Roundup: Vatican a Wet Blanket on Nobel Prize

Robin Marty

The developer of invitro fertilization wins a Nobel prize, and the Vatican becomes a total wet blanker.  Plus, Amendment 62 is likely to lose.

This week, Professor Robert Edwards has been issued a Nobel prize for his (and his partner, the deceased Dr. Patrick Steptoe) pioneering work in developing invitro fertilization over 30 years ago.

Via Washington Post:

Robert G. Edwards’s breakthrough development of in vitro fertilization, which led to the birth of the first “test-tube baby,” Louise Brown, in 1978, gave humanity the power to do what previously was considered the province of God: create and manipulate human life.

In the ensuing decades, the pioneering techniques that won the British biologist a Nobel Prize on Monday have played a part in controversial scientific advances such as cloning and the creation of human embryonic stem cells while redefining fundamental social roles such as what it means to be a parent or a family.

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“The impact on society has been profound,” said Lori B. Andrews of the Chicago-Kent College of Law, who studies reproductive technologies. “The creation of a child outside the body for the first time has had scientific and personal implications far, far beyond the 4 million children who have been born through in vitro fertilization.”

IVF has been crucial for human embryonic stem cell research because the cells are obtained from embryos left over at infertility clinics. At the same time, the techniques helped lay the groundwork for the 1996 cloning of Dolly the sheep, a procedure that could eventually be tried in humans.

“In exploring the fundamental mechanisms of how human reproduction actually works, Edwards unleashed a social, ethical and cultural tsunami that he could not have predicted and I don’t think anyone at the time could have anticipated,” said Arthur Caplan, a University of Pennsylvania bioethicist. “It opened so many doors that I’m not sure we even fully appreciate it today.”

Of course, not everyone appreciates those advances in medicine, nor approve of the Nobel committee awarding it to the doctor.  Namely, the Vatican.

From TimesLive:

The Vatican press office meanwhile released a statement by the International Federation of Catholic Medic Association (FIAC) which described their “disappointment” after the announcement of the award on Monday.

The Vatican’s top medical ethics official, Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, already criticised the decision in comments on Monday that blamed Edwards for creating a market in embryos and failing to protect human life.

Despite the “happiness” IVF has brought “to many couples,” the FIAC association said it deplored “the use of human beings as animals for experimentation and then destruction.

“It has created a culture where they are seen as useful means to an end, rather than the precious individual humans that they are,” it added.

Few people are taking the Vatican’s poo-pooing on the prize to heart, however.  Tom Chivers of the Telegraph writes:

What is sad, though, is the response by a Vatican spokesman to Prof Edwards’ award. “I find the choice of Robert Edwards completely out of order”, says Monsignor Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, the head of the Pontifical Academy for Life. I can only assume the “out of order” is an odd translation – I doubt the Monsignor really talks like a drunk Phil Mitchell – but the sentiment is unmistakeable.

“In the best of cases they are transferred into a uterus but most probably they will end up abandoned or dead, which is a problem for which the new Nobel prize winner is responsible,” he told the Italian news agency Ansa. Without Prof Edwards, “there would not be a large number of freezers filled with embryos in the world”. Well, no. But there would be millions of heartbroken would-be mothers and fathers, and four million fewer babies born. He did praise the “new and important chapter in the field of human reproduction” that Prof Edwards had ushered in, but essentially, the Monsignor has pronounced this a mistake.

I don’t know if the mismatch between Church teaching on things like IVF and homosexuality, which are so at odds with most young people’s beliefs and experiences, is behind the collapse in religious belief. But I wouldn’t be surprised. Their position sets them directly against people having families and falling in love. That is unlikely to be a popular stance.

Ironically, there’s one country who is probably willing to cheer for Edwards’s Nobel Prize: Taiwan.  Their birth rate has dropped so badly that subsidizing IVF is one of the ways they are considering bringing it back up.

From AsiaOne News:

The Bureau of Health Promotion (BHP) under the Cabinet-level Department of Health is assessing the feasibility of subsidising in-vitro fertilization and artificial insemination, in a bid to boost the birth rate, which has been on the steady decline, the bureau’s director general Chiu Shu-ti said.

Chiu said that the subsidy program, once approved for infertile couples, is expected to help boost the number of newborns by at least 2,000 per year.

Chiu said that her bureau has worked out two draft subsidy programs for IVF and artificial insemination for review by the Population Policy Committee of the Ministry of the Interior.

One program calls for the government to grant each infertile couple an annual subsidy of NT$50,000 (S$2,115) for IVF treatment or artificial insemination, which will cost the national coffers around NT$500 million a year.

The other proposal requires the government to offer a subsidy of NT$150,000 per year, and will cost NT$2.2 billion.

Mini Roundup: Broadsheet thinks there’s a lot of comedy potential in the Colorado Fetal Personhood movement. Laughs are likely all there will be, as polling shows the amendment is very much likely to fail.  Again.  I guess we’ll see it again in 2012.

October 5, 2010

October 4, 2010

News Abortion

Study: United States a ‘Stark Outlier’ in Countries With Legal Abortion, Thanks to Hyde Amendment

Nicole Knight Shine

The study's lead author said the United States' public-funding restriction makes it a "stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations."

The vast majority of countries pay for abortion care, making the United States a global outlier and putting it on par with the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan and a handful of Balkan States, a new study in the journal Contraception finds.

A team of researchers conducted two rounds of surveys between 2011 and 2014 in 80 countries where abortion care is legal. They found that 59 countries, or 74 percent of those surveyed, either fully or partially cover terminations using public funding. The United States was one of only ten countries that limits federal funding for abortion care to exceptional cases, such as rape, incest, or life endangerment.

Among the 40 “high-income” countries included in the survey, 31 provided full or partial funding for abortion care—something the United States does not do.

Dr. Daniel Grossman, lead author and director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) at the University of California (UC) San Francisco, said in a statement announcing the findings that this country’s public-funding restriction makes it a “stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations.”

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The researchers call on policymakers to make affordable health care a priority.

The federal Hyde Amendment (first passed in 1976 and reauthorized every year thereafter) bans the use of federal dollars for abortion care, except for cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. Seventeen states, as the researchers note, bridge this gap by spending state money on terminations for low-income residents. Of the 14.1 million women enrolled in Medicaid, fewer than half, or 6.7 million, live in states that cover abortion services with state funds.

This funding gap delays abortion care for some people with limited means, who need time to raise money for the procedure, researchers note.

As Jamila Taylor and Yamani Hernandez wrote last year for Rewire, “We have heard first-person accounts of low-income women selling their belongings, going hungry for weeks as they save up their grocery money, or risking eviction by using their rent money to pay for an abortion, because of the Hyde Amendment.”

Public insurance coverage of abortion remains controversial in the United States despite “evidence that cost may create a barrier to access,” the authors observe.

“Women in the US, including those with low incomes, should have access to the highest quality of care, including the full range of reproductive health services,” Grossman said in the statement. “This research indicates there is a global consensus that abortion care should be covered like other health care.”

Earlier research indicated that U.S. women attempting to self-induce abortion cited high cost as a reason.

The team of ANSIRH researchers and Ibis Reproductive Health uncovered a bit of good news, finding that some countries are loosening abortion laws and paying for the procedures.

“Uruguay, as well as Mexico City,” as co-author Kate Grindlay from Ibis Reproductive Health noted in a press release, “legalized abortion in the first trimester in the past decade, and in both cases the service is available free of charge in public hospitals or covered by national insurance.”

News Abortion

Anti-Choice Legislator Confirms Vote on House Conscience Protections (Updated)

Christine Grimaldi

The Conscience Protection Act would give health-care providers a private right of action to seek civil damages in court, should they face supposed coercion to provide abortion care or discrimination stemming from their refusal to assist in abortion care. The Act allows providers to sue not only for threats, but also for perceived threats.

UPDATE: July 14, 10 a.m.: The House passed the Conscience Protection Act Wednesday night in a largely party line 245-182 vote. Prior to floor consideration, House Republicans stripped the text of an unrelated Senate-passed bill (S. 304) and replaced it with the Conscience Protection Act. They likely did so to skip the Senate committee referral process, House Democratic aides told Rewire, expediting consideration across the capitol and, in theory, ushering a final bill to the president’s desk. President Barack Obama, however, would veto the Conscience Protection Act, according to a statement of administration policy.

The U.S. House of Representatives will vote next Wednesday on legislation that would allow a broadened swath of health-care providers to sue if they’re supposedly coerced into providing abortion care, or if they face discrimination for refusing to provide such care, according to a prominent anti-choice lawmaker.

Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) told Rewire in a Friday morning interview that House leadership confirmed a vote on the Conscience Protection Act (H.R. 4828) for July 13, days before the chamber adjourns for the presidential nominating conventions and the August recess. Pitts said he expects the bill to be brought up as a standalone measure, rather than as an amendment to any of the spending bills that have seen Republican amendments attacking a range of reproductive health care and LGBTQ protections.

The office of U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) had no immediate comment.

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Pitts’ remarks came during and after he hosted a “Forum on Conscience Protections” in the House Energy and Commerce Committee room to garner support for the bill.

Energy and Commerce Democrats boycotted the forum, a House Democratic aide told Rewire in a subsequent interview.

Legislation Builds on Precedent

Conscience protections are nothing new, the aide said. The latest iteration is a successor to the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (S. 1919/H.R. 940), which remains pending in the House and U.S. Senate. There’s also the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (S. 50) and similarly named bills in both chambers. The fiscal year 2017 Labor, Health, and Human Services funding bill, which guts Title X and Teen Pregnancy Prevention grants, includes the Health Care Conscience Rights Act.

At the leadership level, Ryan’s recently released health-care plan mimics key provisions in the Conscience Protection Act. Both would give health-care providers a private right of action to seek civil damages in court, should they face alleged coercion or discrimination stemming from their refusal to assist in abortion care. The Conscience Protection Act goes a step further, allowing providers to sue not only for threats, but also for perceived threats.

The proposals would also codify and expand the Weldon Amendment, named for former Rep. Dave Weldon (R-FL), who participated in Pitts’ conscience forum. The Weldon Amendment prohibits states that receive federal family planning funding from discriminating against health-care plans based on whether they cover abortion care. Currently, Congress must pass Weldon every year as an amendment to annual appropriations bills.

Administration Action Provides Impetus

There hadn’t been much public dialogue around conscience protections with the exception of some anti-choice groups that “have really been all over it,” the aide said. The National Right to Life issued an action alert, as did the Susan B. Anthony List, to galvanize support for the Conscience Protection Act.

The relative silence on the issue began to break after the Obama administration took a stand on abortion care in June.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights rejected anti-choice groups’ “right of conscience” complaint against California’s requirement that insurance plans must cover elective abortions under the definition of “basic health-care services.” Anti-choice groups had argued the California law violates the Weldon Amendment, but the administration found otherwise.

The California decision reinvigorated support for the Conscience Protection Act, the aide said. Ryan’s earlier health-care plan also specifically references the decision.

“We think this is going to be a big issue for us throughout the rest of this Congress,” the aide said.

Aide Outlines Additional Consequences

Beyond creating a private right of action and codifying Weldon, the Conscience Protection Act contains additional consequences for abortion care, the aide said.

The legislation would expand the definition of health-care providers to employers, social service organizations, and any other entity that offers insurance coverage, allowing them to raise objections under Weldon, the aide said. The aide characterized the change as a direct response to the California decision.

The legislation also broadens the list of objectionable services to include facilitating or making arrangements for abortion care, according to the aide.

The Republican-dominated House is likely to pass the Conscience Protection Act. But the aide did not expect it to advance in the Senate, which would all but certainly require a 60-vote threshold for such a controversial measure. More than anything, the aide said, the bill seems to be catering to anti-choice groups and long-time proponents of conscience clauses.

“The House oftentimes will pass these kinds of anti-choice proposals, and then they just go nowhere in the Senate,” the aide said.