Roundup: All That and a Bag of Crisps

Robin Marty

A look at the latest reproductive health news stories in Britain.

It’s foggy and gloomy, and I’ve got a hankering for some fish and chips and vinegar. It’s time for a look at our friends across the pond and their own reproductive news.

Last week, the world was somewhat shocked as Britain released numbers showing that middle aged women were matching teenagers in rates of unplanned pregnancies.

Julie Bentley, chief executive of the charity, said that age alone was not a
contraceptive. “Whilst the message about fertility declining with age is an
important one, it is often overplayed, alongside disproportionate messaging
about unplanned teenage pregnancies,” she said.

“It sends an inaccurate message to women and society that only the young fall
pregnant and is leading older women to believe their fertility has gone long
before it actually has.”

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This is just one of many myths surrounding fertility that society has been perpetuating.  A leading fertility expert in the U.K., Dr. Robert Winston suggests a few others in an interview, including the idea that quitting smoking just before or during IVF treatment enhances chances for success, that the introduction of the Pill made people less sexually responsible, and, shockingly, that chlamydia causes infertility.

In my group, years ago, with a massive interest in tubular disease, we screened about 250 women and their husbands for chlamydia. We did one of the most comprehensive studies expecting chlamydia to be an important organism because of some research in Sweden in the Seventies that was highly influential. But nobody really bothered to check that data. It always struck me as too good a story to be true, and when we looked at our patients at Hammersmith, we found that in about 7 per cent of the patients we could identify either chlamydia or their antibodies, and that the great majority of people who have tubular disease have clearly had infections, but that the signature of chlamydia didn’t seem to be apparent. And there’ve been other studies that [suggest] if you have active chlamydia in the genital tract, that actually it doesn’t interfere with fertilisation. So I’m very, very sceptical. It’s become almost an urban myth.”

A very pernicious urban myth, if that’s in fact what it is. “Of course, it makes women feel guilty that they’ve infected themselves when they probably haven’t."

A potential new myth in Britain that was quite shortlived – that one out of every 2 teenagers in deprived areas of the country are getting pregnant.  An attack piece released by the Conservative Party made the outrageous claim, before having their mathematical error pointed out to them.

The Conservatives launched the attack document, called Labour’s Two Nations, to try to show the rise in inequalities under the current government. It claimed – three times – that women under 18 are "three times more likely to fall pregnant in the most deprived areas compared to the least deprived areas. In the most deprived areas 54% are likely to fall pregnant before the age of 18, compared to just 19% in the least deprived areas."

Within hours, the Labour party had leapt on the accusation, showing that in the ten most deprived areas used by the Tories, the rate of conception is actually an average of 5.4%.

The figures said that 54.32 per 1000 women aged 15-17 years old fell pregnant, which becomes 5.4%, not the 54% the Tories had arrived at. To top it all, in the same 10 deprived areas Labour said that, since 1998, there had been a 10.5% decline in the under-18 conception rate, reversing a previous upward trend.

The Schools secretary, Ed Balls, was not slow to arrive at a broader rebuttal. "They are so out of touch with family life in Britain," Balls said of the Tories, "that they believe over half of teenage girls in the poorest areas fall pregnant."

It’s unsuprising that the Conservatives are focused on teenage pregnancies.  According to the Financial Times, a surge in anti-abortion Conservative candidates may lead to more anti-choice activity in Parliment, including restricting abortion to before 20 weeks.

A significant number of Conservative candidates in winnable seats hold strong anti-abortion views, the Financial Times has learnt, raising the prospect of a fresh drive to cut the time limit from 24 to 20 weeks should David Cameron win this year’s general election.

Party officials believe that if all those required to secure a majority at the next election win their seats, the result would create a bloc of votes big enough to tighten the existing legislation, aided by votes from some anti-abortion Northern Irish, Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs.

One shadow cabinet member said: "We will, I am sure, have the votes we need to do it. It’s something lots of us feel very strongly about – including David [Cameron].

As one doctor suggests, "Scientists [with an interest in embryology] and women in Tory target seats need to make sure they know the views of their Conservative candidates."

Mini Roundup: Recognizing that in some cases abortion comes with its own needs, some New York City hospitals test out volunteer "abortion doulas."


February 15, 2010

Personhood submitted Denver Daily News

MPs seek clarity on illegal Curaçao abortion remedies Netherlands Antilles Daily Herald

New ‘morning after’ pill stops pregnancy for up to a week Aberdeen Press and Journal

National Condom Week speaks sex truths The Daily Aztec

Pro-gay Activists Meet in Uganda

Anthony Museum Opening Sparks Debate on Abortion

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow sharpens focus on ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ Washington Post

Rwanda: Family Planning Measures Improving

Dick Cheney, Gay Rights Advocate The Nation

Lindenwood University reaches compromise over gay-straight alliance Springfield News-Leader

Sterilization surgery not linked to sexual problems Reuters

Unitarian Universalists push for anti-discrimination laws Ogden Standard-Examiner

Abstinence Education Works for High-Risk Youth National Catholic Register

NH House voting on gay marriage repeal measures WCAX

Four Democrats join push for vote on gay marriage Iowa Independent


February 14, 2010

Respect for Women in Uniform New  York Times

Planned Parenthood on Harold Ford WICZ TV

New Planned Parenthood headquarters opens with party, protest in Portland

Fear Factor: Anti-choice project ineffective, distasteful  Independent Florida Alligator

When can fetus feel pain? Omaha World-Herald

Schumer recommends Obama appoint gay fed judgeship Keen News Service

Plan B ad: Alone with your worries  The Star-Ledger –

Guest column: See through myths about black women, abortion


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