Roundup: North Dakota House Passes Egg-as-Person Measure

Emily Douglas

North Dakota House approves egg-as-person legislation; USA Today examines likely effects of provider conscience expansion; Pelosi to meet with Pope; fight on the right over what reduces abortion.

North Dakota House Approves Egg-as-Person Legislation
The North Dakota House yesterday approved a measure that would give fertilized eggs human rights, the Associated Press reports

The bill declares that "any organism with the genome of homo
sapiens" is a person protected by rights granted by the North Dakota
Constitution and state laws.

The measure’s sponsor, Rep. Dan
Ruby, R-Minot, said the legislation did not automatically ban abortion.
Ruby has introduced bills in previous sessions of the Legislature to
prohibit abortion in North Dakota.

 

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The bill now moves to the North Dakota Senate.


USA Today Examines Likely Effects of Provider Conscience Expansion

USA Today
talks to pharmacists, women’s health advocates, and anti-choice
activists about the new HHS provider conscience expansion.  USA Today
says those who oppose contraception are "on the extreme end of the
spectrum." 

Opponents question whether providers rights are more important than
patients’ rights. They paint a picture of women in isolated areas,
forced to go without care, or intimidated by pharmacists who won’t fill
their prescription for emergency contraception. "What people don’t
realize is restrictions are making it inaccessible for a number of
women, and those restrictions are equally as bad as a ban for some
women," said Janet Crepps, deputy director in the U.S. legal program at
the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Pelosi to Meet with Pope; Some Catholics Want Pope to Deny Communion
Speaker Nancy Pelosi will meet with the Pope at the Vatican today.  "Some pro-life Catholics don’t want
that to happen and have started a petition asking that Catholic Church
leaders prevent the pro-abortion lawmaker from receiving the sacrament," reports LifeNews.com.  Writes the Boston Globe, "Pelosi, of course, is a practicing Catholic and mother of five (and
grandmother of seven), but also is a supporter of abortion rights, and
that combination has infuriated some conservatives who argue that
support for abortion rights should disqualify Catholic politicians from
receiving Communion and from being honored by Catholic universities."

Fight on the Right Over What Reduces Abortion
Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and other anti-choice organizations on the right find themselves in disagreement
over "what reduces abortion."  Catholics in Alliance has argued that
states with higher welfare spending have lower rates of abortion, while
laws restricting access — mandatory delay, or parental involvement
laws — had little effect.  Professor Michael New, of the University of
Alabama and the Witherspoon Institute, countered the claim, writing,

 

Unfortunately, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good continues to
miss the boat and mislead the public.  There exist plenty of peer
reviewed studies which find that public funding restrictions and
parental involvement laws reduce the incidence of abortion. However,
instead of acknowledging the positive impact of pro-life legislation
and constructively working with pro-lifers to promote social policies
that will further reduce abortion rates, Catholics in Alliance for the
Common Good seems primarily interested in providing moral, political,
and theological cover for supporters of Barack Obama and other
Democrats who support "abortion rights."

Catholics in Alliance responded,

In his article, "Holding ‘Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good’
Morally Accountable," Michael New mischaracterizes Catholics in
Alliance entirely. The Alliance promotes a consistent ethic of life and
challenges both political parties to help end the tragedy of abortion.
Our primary interest in commissioning the study, Reducing Abortion in America: The Effect of Socioeconomic Factors,
was to explore ways to reduce abortions and find common-ground policies
that support families, not to "provide cover" for any political party
or ideology. In addition, as explicitly stated in the report, the
Alliance endorses a comprehensive approach to reach this goal,
including informed and parental consent laws.

Other News to Note

Feb 15: The Week: Sex in the recession

Feb 17: Contra Costa Times: The agony of endometriosis: Chronic pelvic
pain not easy to diagnose

Feb 17: Broadsheet: Too hot for high school

Feb 17: The Week: Nadya Suleman’s laissez fertility

Feb 17: Christian News Wire: If Pro-Choicers Want to Reduce Abortions,
They Should Support Waiting Period Says Fr. Pavone

Feb 17: Life News: Electrician Quits Working on Abortion Center
Repairs After Pro-Life Pressure

Feb 18: Tulsa World: AP: State House committee approves anti-abortion bill

Feb 17: News Channel 11 TX: Local activists mobilize over abortion bill

Feb 17: News Health Guru: Is there such a thing as baby addiction?

Feb 17: Life Site News: 40 Days For Life Campaign Goes Global:
Australia, Northern Ireland Join Campaign

Feb 18: Washington Times: China’s one-child controversy reignites

Feb 17: The Daily Item: Lynn Teen Births Make Alarming Rise

Feb 17: WorldNetDaily: Biohazard bag case mom feels ‘cheated’: ‘They
never said anything that would make me think it was a baby’

Feb 18: Pittsburgh Post Gazette: Planning a family? Text message
service tells you when the time is right

Feb 18: Charleston Daily Mail: Dozens of abortion bills introduced
in the Legislature

Feb 18: Online Journal: Another victory for the anti-abortion movement

Commentary Contraception

Hillary Clinton Played a Critical Role in Making Emergency Contraception More Accessible

Susan Wood

Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second-chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Clinton helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

In the midst of election-year talk and debates about political controversies, we often forget examples of candidates’ past leadership. But we must not overlook the ways in which Hillary Clinton demonstrated her commitment to women’s health before she became the Democratic presidential nominee. In early 2008, I wrote the following article for Rewirewhich has been lightly edited—from my perspective as a former official at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the critical role that Clinton, then a senator, had played in making the emergency contraception method Plan B available over the counter. She demanded that reproductive health benefits and the best available science drive decisions at the FDA, not politics. She challenged the Bush administration and pushed the Democratic-controlled Senate to protect the FDA’s decision making from political interference in order to help women get access to EC.

Since that time, Plan B and other emergency contraception pills have become fully over the counter with no age or ID requirements. Despite all the controversy, women at risk of unintended pregnancy finally can get timely access to another method of contraception if they need it—such as in cases of condom failure or sexual assault. By 2010, according to National Center for Health Statistics data, 11 percent of all sexually experienced women ages 15 to 44 had ever used EC, compared with only 4 percent in 2002. Indeed, nearly one-quarter of all women ages 20 to 24 had used emergency contraception by 2010.

As I stated in 2008, “All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.”

Now, there are new emergency contraceptive pills (Ella) available by prescription, women have access to insurance coverage of contraception without cost-sharing, and there is progress in making some regular contraceptive pills available over the counter, without prescription. Yet extreme calls for defunding Planned Parenthood, the costs and lack of coverage of over-the-counter EC, and refusals by some pharmacies to stock emergency contraception clearly demonstrate that politicization of science and limits to our access to contraception remain a serious problem.

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Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

Although stories about reproductive health and politicization of science have made headlines recently, stories of how these problems are solved are less often told. On August 31, 2005 I resigned my position as assistant commissioner for women’s health at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because the agency was not allowed to make its decisions based on the science or in the best interests of the public’s health. While my resignation was widely covered by the media, it would have been a hollow gesture were there not leaders in Congress who stepped in and demanded more accountability from the FDA.

I have been working to improve health care for women and families in the United States for nearly 20 years. In 2000, I became the director of women’s health for the FDA. I was rather quietly doing my job when the debate began in 2003 over whether or not emergency contraception should be provided over the counter (OTC). As a scientist, I knew the facts showed that this medication, which can be used after a rape or other emergency situations, prevents an unwanted pregnancy. It does not cause an abortion, but can help prevent the need for one. But it only works if used within 72 hours, and sooner is even better. Since it is completely safe, and many women find it impossible to get a doctor’s appointment within two to three days, making emergency contraception available to women without a prescription was simply the right thing to do. As an FDA employee, I knew it should have been a routine approval within the agency.

Plan B emergency contraception is just like birth control pills—it is not the “abortion pill,” RU-486, and most people in the United States don’t think access to safe and effective contraception is controversial. Sadly, in Congress and in the White House, there are many people who do oppose birth control. And although this may surprise you, this false “controversy” not only has affected emergency contraception, but also caused the recent dramatic increase in the cost of birth control pills on college campuses, and limited family planning services across the country.  The reality is that having more options for contraception helps each of us make our own decisions in planning our families and preventing unwanted pregnancies. This is something we can all agree on.

Meanwhile, inside the walls of the FDA in 2003 and 2004, the Bush administration continued to throw roadblocks at efforts to approve emergency contraception over the counter. When this struggle became public, I was struck by the leadership that Hillary Clinton displayed. She used the tools of a U.S. senator and fought ardently to preserve the FDA’s independent scientific decision-making authority. Many other senators and congressmen agreed, but she was the one who took the lead, saying she simply wanted the FDA to be able to make decisions based on its public health mission and on the medical evidence.

When it became clear that FDA scientists would continue to be overruled for non-scientific reasons, I resigned in protest in late 2005. I was interviewed by news media for months and traveled around the country hoping that many would stand up and demand that FDA do its job properly. But, although it can help, all the media in the world can’t make Congress or a president do the right thing.

Sen. Clinton made the difference. The FDA suddenly announced it would approve emergency contraception for use without a prescription for women ages 18 and older—one day before FDA officials were to face a determined Sen. Clinton and her colleague Sen. Murray (D-WA) at a Senate hearing in 2006. No one was more surprised than I was. All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.

Sometimes these success stories get lost in the “horse-race stories” about political campaigns and the exposes of taxpayer-funded bridges to nowhere, and who said what to whom. This story of emergency contraception at the FDA is just one story of many. Sen. Clinton saw a problem that affected people’s lives. She then stood up to the challenge and worked to solve it.

The challenges we face in health care, our economy, global climate change, and issues of war and peace, need to be tackled with experience, skills and the commitment to using the best available science and evidence to make the best possible policy.  This will benefit us all.

News Health Systems

Complaint: Citing Catholic Rules, Doctor Turns Away Bleeding Woman With Dislodged IUD

Amy Littlefield

“It felt heartbreaking,” said Melanie Jones. “It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.”

Melanie Jones arrived for her doctor’s appointment bleeding and in pain. Jones, 28, who lives in the Chicago area, had slipped in her bathroom, and suspected the fall had dislodged her copper intrauterine device (IUD).

Her doctor confirmed the IUD was dislodged and had to be removed. But the doctor said she would be unable to remove the IUD, citing Catholic restrictions followed by Mercy Hospital and Medical Center and providers within its system.

“I think my first feeling was shock,” Jones told Rewire in an interview. “I thought that eventually they were going to recognize that my health was the top priority.”

The doctor left Jones to confer with colleagues, before returning to confirm that her “hands [were] tied,” according to two complaints filed by the ACLU of Illinois. Not only could she not help her, the doctor said, but no one in Jones’ health insurance network could remove the IUD, because all of them followed similar restrictions. Mercy, like many Catholic providers, follows directives issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that restrict access to an array of services, including abortion care, tubal ligations, and contraception.

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Some Catholic providers may get around the rules by purporting to prescribe hormonal contraception for acne or heavy periods, rather than for birth control, but in the case of copper IUDs, there is no such pretext available.

“She told Ms. Jones that that process [of switching networks] would take her a month, and that she should feel fortunate because sometimes switching networks takes up to six months or even a year,” the ACLU of Illinois wrote in a pair of complaints filed in late June.

Jones hadn’t even realized her health-care network was Catholic.

Mercy has about nine off-site locations in the Chicago area, including the Dearborn Station office Jones visited, said Eric Rhodes, senior vice president of administrative and professional services. It is part of Trinity Health, one of the largest Catholic health systems in the country.

The ACLU and ACLU of Michigan sued Trinity last year for its “repeated and systematic failure to provide women suffering pregnancy complications with appropriate emergency abortions as required by federal law.” The lawsuit was dismissed but the ACLU has asked for reconsideration.

In a written statement to Rewire, Mercy said, “Generally, our protocol in caring for a woman with a dislodged or troublesome IUD is to offer to remove it.”

Rhodes said Mercy was reviewing its education process on Catholic directives for physicians and residents.

“That act [of removing an IUD] in itself does not violate the directives,” Marty Folan, Mercy’s director of mission integration, told Rewire.

The number of acute care hospitals that are Catholic owned or affiliated has grown by 22 percent over the past 15 years, according to MergerWatch, with one in every six acute care hospital beds now in a Catholic owned or affiliated facility. Women in such hospitals have been turned away while miscarrying and denied tubal ligations.

“We think that people should be aware that they may face limitations on the kind of care they can receive when they go to the doctor based on religious restrictions,” said Lorie Chaiten, director of the women’s and reproductive rights project of the ACLU of Illinois, in a phone interview with Rewire. “It’s really important that the public understand that this is going on and it is going on in a widespread fashion so that people can take whatever steps they need to do to protect themselves.”

Jones left her doctor’s office, still in pain and bleeding. Her options were limited. She couldn’t afford a $1,000 trip to the emergency room, and an urgent care facility was out of the question since her Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois insurance policy would only cover treatment within her network—and she had just been told that her entire network followed Catholic restrictions.

Jones, on the advice of a friend, contacted the ACLU of Illinois. Attorneys there advised Jones to call her insurance company and demand they expedite her network change. After five hours of phone calls, Jones was able to see a doctor who removed her IUD, five days after her initial appointment and almost two weeks after she fell in the bathroom.

Before the IUD was removed, Jones suffered from cramps she compared to those she felt after the IUD was first placed, severe enough that she medicated herself to cope with the pain.

She experienced another feeling after being turned away: stigma.

“It felt heartbreaking,” Jones told Rewire. “It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.”

The ACLU of Illinois has filed two complaints in Jones’ case: one before the Illinois Department of Human Rights and another with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights under the anti-discrimination provision of the Affordable Care Act. Chaiten said it’s clear Jones was discriminated against because of her gender.

“We don’t know what Mercy’s policies are, but I would find it hard to believe that if there were a man who was suffering complications from a vasectomy and came to the emergency room, that they would turn him away,” Chaiten said. “This the equivalent of that, right, this is a woman who had an IUD, and because they couldn’t pretend the purpose of the IUD was something other than pregnancy prevention, they told her, ‘We can’t help you.’”

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