News Abortion

New Abortion Restrictions Go Into Effect In Nebraska On Saturday

Robin Marty

One law will make it harder for minors to access abortions.  Another will do absolutely nothing.

Two new abortion restrictions are set to go into effect in Nebraska on Saturday, but only one law will actually be making any changes.

The Omaha World Herald reports:

The first law requires that any girl age 17 or younger seeking an abortion must get written, notarized consent from a parent or guardian.

Until now, state law required only that a parent be notified of a girl’s plans for an abortion.

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“This law absolutely throws up another barricade for minors,” said Tracy Durbin of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. “It’s one more hoop they have to jump through.”

The second law, a ban on telemedicine for abortions, will change nothing in the state — Nebraska doesn’t currently use the procedure.

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.”

News Abortion

New Data Shows Drop in Texas Abortion Rates After HB 2

Teddy Wilson

The driving force behind the overall reduction appears to be a dramatic decrease in the number of medication abortions: The number dropped from 16,756 in 2013 to 5,044 in 2014.

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) released Thursday the state’s abortion statistics for 2014, which show a decrease in the number of abortions in the state compared to the previous year.

The data release comes after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas claimed that DSHS deliberately delayed releasing the information to hide it from the public. It also follows on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic decision striking down two provisions of the state’s omnibus anti-abortion law, HB 2.

The total number of abortions in the state decreased from 63,849 in 2013 to 54,902 in 2014a reduction of 8,947 abortions.

Reproductive rights advocates say the data, which offers a look at the effect of HB 2 in the first full year of its implementation, provides further evidence of the law’s negative impact on access to abortion care.

“We will leave it to statisticians to undertake deeper analyses of this data, but at first glance the numbers demonstrate the devastating effect House Bill 2 had on the women of Texas,” said Trisha Trigilio, staff attorney for ACLU of Texas, in a statement.

The driving force behind the reduction appears to be a substantial decrease in the number of medication abortions: The number decreased from 16,756 in 2013 to 5,044 in 2014.

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HB 2 prohibits anyone other than a physician from dispensing abortion medications. At the time that the bill was signed into law, it also required the physician follow then-outdated FDA protocols. The federal regulations have since changed, increasing the time a pregnant person has to receive a medication abortion, from 49 days to 70 days of gestation.

The statistics also show a slight increase in the number of pregnant persons who traveled out of state to obtain abortion care. The number of abortions that took place “out of state” was 754 in 2014, compared to 681 in 2013.

However, data from other states suggest a much larger increase during that time period. As Rewire previously reported, statistics from Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana appear to indicate at least 1,086 patients traveled to those states from Texas to obtain an abortion in 2014.

The DSHS’ 2014 abortion statistics also show that HB 2 had a disproportionate effect on women of color and women in low-income communities. In 2013, there were 24,063 abortions obtained by Latinas, and in 2014 that number fell to 19,654a decrease of 18.3 percent. Additionally, Black Texans saw a decrease of 7.7 percent, while there was a decrease of 6.7 percent among white Texans.

Trigilio explained in a statement that the statistics reflect the actual intent of proponents of HB 2 and explain why the state agency kept the information “out of the public eye” prior to the Supreme Court decision. (For its part, DSHS said in response to the ACLU’s claims that it had not released the data because it wasn’t final yet.)

“Given the overall drop in abortions—especially in vulnerable communities along the border—as well as the precipitous 70 percent drop in medication abortions, these numbers show that this law never had anything do with women’s health,” said Trigilio.

Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, told the Austin American-Statesman that she was not surprised by the data because she has been “hearing firsthand” from people how difficult it is to obtain abortion care in the state.

The statistics are “further validation that the Supreme Court ruled correctly,” Busby said.

Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said during an interview Thursday on KFYO that the Supreme Court is “corrupt.” Patrick, who was among HB 2’s most strident supporters, argued that the statistics are a positive outcome.

“Our true purpose was to make sure the environments were safe for women, but obviously if you have fewer of abortions that’s something to celebrate,” said Patrick

Lawmakers passed the omnibus abortion bill in 2013 under the pretenses of protecting women’s health and safety. Since the law took effect, there have been multiple reports documenting the detrimental effect it has had on patients’ reproductive health care.

The 2014 abortion statistics also reveal that it continues to be safer to have an abortion than to carry a pregnancy to term in Texas: Between 2008 to 2013, the most recent years for which data is available, there were 691 maternal deaths in Texas, compared to just one death due abortion complications from 2008 to 2014.