certification of serious physical or mental health risks is routinely applicable at all stages of pregnancy. Should the abortion rights movement endorse this approach?

The Spanish providers who called for the one week strike don't think so. They favor an abortion on request law without the need for any certification. If such a law existed they are willing to accept a gestational limit.

In a European context, this could be as early as 16 weeks or as late as 24 weeks. While a strong ethical argument for no gestational limits can be made in principle, many factors need to be considered before one seriously adopts this approach. Among the questions that would need to be answered are whether abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy is necessary for women's freedom and bodily autonomy and whether such a principled position compromises legality at earlier stages of pregnancy and of course whether it is achievable. A commitment to democracy also requires some respect for compromise and negotiation in contested areas – and abortion is surely one of those areas.

Until the time that Spanish advocates achieve their goal of abortion on request within a reasonably defined gestational limit, I believe abortion providers should voluntarily take a moderate approach to interpreting the Spanish law consistent with the change they seek. That means that abortions beyond 24 weeks gestation should not be performed unless there are serious physical or mental conditions that make continuing the pregnancy a demonstrable danger to the woman. The evaluation of these conditions should not be routine, nor should the facile and not-quite-accurate claim that pregnancy is always medically more dangerous than abortion be used as a fall-back excuse. Women deserve to have their health conditions medically evaluated by specialists who treat each case individually and have no prior bias for or against abortion.

When Is Civil Disobedience Justified?

The disrespect for the norms of the law demonstrated by Dr. Morin and expressed to his patients is unacceptable. How, you may ask, is it different from the disrespect of the law demonstrated by those who provide safe illegal abortion services in the developing world? What standard does one use to judge some violations of law heroic and others unacceptable?

In the case of the heroic services provided by doctors in the developing world, the consequences of not performing those procedures include death, serious health injury, and economic deprivation to the woman and her existing children. These consequences are demonstrable. What about declining to perform an abortion for a healthy woman or adolescent in Europe? The undercover clients who "set up" Dr. Morin and Bpas, if they represent any of the women who make their way to Spain, demonstrated no compelling economic or medical reasons for the abortion or for their delay in seeking an abortion, no fetal abnormalities and a high degree of competence in managing getting to the clinics. So to turn such women away is not insignificant, but does not justify bending the law.

Poor women in Europe do not find their way to the Spanish clinics when they find themselves 26 weeks pregnant, as they simply do not have the 4,000 plus euros such procedures cost. Poor women in the US face similar financial challenges in obtaining post 24 weeks abortions which cost from $5,000 to $7,500.

Those who get these abortions are adolescents who denied or were unrealistic about their pregnancy and whose parents can raise the money. In these cases, exceptions need to be considered, but it should not be automatically assumed that every adolescent is better off with a late term abortion than a baby. There will be many contributing factors to both adolescent and adult women's delay in seeking abortions, including ambivalence. Adolescents also need to be protected from parents who coerce abortion as well as from those who want to prohibit it.

Every week, those of us who are pro-choice are faced with new circumstances that should cause us to think about how those circumstances affirm or change our core principles. Do our boundaries shift? In this sense, I hope we never reach a point when abortion is routine or uncontested. Moral and ethical deliberation takes place best in a non-coercive climate of legality: the need individuals, women, doctors, clinics have to evaluate the morality of specific acts and the fact that is some cases one will decide that certain acts are immoral does not mean abortion should become illegal. At the same time, respect for autonomy in moral decision making does not require that abortion be legal for any reason up to the swinging doors of the birthing theater.

Culture & Conversation Human Rights

Let’s Stop Conflating Self-Care and Actual Care

Katie Klabusich

It's time for a shift in the use of “self-care” that creates space for actual care apart from the extra kindnesses and important, small indulgences that may be part of our self-care rituals, depending on our ability to access such activities.

As a chronically ill, chronically poor person, I have feelings about when, why, and how the phrase “self-care” is invoked. When International Self-Care Day came to my attention, I realized that while I laud the effort to prevent some of the 16 million people the World Health Organization reports die prematurely every year from noncommunicable diseases, the American notion of self-care—ironically—needs some work.

I propose a shift in the use of “self-care” that creates space for actual care apart from the extra kindnesses and important, small indulgences that may be part of our self-care rituals, depending on our ability to access such activities. How we think about what constitutes vital versus optional care affects whether/when we do those things we should for our health and well-being. Some of what we have come to designate as self-care—getting sufficient sleep, treating chronic illness, allowing ourselves needed sick days—shouldn’t be seen as optional; our culture should prioritize these things rather than praising us when we scrape by without them.

International Self-Care Day began in China, and it has spread over the past few years to include other countries and an effort seeking official recognition at the United Nations of July 24 (get it? 7/24: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) as an important advocacy day. The online academic journal SelfCare calls its namesake “a very broad concept” that by definition varies from person to person.

“Self-care means different things to different people: to the person with a headache it might mean a buying a tablet, but to the person with a chronic illness it can mean every element of self-management that takes place outside the doctor’s office,” according to SelfCare. “[I]n the broadest sense of the term, self-care is a philosophy that transcends national boundaries and the healthcare systems which they contain.”

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In short, self-care was never intended to be the health version of duct tape—a way to patch ourselves up when we’re in pieces from the outrageous demands of our work-centric society. It’s supposed to be part of our preventive care plan alongside working out, eating right, getting enough sleep, and/or other activities that are important for our personalized needs.

The notion of self-care has gotten a recent visibility boost as those of us who work in human rights and/or are activists encourage each other publicly to recharge. Most of the people I know who remind themselves and those in our movements to take time off do so to combat the productivity anxiety embedded in our work. We’re underpaid and overworked, but still feel guilty taking a break or, worse, spending money on ourselves when it could go to something movement- or bill-related.

The guilt is intensified by our capitalist system having infected the self-care philosophy, much as it seems to have infected everything else. Our bootstrap, do-it-yourself culture demands we work to the point of exhaustion—some of us because it’s the only way to almost make ends meet and others because putting work/career first is expected and applauded. Our previous president called it “uniquely American” that someone at his Omaha, Nebraska, event promoting “reform” of (aka cuts to) Social Security worked three jobs.

“Uniquely American, isn’t it?” he said. “I mean, that is fantastic that you’re doing that. (Applause.) Get any sleep? (Laughter.)”

The audience was applauding working hours that are disastrous for health and well-being, laughing at sleep as though our bodies don’t require it to function properly. Bush actually nailed it: Throughout our country, we hold Who Worked the Most Hours This Week competitions and attempt to one-up the people at the coffee shop, bar, gym, or book club with what we accomplished. We have reached a point where we consider getting more than five or six hours of sleep a night to be “self-care” even though it should simply be part of regular care.

Most of us know intuitively that, in general, we don’t take good enough care of ourselves on a day-to-day basis. This isn’t something that just happened; it’s a function of our work culture. Don’t let the statistic that we work on average 34.4 hours per week fool you—that includes people working part time by choice or necessity, which distorts the reality for those of us who work full time. (Full time is defined by the Internal Revenue Service as 30 or more hours per week.) Gallup’s annual Work and Education Survey conducted in 2014 found that 39 percent of us work 50 or more hours per week. Only 8 percent of us on average work less than 40 hours per week. Millennials are projected to enjoy a lifetime of multiple jobs or a full-time job with one or more side hustles via the “gig economy.”

Despite worker productivity skyrocketing during the past 40 years, we don’t work fewer hours or make more money once cost of living is factored in. As Gillian White outlined at the Atlantic last year, despite politicians and “job creators” blaming financial crises for wage stagnation, it’s more about priorities:

Though productivity (defined as the output of goods and services per hours worked) grew by about 74 percent between 1973 and 2013, compensation for workers grew at a much slower rate of only 9 percent during the same time period, according to data from the Economic Policy Institute.

It’s no wonder we don’t sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been sounding the alarm for some time. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommend people between 18 and 60 years old get seven or more hours sleep each night “to promote optimal health and well-being.” The CDC website has an entire section under the heading “Insufficient Sleep Is a Public Health Problem,” outlining statistics and negative outcomes from our inability to find time to tend to this most basic need.

We also don’t get to the doctor when we should for preventive care. Roughly half of us, according to the CDC, never visit a primary care or family physician for an annual check-up. We go in when we are sick, but not to have screenings and discuss a basic wellness plan. And rarely do those of us who do go tell our doctors about all of our symptoms.

I recently had my first really wonderful check-up with a new primary care physician who made a point of asking about all the “little things” leading her to encourage me to consider further diagnosis for fibromyalgia. I started crying in her office, relieved that someone had finally listened and at the idea that my headaches, difficulty sleeping, recovering from illness, exhaustion, and pain might have an actual source.

Considering our deeply-ingrained priority problems, it’s no wonder that when I post on social media that I’ve taken a sick day—a concept I’ve struggled with after 20 years of working multiple jobs, often more than 80 hours a week trying to make ends meet—people applaud me for “doing self-care.” Calling my sick day “self-care” tells me that the commenter sees my post-traumatic stress disorder or depression as something I could work through if I so chose, amplifying the stigma I’m pushing back on by owning that a mental illness is an appropriate reason to take off work. And it’s not the commenter’s fault; the notion that working constantly is a virtue is so pervasive, it affects all of us.

Things in addition to sick days and sleep that I’ve had to learn are not engaging in self-care: going to the doctor, eating, taking my meds, going to therapy, turning off my computer after a 12-hour day, drinking enough water, writing, and traveling for work. Because it’s so important, I’m going to say it separately: Preventive health care—Pap smears, check-ups, cancer screenings, follow-ups—is not self-care. We do extras and nice things for ourselves to prevent burnout, not as bandaids to put ourselves back together when we break down. You can’t bandaid over skipping doctors appointments, not sleeping, and working your body until it’s a breath away from collapsing. If you’re already at that point, you need straight-up care.

Plenty of activities are self-care! My absolutely not comprehensive personal list includes: brunch with friends, adult coloring (especially the swear word books and glitter pens), soy wax with essential oils, painting my toenails, reading a book that’s not for review, a glass of wine with dinner, ice cream, spending time outside, last-minute dinner with my boyfriend, the puzzle app on my iPad, Netflix, participating in Caturday, and alone time.

My someday self-care wish list includes things like vacation, concerts, the theater, regular massages, visiting my nieces, decent wine, the occasional dinner out, and so very, very many books. A lot of what constitutes self-care is rather expensive (think weekly pedicures, spa days, and hobbies with gear and/or outfit requirements)—which leads to the privilege of getting to call any part of one’s routine self-care in the first place.

It would serve us well to consciously add an intersectional view to our enthusiasm for self-care when encouraging others to engage in activities that may be out of reach financially, may disregard disability, or may not be right for them for a variety of other reasons, including compounded oppression and violence, which affects women of color differently.

Over the past year I’ve noticed a spike in articles on how much of the emotional labor burden women carry—at the Toast, the Atlantic, Slate, the Guardian, and the Huffington Post. This category of labor disproportionately affects women of color. As Minaa B described at the Huffington Post last month:

I hear the term self-care a lot and often it is defined as practicing yoga, journaling, speaking positive affirmations and meditation. I agree that those are successful and inspiring forms of self-care, but what we often don’t hear people talking about is self-care at the intersection of race and trauma, social justice and most importantly, the unawareness of repressed emotional issues that make us victims of our past.

The often-quoted Audre Lorde wrote in A Burst of Light: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

While her words ring true for me, they are certainly more weighted and applicable for those who don’t share my white and cisgender privilege. As covered at Ravishly, the Feminist Wire, Blavity, the Root, and the Crunk Feminist Collective recently, self-care for Black women will always have different expressions and roots than for white women.

But as we continue to talk about self-care, we need to be clear about the difference between self-care and actual care and work to bring the necessities of life within reach for everyone. Actual care should not have to be optional. It should be a priority in our culture so that it can be a priority in all our lives.

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.