Commentary Abortion

New York Anti-Choice Group Decries Abortion Rate While Opposing Sex Ed and Family Planning

Jodi Jacobson

A right-wing group affiliated with the Catholic Church hierarchy is advocating against New York City Mayor Bloomberg's new sex-ed mandate while also opposing access to family planning services and decrying the city's abortion rate.

See our other reports on New York City’s sex ed program here.

At this point, it’s no secret that anti-choice groups in the United States oppose the fundamental rights of women to determine whether and when to bear–and undertake the lifelong responsibility of parenting–a child when facing an unintended and untenable pregnancy.

Only more recently, however, has their real agenda become unequivocally clear: They are also adamantly against contraception and sexual health education, the very things that reduce rates of unintended pregnancies–and hence the need for abortion–in the first place.

But rarely do events underscore the forced birth agenda of such groups so blatantly as did the actions this month of the Chiaroscuro Foundation of New York.

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On August 16th, Chiaroscuro held a press conference strongly denouncing the city’s new mandate requiring that New York City Public Schools provide evidence-based comprehensive sex education–curricula for which always include emphasis on abstaining from sex in the first place–in both middle and high schools. This is the first time the city has put in place a mandate for systematic approaches to comprehensive sex ed. The Bloomberg mandate is important for any number of reasons, including the fact that with more than one million students entering school this year, the New York City public school system is one of if not the largest in the United States, and there is a high rate of unintended teen pregnancy in the city.

The foundation’s solution? To promote dis-proven abstinence-only programs instead.

Since their press conference, Chiaroscuro has set up a website railing against plans to teach students actual facts about contraception, safer sex practices, and non-discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender persons, and instead encourages people to complain about or opt out of the program altogether. In place of comprehensive programs, they advocate for failed programs such as ASPIRE: Live your life. Be free; Choosing the Best PATH which promotes heterosexual marriage as the only “good” kind, relies on fear and shame, and suggests that the “emotional consequences” of premarital sex include “guilt, feeling scared, ruined relationships, broken emotional bonds;” and Game Plan which promotes only heterosexual marriage and discourages critical thinking or discussions of alternate points of view in the classroom. Another Chiaroscuro favorite is WAIT Training, a part of which explains, “men sexually are like microwaves and women sexually are like crockpots…”.  Chiaroscuro’s primary “expert,” Dr. Miriam Grossman, is an ultra-religious conservative who advocates only “traditional marriage,” and “traditional roles” for girls and women.

Yet with no sense of irony, and less than a month later on September 7th, Chiaroscuro released a report, based on publicly available Department of Health data, decrying the high rate of abortion in New York City.

If this doesn’t make their agenda blatantly clear, I don’t know what does.

If you are against contraception and evidence-based sex ed, and you are also against the right of women to terminate a pregnancy, you are for forced pregnancy and birth. You may not say it this way, but you stand for eliminating all options for girls and women who may aspire to education or career plans that involve delaying or not having children; for women who feel they can not afford another child or can’t bring another child into an abusive marriage; for women who have been raped; or for women who may be at serious risk of health and possibly death from carrying a pregnancy. This is called forced birth.

This is perhaps no surprise, since the foundation’s mission is based on the premise that:

[T]he Universal Catholic Church, with the apostolic tradition and the communion of saints, is uniquely qualified to communicate the full depth of God’s word. Accordingly, we will support the Church’s effort to develop and promote its teachings, as well as form Catholics in those teachings.

The foundation, a nonprofit group, is, according to the New York Times, “financed privately by its president, Sean Fieler, an investment banker who supports religious and conservative causes, and “fight[s] for the protection of all human life from conception to natural death.” In other words, in keeping with the lobbying arm of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, they’ve changed the definition of when pregnancy begins (medically it is when an embryo implants successfully in the uterus), and also want to control how you die.

But anti-choicers love obfuscation on every level; rarely are they so blatant about their agenda. In January, for example, Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, who in a meeting sponsored by Chiaroscuro, adopted what the Times called a “more pragmatic goal for New York than abolishing abortion: “Let’s see to it that abortion is rare,” he said.”

But there is nothing pragmatic about denying both teens and women access to information and services to secure their reproductive and sexual health. There is nothing pragmatic about opposing evidence-based sex ed, or the expansion of reproductive health services and contraceptive supplies to all persons. Instead the real strategy is to further stigmatize women who have sex, use contraception or terminate a pregnancy.

No one disputes that New York City has a high rate of unintended pregnancies and hence a high rate of abortion. Over 60 percent of all pregnancies in the city are unintended. Fifty-four percent of all pregnancies among Latinas are unintended according to one study cited by Linda Greenhouse in the New York Times, and over 87 percent of the 20,000 teen pregnancies that occur each year in the city are unintended.

High rates of unintended pregnancies among low-income women and those with the least access to health care lead to higher rates of abortion as women struggle to manage the multiple responsibilities of family, work, community and personal aspirations, iike better education for their children and themselves, not to mention the concerns of an unstable economic environment and high rates of unemployment. Nearly 60 percent of unintended pregnancies among black women in the city end in abortion, for example. Overall the rate of abortions (as measured by the number of abortions per 100,000 live births) is highest in the Bronx at 48 percent, followed by Brooklyn (39 percent), Manhattan (38 percent), Queens (39 percent), and Staten Island (32 percent).

Given the fact that data on both unintended pregnancy and abortion in the city are widely available and that the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg has created several initiatives to reduce unintended pregnancies, the situation and the need for solutions is no secret.

But, as experts point out, as with any problem that has multiple root causes, there is no silver bullet. The solutions to unintended pregnancy are complex, and include but must go beyond comprehensive sex ed in the schools to embrace and expand various initiatives now underway.

“By focusing on New York in the way it does,” says Anglea Hooton, interim executive director of NARAL Pro-choice New York, “Chiaroscuro implies that New York is some kind of unique place as though unintended pregnancy is not a problem across the country.”

“While we have high rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion here, we also have incredible rates of poverty and of populations who are severely economically disadvantaged,” Hooton continued.

We have to address the problem of unintended pregnancy through a much more comprehensive effort based on understanding of what it means to have a large share of your population not able to access basic preventive health care. Incredibly high concentrations of unintended pregnancy and abortion are in evidence in those communities with the least access to services, in which people are most economically-disadvantaged, and have limited means, limited knowledge [of how to get health care], and limited educations. There are other factors as well in reaching populations where, for example, language barriers make outreach more difficult.  All of these issues have to be considered.

But the sex ed mandate, while not a panacea, is a critical component in combating unintended pregnancy, argues Hooton.  “It is a fact that there has never been any requirement or uniform implementation for sex ed in the public school system,” she says, and since it is arguably the biggest in the country, we have to ensure everyone has the same education according to basic evidence-based standards.” 

In reply to the Chiaroscuro Foundation, she asks: “Why are you not with us to make sure that the next generation of youth are armed with the information they need to make the best decisions about their bodies and their lives throughout their entire life-cycle?”

Similar sentiments were expressed by Planned Parenthood of New York City president Joan Malin said in January when she said: “The unplanned pregnancy rate in New York City is impacted by a myriad of societal factors, including access to information and education, access to birth control, and intimate partner violence, among others. Planned Parenthood works every day to address those underlining issues and we invite the Archdiocese of New York and its partner organizations to join in making sure that every young person in New York City has access to comprehensive sex education and access to birth control information and usage.”

My guess is their offer is still on the table.

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.