A Wish List for the Pro-Choice Movement’s Next 10 Years

Amanda Marcotte

2009 ended with every writer under the sun reviewing the past decade: the best, the worst, the bizarre. Here's my wish list of things the pro-choice movement should set out to achieve in the next 10 years...not just pay lip service to.

2009 ended with every writer under the sun reviewing the
past decade: the best, the worst, the bizarre. I guess we as a world are going
to ignore the fact that there was no year "0" and pretend that this means that
2010 is the beginning of a brand new decade. And who am I to buck popular will
on what is fundamentally an irrelevant question? Since this is the start of a
new decade, I’d like to take the time to look forward towards the next 10 years
in the struggle for reproductive rights and justice.

After all, the past decade was a pretty bleak one. The
pro-choice movement didn’t advance the ball down the field, and even our
defensive maneuvers didn’t work so well at times. We rounded out the decade
taking a timid position on health care reform in hopes that things wouldn’t get
worse, and unfortunately it looks like they will. But if we stop playing not to
lose and start playing to win, I suspect we might send the right wing into
retreat and actually gain ground in improving women’s lives and the sexual
health of a nation.

With that in mind, here’s my wish list of things the
pro-choice movement should set out to do in the next 10 years. And I mean set
out to do, not just pay lip service to.

Repeal the Hyde
Amendment.
The health care reform debate demonstrated that standing on the
ground we’ve already lost doesn’t do us a bit of good. Pro-choicers should have
demanded that health care reform include abortion funding for everyone covered
by the federal government who is currently cut out of the loop — including
federal employees, Medicaid recipients, and our veterans — but instead we just
asked for the status quo. The result was the Stupak-Pitts amendment and the
potential for women on private insurance to lose abortion coverage. Obviously,
timidity doesn’t work.

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More importantly, the pro-choice movement needs to stand for
justice. The way that Medicaid recipients and soldiers are left financially
abandoned when seeking abortion is a travesty of justice, and it’s not enough
to simply complain about it. We need to start taking action to pressure
legislators to repeal the Hyde amendment, and create the public will to do so.

Institute
comprehensive sex education in all public schools.
Abstinence-only is a
zombie that keeps coming alive, and we keep valiantly fighting to kill it. But
getting rid of abstinence-only — with its retrograde attitudes towards gender,
homophobia, and blatant lies — is not enough. We need to demand that our kids
get real sex education that will help them make healthy choices while also
respecting their autonomy and individuality.

Address the shortage
of abortion providers.
We all know the drill: the average age of an
abortion provider in this country is soaring upwards, and many doctors who
deserve to retire and spend their days playing golf stay in the business
because there’s so many women who need abortions and so few people to provide
them. Few counties have abortion providers, and many women have to travel
hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles to get one. And it’s because younger
doctors don’t want to perform abortions. They don’t have any memories of the
horrors of septic abortions (unlike many older doctors), and the harassment
they face if they join up seems like too much trouble.

The problem is complex, but not unfixable. We should lobby
for stronger protections for abortion clinic workers, so that fear doesn’t
drive would-be providers away. More importantly, we need to find a way to get
people with the right attitudes and the right skills into the business. Programs
encouraging bright, young pro-choice people into medical school to train as
ob-gyns who perform abortions is a good start. Pushing medical schools not only
to teach the procedures for abortion, but also to highlight the dangers of
self-abortion would also help. Perhaps a scholarship program for medical
students who train to be abortion providers, or a debt forgiveness program for
those doctors that provide abortion? There are endless possibilities, and we
should undertake them.

Reduce the unintended
pregnancy rate.
Bluntly put, the provider shortage is a matter of not just
too little supply but also too much demand. As a nation, we have way more
unintended pregnancies than we should, because we as a nation aren’t using
contraception as much or as effectively as we could. Luckily, this is a fight
that we are already fighting, right now by extensively researching why it is
that contraception intentions so often fail.

Getting people to a place where they can and will use
contraception more effectively when they don’t want pregnancy will be an
enormous task. A lot of it will require cultural shifts, mainly getting past
hang-ups about sex that cause people to feel that preparing is "slutty," and
moving towards a culture where having a child is seen more as an active choice
and not so much something that just happens to you. It will require a culture
where women are empowered to demand that their male partners take their health
and desires into account, where condoms are just a sign of respect and not some
emasculating bummer. But we shouldn’t fear that this is too much to take on;
the feminist movement has produced remarkable changes in a short period of time
before, and we can do it again.

Dramatically reduce
the STD transmission rate.
The same sort of cultural and economic changes
that will help lead to lower rates of unintended pregnancy will help result in
fewer STD transmissions. More openness, less shame, more backbone in the
bedroom-all of these things make it easier to use condoms every time, get
tested regularly, and get treated as soon as you exhibit symptoms, all of which
are factors in reducing the transmission rate.

These are just some ideas for a 10-year pro-choice agenda to
move the ball down the field. The comment section is open; I’m interested in
hearing what you want to see made priorities and what should be done to reach
those goals.

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.