Roundup: Anti-Choice Legislation in the States

Emily Douglas

Anti-choice legislation in the states; Dawn Johnsen up for confirmation today; fistula an indicator of poor health for women, children; doesn't like the facts on family planning.

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Anti-Choice Legislation in the States
Anti-choice legislation is being introduced left, right, and center in states around the nation.
The Tennessee House is considering two bills that would give the state "latitude to pass abortion legislation that falls within guidelines determined by the U.S. Supreme Court," reports the Tennessean
The Republican version does not include exceptions for rape, incest, or
health of the mother; the Democratic version does.  In 2000, the
Tennessee state Supreme Court found that the right to privacy protects
the right to legal abortion, so this constitutional amendment would
reverse that decision.

In Arkansas, Gov. Mike Beebe recently signed into law a so-called
"partial birth abortion ban," which bans unspecified and medically
un-defined abortion procedures, reported.

Missouri’s Senate Judiciary Committee is considering a bill that would make it illegal for a woman to be coerced into having an abortion.  Meanwhile, a Utah Senate bill would require physicians to tell women that their fetuses will feel pain during an abortion.  State senators in Montana endorsed a parental notification meausure.
In South Carolina, a 24-hour mandatory waiting period after an ultrasound has just passed the House, WISTV reports.  And, of course, in North Dakota, the Senate soon takes up the egg-as-person bill to define life as beginning at conception.

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Dawn Johnsen Up for Confirmation Today
Dawn Johnsen, former legal director for NARAL Pro-Choice America and
outspoken critic of the Justice Department under President Bush, is up
for confirmation as the Assistant Attorney General in the Office of
Legal Affairs.  The National Women’s Law Center is urging her
confirmation, writing,

Professor Johnsen’s tenure at [the Office of Legal Affairs during the Clinton administration] gave her a profound
understanding of the unique responsibility of that office to provide
thoughtful and objective legal advice, in addition to a practical
understanding of how the office operates. As a widely respected
professor of constitutional law, she has spent the past ten years
grappling with complex legal issues. Her scholarship and legal
commentary demonstrate not only her outstanding legal abilities, but
also a commitment to the rule of law, to transparency, and to open
dialogue, as well as an understanding of the impact legal policies have
on people’s lives. 

But doesn’t like
Johnsen’s argument that laws restricting access to abortion create a situation in which pregnant women are in "involuntary servitude" to the state (LifeNews says she calls pregnancy slavery). The site goes on to make fun of Johsen’s commitment to "economic justice," quoting National Review writer Andrew McCarthy:

attraction for Obama is obvious. The principal target of her Webster
brief was the settled principle that the Constitution’s recognition
of various fundamental rights (and the judicial invention of such
‘rights’ as abortion) does not confer an entitlement to governmental
aid to exercise those rights," he explains. "For Johnsen,
this is anathema, the denial of ‘economic justice’ and thus of equal

Fistula an Indicator of Poor Health for Women, Children
The New York Times goes to Tanzania to feature relief efforts targeted at women suffering from fistula.  The Times reports that "prevention lags far behind treatment:"

Fistulas are a scourge of the poor, affecting two million women and girls, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia – those who cannot get a Caesarean section
or other medical help in time. Long neglected, fistulas have gained
increasing attention in recent years, and nonprofit groups, hospitals and governments have created programs, like the one in Dodoma, to provide the surgery.

Ideally, fistulas should be prevented, but prevention – which requires education, more hospitals, doctors and midwives,
and better transportation – lags far behind treatment. Worldwide, there
are still 100,000 new cases a year, and most experts think it will take
decades to eliminate fistulas in Africa, even though they were wiped
out in developed countries a century ago. Their continuing presence is
a sign that medical care for pregnant women is desperately inadequate. Doesn’t Like the Facts on Family Planning, Looks for Others
Mainstream news outlets looked at the data in the Guttmacher
Institute’s recent report on family planning — the claim that family
planning programs prevent
nearly 2 million unintended pregnancies and more than 800,000 abortions
in the U.S. annually — and recognized that as fact. doesn’t agree, though, so they went abroad in search of facts they like better:

the report doesn’t appear to square with the facts in places where the
number of abortions have been compiled following extensive promotion of
family planning. Last year, officials in Sweden reported that the number of abortions increased
17 percent in Sweden from 2000 to 2007 despite sales of the morning
after pill increasing during the same time period."  Not only are they
looking for facts in another country, they’re comparing apples to
oranges — emergency contraception is an significant component of family
planning, but it’s not the same as regular use of hormonal birth
control or condoms. 

Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care for Women Losing Health Insurance

On US News & World Report,
Deborah Kotz says it best: "Lost your health insurance? Consider
Planned Parenthood clinics."  But Kotz makes clear the many hurdles to
acquiring care:

Can anyone walk into a Planned Parenthood clinic and get free services?

"No, it doesn’t work that way," explains Gold. "To get free care in
most states, you must qualify for Medicaid." My jaw drops when she
tells me that in order to receive Medicaid coverage, states require
your income to be well below the poverty line of $18,310 for a family
of three. In some states, the cutoff is $11,000 in annual income; in
Arkansas, it’s $3,113. On the other hand, Arkansas and 20 other states
have implemented Medicaid waivers for pregnancy care and family
planning services, which has raised the qualifying income level
typically to about $37,000 for a family of three or about $21,000 for a
single woman.

Still, that excludes most unemployed women from coverage if they’re
receiving unemployment benefits or have an employed spouse. The folks I
spoke with at Planned Parenthood clinics tell me that they work with
every patient to provide affordable care.

Ross Douthat on Will Saletan on Abortion and Contraception

I like linking to Ross Douthat even less than I like linking to Will Saletan (what is it
with men who make their livings opining about the morality of women
seeking legal medical care?) but I’d like to debunk this statement. 
Douthat doesn’t like that Saletan blames the religious right for
opposition to birth control.  He writes,

[Saletan’s argument that anyone who opposes legal abortion should get behind contraception] makes it sound like the long shadow of Humanae Vitae and the malign influence of the Quiverfull movement are a big part of America’s abortion problem. But if religious-conservative objections to contraceptive use were actually
a big part of the cultural background to our abortion and
out-of-wedlock birth rate, you’d expect to see some actual evidence of
it. For one thing, you’d expect evidence that the Catholic Church’s
position on birth control has a significant impact on American Catholic
sexual behavior, let alone on sexual behavior in the society at large.
But the vast majority of Catholics are already on board with Saletan’s
premises. Around 80 percent think the Church should change its teaching on contraception. 88 percent of Catholic doctors prescribe it. As many as 95 percent of married Catholics use it. And I’m pretty sure that the 5-10 percent of Catholics who do obey the Church’s teaching aren’t having all that many abortions.

Sure, individual Catholics in the pews think the Church should change its position on birth control, and no one, least of all Catholics, may listen to what the Church has to say about it.  But unfortunately, they have very little influence over the Church hierarchy, who officially oppose all kinds of contraception other than "natural family planning" and who just last month suggested that hormonal birth control led to environmental degradation.  Catholics may behave differently, but the political power is behind the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and they don’t support access to family planning no matter what their constituents believe and how they behave.

Other News to Note
Feb 24: One News Now: Abortion not necessary to treat breast cancer aggressively

Feb 24: PoliTex: Anti-abortion activists descend on Austin 

Feb 24: Nadya Suleman: A Case Study in Reproductive Rights

Feb 22: State Journal register: Abortion opponents target Planned Parenthood funding

Feb 24: Relief Web: UNFPA provides family planning counselling for mothers

Feb 24: Cherry Creek News: 11,900 Abortions Prevented in CO by Publicly Funded Family Planning Services

Feb 24: Life Site News: Notre Dame Ethics Prof Reveals Groundbreaking Pro-Life Academic Program in the Works

Feb 24: Life News: Indiana Democrats Resist Ending Tax-Funding of Planned Parenthood Abortion Biz

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.