Roundup: What’s the Matter With Nebraska?

Robin Marty

Nebraska, forced birth for some, denial of prenatal care for others.  Plus an HPV mini roundup.

It was a busy week in Nebraska, where anti-choice and pro-choice factions both butted heads and managed to find a little common ground.

Last week marked the final death of free prenatal care for the poorest of women in Nebraska.  The funds, which originally came from Medicaid aid, were cut off in March due to being used on illegal immigrant women, despite the fact that the unborn children would be legal residents of the country.

Due to the governor’s threatened veto of any bill that would reinstate funding that might go to illegal immigrants, legislators have been searching for a solution that all parties would agree to.

A tentative plan to restore state-funded medical coverage to pregnant Nebraska women who are legal residents would cost between $2.7 million and $3 million annually.

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 State Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha released the figures on Friday.

 He is one of a handful of senators trying to craft a legislative proposal to give state-and-federal funded medical coverage to some women. They recently lost coverage after the federal government forced the state to stop allowing unborn children to qualify for Medicaid. That had allowed women who didn’t qualify themselves for Medicaid — including illegal immigrants — to get Medicaid-covered care.

An earlier plan to restore state-funded prenatal care fell flat because it would have helped illegal immigrants.

Legislators opposing the plan are being asked to look at some startling facts about prenatal care, a stark reminder of what denying healthcare can do.

Senators were shocked by one statistic presented at the noon meeting: a 4 percent death rate during the first year of life for those babies whose mothers had no prenatal care at all.

The high death rate has many factors, including that mothers who don’t get prenatal care may be less likely to take their children to doctors after birth. But prenatal care does play a role, McVea said.

“It’s very, very clear that early and adequate prenatal care saves lives,” said McVea.

In the meantime, while Nebraska’s “pro-life” contingent is denying adequate medical care to the unborn, they are at the same time pushing more laws to force women who don’t want to have a child to be forced to have one anyway.  Now, she has to prove she’s mentally and physically sound enough for an abortion.

A proposed bill that would require women seeking an abortion to first be screened got first-round approval Friday in the state legislature.

The measure would require a doctor to make sure the woman was not being pressured into having an abortion. The doctor would also check for mental and physical risk factors.

Of course, anti-choice legislators call this move “common sense practice,” and see no irony in pushing for women who don’t want to be pregnant to jump through hoops that might make them have to have children against their will while others who do want their children are denied medical care.

Opponents, led by Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln, described the bill as unconstitutionally vague, impossible to comply with and an extreme departure from medical standards and ethics.

“This bill does nothing to improve women’s health and women’s lives,” Conrad said.

Some also talked of the contrast between concerns expressed for unborn babies through abortion legislation and failed attempts to restore prenatal care for some 1,500 women, including illegal immigrants.

“We’re already seeing women having abortions because they can’t afford prenatal care,” said Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm.

Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha predicted that lawmakers would pass two abortion-related bills this session but take no action to help poor, pregnant women.

“Their babies are going to die,” he said. The other proposal, Legislative Bill 1103, would ban late-term abortions.

In Nebraska, it appears to be better to give birth to an unwanted child than a healthy, wanted one.  

Mini Roundup: Suddenly younger people are developing head and neck cancer.  Here’s an easy fix to that.

March 26, 2010

Abortion bills pass Senate panel – Tulsa World

Social justice, abortion, distributism through the looking glass – American Conservative Magazine

Rep. Stupak: Speaker Pelosi had extra health care votes ‘in her pocket’ – Catholic News Agency

PolitiFact: Health care reform legislation does not expand funding for abortion – Media Matters for America

Conservative pro-life stand will kill women by the thousands – Toronto Star

Obama’s abortion deal reverses pro-choice campaign pledge  – Raw Story

Abortion doctor’s killer to call witnesses at sentencing – Kansas City Star

Health care debate: A 16-month drama, with 8 key moments – Alexandria Town Talk

Georgia Senate Votes To Prevent Coercive Abortions – WCTV

Why I wrote the ‘Stupak amendment’ and voted for health-care reform – Washington Post

Charlie Crist Was Pro-Abortion in 1998, Video Surfaces as Rubio Debate Comes – LifeNews.com

Bill Would Force Doctors To Screen Women Before Abortions – KETV Omaha

Stupak: We protected life and health care – Detroit Free Press

Kathleen Parker: Abortions coming soon to newly funded health clinics – Pasadena Star-News

Kansas abortion rate shows sharp decrease in 2009 – Kansas Liberty

In Subway Ads on Abortion, a Pretense of Neutrality – New York Times

Health-care reform a win for women – UI The Daily Iowan

New Millennium, Same Old Backlash – Ms. Magazine

The FDA Ignores Court Order on Emergency Contraception – Big Think

The sad truth about Harper and maternal health – Globe and Mail

What the Child-Abuse Scandal Teaches the Church – Newsweek

March 27, 2010

Federally funded abortions are in our future – Washington Post

Senate passes ban on race-based abortions – Augusta Chronicle

Abortion ban proposal to be on Colo. ballot – The Associated Press

GOP unrealistic on health battle – Paradise Post

Conservative bills advance in Kansas – Examiner.com

Senate OKs ban on race-based abortions – Macon Telegraph

Colorado Dem takes national abortion role – The Aurora Sentinel

The key moments in Obama’s struggle to pass health reform – The Hill

ACLU seeks to keep abortion initiative off ballot – Las Vegas Sun

Voters to be asked a 2nd time about abortion – 9NEWS.com

The Buzz | Rep. Bart Stupak is taking heat from the left and right – Kansas City Star

Anti-abortionists snub women’s rights – Columbia Daily Tribune

Help women negotiate for safe sex – PPAG – Ghana News Agency

March 28, 2010

Hiding behind the Hyde amendment – Fort Worth Star Telegram

Judge Expected to Making Ruling on Illinois Abortion Law – Chicago Public Radio

Stupak: Anti-abortion groups ‘used me as best chance to kill healthcare’ – The Hill (blog)

Utah’s Abortion Bill – ChristianityToday.com

Battle lines on abortion – Los Angeles Times

Anti-abortion bills may be challenged – NewsOK.com

Many provisions support abortions – News-Leader.com

Stupak feels arrows from his own side – Detroit Free Press

Yooper Anger Both Ways Over Stupak’s ‘Yes’ Vote – NPR

Health clinic assisted a student seeking abortion properly under the law – Seattle Times

Georgetown Students Vote To Fund Abortion Rights Panel – Philadelphia Bulletin

Neugebauer’s nastiness on display – Norristown Times Herald

Most adoptions from China now special-needs cases – The Associated Press

Contraception begets promiscuity – North Shore News

Maternal health includes contraception – Calgary Herald

Majority of Chinese people want two children – Sify

Catholics On Both Sides Protest In Washington – WJZ

HIV positive woman spreads hope in UP – The Hindu

South Africa to launch mass HIV testing drive in April, to test 15 million in … – Aidsmap

Sir Elton John spends his birthday celebrating at HIV awareness centre – Monsters and Critics.com

HIV/AIDS now in curricula – Business Mirror

Economic crisis could worsen HIV/AIDS epidemic: UN – Reuters

Cabral sees rough sailing on sex education – Malaya

Guru of data takes aim at myths, takes home an HIV tie – Seattle Times

Feminist speaks out against contemporary gender inequality – The College Reporter

March 29, 2010

Anti-abortion movement gains momentum in Mexico – Dallas Morning News

Coloradans To Vote On Abortion Ban In The Fall – cbs4denver.com

Ruling expected in Ill. abortion notification case – Belleville News Democrat

Headlines: Texas rep. admits to being Stupak heckler – TMD Celebrity News

Med schools vary on abortion instruction – The George Washington University The GW Hatchet

Family planning can reduce maternal deaths by 70% – New Vision

PM’s decision on contraception aid could spark backlash from social conservatives – Hill Times

Speaker Challenges League Members to Advocate for HIV/AIDS Prevention … – eNews Park Forest

Broward County OK’s Safe Schools for LGBT Youth – SouthFloridaGayNews.com

The Catholic stance on condoms and HIV – News & Observer

T-cells may limit HIV vaccine success – Scientist Live

Academics less likely to have AIDS – Times LIVE

Legislators let down working families on paid sick leave – Kennebec Journal

Oral sex triggers risk of head and neck cancer in young people – Examiner.com

Cancer: Improve HPV vaccine access – Jackson Clarion Ledger

Korea’s childbirth rate falls for 23rd month – Korea Herald

Nigeria: Why 144 Nigerian Women Die Every Day – AllAfrica.com

News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

Analysis Law and Policy

After ‘Whole Woman’s Health’ Decision, Advocates Should Fight Ultrasound Laws With Science

Imani Gandy

A return to data should aid in dismantling other laws ungrounded in any real facts, such as Texas’s onerous "informed consent” law—HB 15—which forces women to get an ultrasound that they may neither need nor afford, and which imposes a 24-hour waiting period.

Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down two provisions of Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law, has changed the reproductive rights landscape in ways that will reverberate in courts around the country for years to come. It is no longer acceptable—at least in theory—for a state to announce that a particular restriction advances an interest in women’s health and to expect courts and the public to take them at their word.

In an opinion driven by science and data, Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the majority in Whole Woman’s Health, weighed the costs and benefits of the two provisions of HB 2 at issue—the admitting privileges and ambulatory surgical center (ASC) requirements—and found them wanting. Texas had breezed through the Fifth Circuit without facing any real pushback on its manufactured claims that the two provisions advanced women’s health. Finally, Justice Breyer whipped out his figurative calculator and determined that those claims didn’t add up. For starters, Texas admitted that it didn’t know of a single instance where the admitting privileges requirement would have helped a woman get better treatment. And as for Texas’ claim that abortion should be performed in an ASC, Breyer pointed out that the state did not require the same of its midwifery clinics, and that childbirth is 14 times more likely to result in death.

So now, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out in the case’s concurring opinion, laws that “‘do little or nothing for health, but rather strew impediments to abortion’ cannot survive judicial inspection.” In other words, if a state says a restriction promotes women’s health and safety, that state will now have to prove it to the courts.

With this success under our belts, a similar return to science and data should aid in dismantling other laws ungrounded in any real facts, such as Texas’s onerous “informed consent” law—HB 15—which forces women to get an ultrasound that they may neither need nor afford, and which imposes a 24-hour waiting period.

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In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld parts of Pennsylvania’s “informed consent” law requiring abortion patients to receive a pamphlet developed by the state department of health, finding that it did not constitute an “undue burden” on the constitutional right to abortion. The basis? Protecting women’s mental health: “[I]n an attempt to ensure that a woman apprehends the full consequences of her decision, the State furthers the legitimate purpose of reducing the risk that a woman may elect an abortion, only to discover later, with devastating psychological consequences, that her decision was not fully informed.”

Texas took up Casey’s informed consent mantle and ran with it. In 2011, the legislature passed a law that forces patients to undergo a medical exam, whether or not their doctor thinks they need it, and that forces them to listen to information that the state wants them to hear, whether or not their doctor thinks that they need to hear it. The purpose of this law—at least in theory—is, again, to protect patients’ “mental health” by dissuading those who may be unsure about procedure.

The ultra-conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law in 2012, in Texas Medical Providers v. Lakey.

And make no mistake: The exam the law requires is invasive, and in some cases, cruelly so. As Beverly McPhail pointed out in the Houston Chronicle in 2011, transvaginal probes will often be necessary to comply with the law up to 10 to 12 weeks of pregnancy—which is when, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 91 percent of abortions take place. “Because the fetus is so small at this stage, traditional ultrasounds performed through the abdominal wall, ‘jelly on the belly,’ often cannot produce a clear image,” McPhail noted.

Instead, a “probe is inserted into the vagina, sending sound waves to reflect off body structures to produce an image of the fetus. Under this new law, a woman’s vagina will be penetrated without an opportunity for her to refuse due to coercion from the so-called ‘public servants’ who passed and signed this bill into law,” McPhail concluded.

There’s a reason why abortion advocates began decrying these laws as “rape by the state.”

If Texas legislators are concerned about the mental health of their citizens, particularly those who may have been the victims of sexual assault—or any woman who does not want a wand forcibly shoved into her body for no medical reason—they have a funny way of showing it.

They don’t seem terribly concerned about the well-being of the woman who wants desperately to be a mother but who decides to terminate a pregnancy that doctors tell her is not viable. Certainly, forcing that woman to undergo the painful experience of having an ultrasound image described to her—which the law mandates for the vast majority of patients—could be psychologically devastating.

But maybe Texas legislators don’t care that forcing a foreign object into a person’s body is the ultimate undue burden.

After all, if foisting ultrasounds onto women who have decided to terminate a pregnancy saves even one woman from a lifetime of “devastating psychologically damaging consequences,” then it will all have been worth it, right? Liberty and bodily autonomy be damned.

But what if there’s very little risk that a woman who gets an abortion experiences those “devastating psychological consequences”?

What if the information often provided by states in connection with their “informed consent” protocol does not actually lead to consent that is more informed, either because the information offered is outdated, biased, false, or flatly unnecessary given a particular pregnant person’s circumstance? Texas’ latest edition of its “Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet, for example, contains even more false information than prior versions, including the medically disproven claim that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks gestation.

What if studies show—as they have since the American Psychological Association first conducted one to that effect in 1989—that abortion doesn’t increase the risk of mental health issues?

If the purpose of informed consent laws is to weed out women who have been coerced or who haven’t thought it through, then that purpose collapses if women who get abortions are, by and large, perfectly happy with their decision.

And that’s exactly what research has shown.

Scientific studies indicate that the vast majority of women don’t regret their abortions, and therefore are not devastated psychologically. They don’t fall into drug and alcohol addiction or attempt to kill themselves. But that hasn’t kept anti-choice activists from claiming otherwise.

It’s simply not true that abortion sends mentally healthy patients over the edge. In a study report released in 2008, the APA found that the strongest predictor of post-abortion mental health was prior mental health. In other words, if you’re already suffering from mental health issues before getting an abortion, you’re likely to suffer mental health issues afterward. But the studies most frequently cited in courts around the country prove, at best, an association between mental illness and abortion. When the studies controlled for “prior mental health and violence experience,” “no significant relation was found between abortion history and anxiety disorders.”

But what about forced ultrasound laws, specifically?

Science has its part to play in dismantling those, too.

If Whole Woman’s Health requires the weighing of costs and benefits to ensure that there’s a connection between the claimed purpose of an abortion restriction and the law’s effect, then laws that require a woman to get an ultrasound and to hear a description of it certainly fail that cost-benefit analysis. Science tells us forcing patients to view ultrasound images (as opposed to simply offering the opportunity for a woman to view ultrasound images) in order to give them “information” doesn’t dissuade them from having abortions.

Dr. Jen Gunter made this point in a blog post years ago: One 2009 study found that when given the option to view an ultrasound, nearly 73 percent of women chose to view the ultrasound image, and of those who chose to view it, 85 percent of women felt that it was a positive experience. And here’s the kicker: Not a single woman changed her mind about having an abortion.

Again, if women who choose to see ultrasounds don’t change their minds about getting an abortion, a law mandating that ultrasound in order to dissuade at least some women is, at best, useless. At worst, it’s yet another hurdle patients must leap to get care.

And what of the mandatory waiting period? Texas law requires a 24-hour waiting period—and the Court in Casey upheld a 24-hour waiting period—but states like Louisiana and Florida are increasing the waiting period to 72 hours.

There’s no evidence that forcing women into longer waiting periods has a measurable effect on a woman’s decision to get an abortion. One study conducted in Utah found that 86 percent of women had chosen to get the abortion after the waiting period was over. Eight percent of women chose not to get the abortion, but the most common reason given was that they were already conflicted about abortion in the first place. The author of that study recommended that clinics explore options with women seeking abortion and offer additional counseling to the small percentage of women who are conflicted about it, rather than states imposing a burdensome waiting period.

The bottom line is that the majority of women who choose abortion make up their minds and go through with it, irrespective of the many roadblocks placed in their way by overzealous state governments. And we know that those who cannot overcome those roadblocks—for financial or other reasons—are the ones who experience actual negative effects. As we saw in Whole Woman’s Health, those kinds of studies, when admitted as evidence in the court record, can be critical in striking restrictions down.

Of course, the Supreme Court has not always expressed an affinity for scientific data, as Justice Anthony Kennedy demonstrated in Gonzales v. Carhart, when he announced that “some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained,” even though he admitted there was “no reliable data to measure the phenomenon.” It was under Gonzales that so many legislators felt equipped to pass laws backed up by no legitimate scientific evidence in the first place.

Whole Woman’s Health offers reproductive rights advocates an opportunity to revisit a host of anti-choice restrictions that states claim are intended to advance one interest or another—whether it’s the state’s interest in fetal life or the state’s purported interest in the psychological well-being of its citizens. But if the laws don’t have their intended effects, and if they simply throw up obstacles in front of people seeking abortion, then perhaps, Whole Woman’s Health and its focus on scientific data will be the death knell of these laws too.