In Memory of Dr. Tiller: Unite to Save Lives

Jos Truitt

The debate we are locked in, between those fighting for the lives of the unborn and those fighting for the lives of women, has gotten us nowhere. And if we continue to talk past each other, to ignore each other’s voices and experiences, this cycle of violence will continue.

Originally posted at Choice Words.


May 31, 2009 was absolutely the worst day
I have experienced as a reproductive justice organizer. I was raised as
a pro-life Christian fundamentalist. I knew abortion was wrong before I
knew what sex was. I was largely unaware of the clinic violence
occurring ten years ago; my community decried what it considered the
loss of innocent lives through abortion, but was strangely silent about
the murder of doctors and other attacks on clinic staff and volunteers.

Dr. Tiller courageously performed abortions before I was born. He
performed abortions while I spoke my uninformed rants against the
procedure. He performed abortions after he was shot in both arms in
1993. He was one of the few doctors brave enough to continue providing
late term abortions even after being specifically targeted by
organizations like Operation Rescue.

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Dr. Tiller is dead, gunned down while in his church, a place that is
supposed to provide sanctuary. There are either one or two doctors left
who perform legal late term abortions. It is becoming close to
impossible for women to access these procedures, even if their lives
are in danger. Dr. Tiller is dead, and as a result more people will die.

“Pro-life,” a badge I proudly wore for most of my life, feels
completely absurd right now. In the name of life Scott Roeder, a man we
are learning was part of the community of militant abortion foes
organized through Operation Rescue and other advocates of violence and
intimidation, murdered Dr. Tiller. He ended the life of a man with
family and friends, coworkers and patients. A man with beliefs,
feelings, experiences, hopes, and a personal spirituality. Roeder and
his community value what they consider the lives of those who have
never experienced the world, never seen a sunrise or felt a warm breeze
or drank a glass of juice over the life of someone who knew what it is
to live.

The pro-life movement is full of good people of faith who believe
themselves to be doing important humanitarian work. I call some of them
family. I call some of them friends. I know them as people who would
never advocate the taking of a human life, who oppose abortion because
of their deep compassion for the lives of all people. I know the
radical fringe that is responsible for Dr. Tiller’s death does not
represent them. But I hope my friends and loved ones can take this
tragedy as a moment for thought and introspection. You know abortion
will not go away no matter what you do. So what does it mean to fight
to outlaw abortion when you know this will lead to women’s deaths? What
does it mean to stand with Operation Rescue during their more public
rallies and quietly ignore the work you know they are doing behind
closed doors? These are not easy questions. I know there are quick
answers that are possible because I have heard them before. Please,
move beyond those answers. Really ask the questions, and really
consider their implications.

My new community is living in fear right now. The last time an
abortion doctor was killed it was not an isolated incident but part of
a large, organized campaign of violence and terror. This quieted down
during the Bush administration, and now I and others fear the violence
is returning. I find myself in the terrible position of mourning the
loss of Dr. Tiller while also fearing what this portends. To lose a
member of my community is hard enough; to fear that this only means
more loss to come is overwhelming.

I can’t stop thinking about my friends who escort or work in clinics
or are thinking about becoming providers. I love them and I do not want
to lose them.

So this is to my pro-life friends and family: I need you right now.
I need your help and support. I need your voices against violence,
against terror, against the unquestionable taking of life. I am not
asking you to change your deeply felt beliefs and convictions because
of the act of an extremist. But I do ask that you rethink the work you
do in the name of protecting life. Can you in good conscience fight for
the lives of the unborn alongside those who would willingly, proudly
take the life of another human being?

I understand that our beliefs on this issue differ in a fundamental
way. I understand that some of that divide feels impossible to cross. I
share that feeling. But there has to be another way. The debate we are
locked in, the division between “pro-life” and “pro-choice,” between
those fighting for the lives of the unborn and those fighting for the
lives of women, has gotten us nowhere good. So I say: enough. I’m done.
We have to have this conversation differently. We have to explore these
differences in another way. I cannot accept Dr. Tiller’s death and I
cannot accept more loss. And if we stay on the same course, if we
continue to talk past each other, to ignore each other’s voices and
experiences, this cycle of violence will continue.

Please, let’s work together. Let’s end this new wave of terror
before it takes another life. Maybe then we will be reminded of our
shared humanity, of the beliefs that unite us and that are much
stronger than the belief that divides us. Yes, we can empower the state
to respond to violence with its own violence, but this will ultimately
only continue the cycle. I believe the only way to stop the radical
anti-abortion fringe is to unite across beliefs in the common cause of
saving lives. Mom, Dad, friends, please stand with me in memory of Dr.

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.

News Abortion

Parental Notification Law Struck Down in Alaska

Michelle D. Anderson

"The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions," said Janet Crepps, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm."

The Alaska Supreme Court has struck down a state law requiring physicians to give the parents, guardians, or custodians of teenage minors a two-day notice before performing an abortion.

The court ruled that the parental notification law, which applies to teenagers younger than 18, violated the Alaska Constitution’s equal protection guarantee and could not be enforced.

The ruling stems from an Anchorage Superior Court decision that involved the case of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands and physicians Dr. Jan Whitefield and Dr. Susan Lemagie against the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors.

In the lower court ruling, a judge denied Planned Parenthood’s requested preliminary injunction against the law as a whole and went on to uphold the majority of the notification law.

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Planned Parenthood and the physicians had appealed that superior court ruling and asked for a reversal on both equal protection and privacy grounds.

Meanwhile, the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors appealed the court’s decision to strike some of its provisions and the court’s ruling.

The notification law came about after an initiative approved by voters in August 2010. The law applied to “unemancipated, unmarried minors” younger than 18 seeking to terminate a pregnancy and only makes exceptions in documented cases of abuse and medical emergencies, such as one in which the pregnant person’s life is in danger.

Justice Daniel E. Winfree wrote in the majority opinion that the anti-choice law created “considerable tension between a minor’s fundamental privacy right to reproductive choice and how the State may advance its compelling interests.”

He said the law was discriminatory and that it could unjustifiably burden “the fundamental privacy rights only of minors seeking pregnancy termination, rather than [equally] to all pregnant minors.”

Chief Justice Craig Stowers dissented, arguing that the majority’s opinion “unjustifiably” departed from the Alaska Supreme Court’s prior approval of parental notification.

Stowers said the opinion “misapplies our equal protection case law by comparing two groups that are not similarly situated, and fails to consider how other states have handled similar questions related to parental notification laws.”

Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) officials praised the court’s ruling, saying that Alaska’s vulnerable teenagers will now be relieved of additional burdensome hurdles in accessing abortion care. Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, CRR, and Planned Parenthood represented plaintiffs in the case.

Janet Crepps, senior counsel at CRR, said in a statement that the “decision provides important protection to the safety and well-being of young women who need to end a pregnancy.”

“The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions. This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm,” Crepps said.

CRR officials also noted that most young women seeking abortion care involve a parent, but some do not because they live an abusive or unsafe home.

The American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine have said minors’ access to confidential reproductive health services should be protected, according to CRR.