Roundup: North Carolina Considers (More) Comprehensive Sex Ed

Emily Douglas

North Carolina House considers comprehensive sex ed; Tennessee abortion measure moves forward; record number of out-of-wedlock births; worried about the birth rate?

North Carolina Considers Comprehensive Sex Ed
The North
Carolina House will soon vote on giving parents a say in what kind of
sex education their children get: abstinence-only (what schools offer
now), a more comprehensive curriculum, or no sex ed at all. 
"Proponents of the bill argue the existing curriculum doesn’t cover
enough basic health facts, that teens are still getting STD’s or
pregnant because they don’t know how to protect themselves," reports Fox8.com.  The vote will take place on Thursday.

Tennessee Abortion Measure Moves Forward
The
Tennessee state constitution’s right to privacy guarantee has been
interpreted to protect abortion rights, but not if anti-choicers in the
state have their way.  "Legislation that would let voters decide
whether to strip the Tennessee
Constitution of any language protecting the right to an abortion" is
moving forward in the Tennessee legislature.  Reports the Chattanooga Times Free Press: "Health and Human Resources Committee members approved Senate Joint
Resolution 127 on a 20-7 vote, drawing cheers from anti-abortion
advocates watching the committee’s actions."  The bill still has several hurdles:

The measure now must clear the House Calendar and Rules Committee before it can go to the House floor for a vote.

However, attempts may be made to send it to the House Finance
Committee because, while the measure allows the Secretary of State to
meet notification requires via the Internet, some lawmakers say it will
require $20,000 in state expenditures to notify the public in newspaper
advertisements.

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Should the measure, which already passed by the Senate, clear the
full House, it would have to be approved by a two-thirds majority in
the next General Assembly meeting in 2011 and 2012 before going to
voters on the 2014 ballot.

Explains the Times Free Press:

The resolution seeks to overturn a 2000 Tennessee Supreme Court
decision that declared abortion a “fundamental” right under the state
Constitution. Abortion foes have pushed SJR 127 ever since. The
resolution traditionally has passed the Senate but was blocked in the
House under the leadership of then-Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington.

Record Number of Out-of-Wedlock Births
The number of out-of-wedlock births has reached a record high, CNN reports, and that has Sarah Brown, CEO of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, concerned:

"I wish people spent as much time planning when to get pregnant, with
whom, under what circumstances as they do planning their next
vacation," said Brown, the CEO and founding director of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. "The stigma [of out-of-wedlock births] has eroded, and these numbers made me feel perhaps it’s disappeared altogether."

Is Brown suggesting that stigma is a good antidote to teen pregnancy?  The CNN piece does put the numbers in some context — explaining that one researcher found that many unmarried couples who had had a child together were still living together or in a relationship six months after the child’s birth — but still, this story needs further mining.  Is the increase a result of fewer committed adult couples marrying, or an actual uptick in unintended, unwanted teen births?

Worried about the Birth Rate?
On TAPPED, Michelle Goldberg looks at whether liberals should be worried about the birth rate.  Declining birth rates in the West are a conservative obsession, but should they be a liberal one, too?

The thing is, though, rapidly declining birth rates really are a
problem, especially for the sort of generous welfare states that
liberals love. I have a whole chapter about this in my new book about the global battle over reproductive rights, The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power and the Future of the World.
The problem isn’t so much absolute population size as it is age
structure – too few young people supporting too many old people…I get
why liberals have shied away from this discussion, since there’s
so many uncomfortable issues involved. But they really shouldn’t,
because the only solutions to the problem are liberal ones! Basically,
the societies where birthrates have plunged to dangerous levels –
Russia, Catholic countries like Poland, Spain and Italy, as well as
Japan and Singapore – are all places that make it very difficult for
women to combine work and family. In countries that support working
mothers, like Sweden, Denmark, Norway and France, birthrates are
basically fine – they’re either just at replacement, or shrinking in a
very slow, totally manageable way.

Other News to Note
April 8: WTOV: Researchers Working On Birth Control Pill For Men

April 7: Courier Press: Abortion bill moves forward in House: Law would mirror county ordinance

April 7: Contra Costa Times: Union City pastor, anti-abortion leader released from jail

April 8: FOX News: Group Wants Notre Dame Removed From Catholic Directory Over Obama Invite: The American Life League says removing
Notre Dame from the Official Catholic Directory would cut it off from
a lot of Catholic foundation funding.

April 8: WRCB: Hargett offers to pay for abortion resolution  

April 8: ABC Local News: Nation’s oldest abortion clinic to close

April 7: NYT Blog: Organizations working on family planning

April 8: Guardian UK: Funding
cuts threaten women’s access to contraception: UN warns that global
economic crisis may hit reproductive health services around the world

April 8: HuffPo: We’re Back: United States Reclaims A Leadership Role In International Reproductive Health and Rights

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 Law and Policy

Federal Judge Guts Florida GOP’s Omnibus Anti-Choice Law

Teddy Wilson

"For many people, Planned Parenthood is the only place they can turn to,” said Barbara Zdravecky, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida. “We may be the only place they can go in their community, or the only place that offers the screening or birth control method they need. No one should have their basic health care taken away."

A federal judge on Thursday permanently blocked two provisions of a Florida omnibus anti-choice law that banned Planned Parenthood from receiving state funds and required annual inspections of all clinics that provide abortion services, reported the Associated Press.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle issued an order in June to delay implementation of the law.

“The Supreme Court has repeatedly said that a government cannot prohibit indirectly—by withholding otherwise-available public funds—conduct that the government could not constitutionally prohibit directly,” Hinkle wrote in the 25-page ruling.  

Thursday’s decision came after Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration decided not to pursue further legal action to defend the law, and filed a joint motion to end the litigation.

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Hinkle issued a three page decision making the injunction permanent.

HB 1411, sponsored by Rep. Colleen Burton (R-Lakeland), was passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature in March.

The judge’s ruling nixed provisions in the law that banned state funding of abortion care and required yearly clinic inspections. Other provisions of the law that remain in effect include additional reporting requirements for abortion providers, redefining “third trimester,” and revising the care of fetal remains.

The GOP-backed anti-choice law has already had a damaging effect in Palm Beach County, where Planned Parenthood was forced to end a program that focused on teen dropout prevention.

Barbara Zdravecky, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, said in a statement that the ruling was a “victory for thousands of Floridians” who rely on the organization for reproductive health care.

“For many people, Planned Parenthood is the only place they can turn to,” Zdravecky said. “We may be the only place they can go in their community, or the only place that offers the screening or birth control method they need. No one should have their basic health care taken away.”

A spokesperson for Scott told Reuters that the administration is “reviewing” the decision.

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