Weekly Pulse: DIY Abortions on the Border, Pawlenty Screws MN on Sex Ed

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Women on along U.S.-Mexico border are buying black market misoprostol to induce abortions, according to a new report by Laura Tillman in the Nation. The drug is easily available over the counter in Mexico.

DIY abortion is cheaper—a bottle of misoprostol costs can cost as little as $70, a fraction of the price of a medical abortion. The DIY approach can also be more convenient and private. One abortion provider told Tillman that about 20% of his patients tried misoprostol before coming to see him.

He estimates that many others took the drug successfully. Misoprostol is about 80%-85% effective when used as directed, but if it doesn’t work the woman needs immediate medical help. Potential complications include severe bleeding and uterine rupture. For more information on misoprostol abortions, see last week’s edition of the Weekly Pulse.

Comprehensive ignorance

As the bumper sticker slogan goes: If you think education is expensive, try ignorance. Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota bought some very expensive ignorance this week by turning down $850,000 in federal funding for comprehensive sex education through the federal Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP).

According to Andy Birkey of the Minnesota Independent, Pawlenty opted to apply for the Title V State Abstinence Education Grant Program instead of the PREP, a comprehensive sex ed program. Comprehensive sex ed teaches kids how to say no to sex and how to reduce their risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections if they do become sexually active. Now, cash-strapped Minnesota will have to come up with $379,307 in state funds in order to get $505,743 in federal funding for abstinence-only-until-hetero-marriage education.

Robin Marty of RH Reality Check observes that Pawlenty is trying to burnish his conservative credentials in advance of a possible presidential run in 2012. It’s part of a national race to the bottom where conservative presidential hopefuls compete to see who can take away more rights from women.

E. coli comes home to roost

The agribusiness giant Cargill Meat Solutions recalled 8,500 pounds of ground beef after 3 people contracted salmonella, Mac McDaniel reports for Care2. The Cargill recall comes on the heels of the largest egg recall in U.S. history. So far, 550 million potentially salmonella-tainted eggs from to factory farms in Iowa have been recalled. McDaniel argues that these food recalls should prompt a larger discussion about the state of our food safety net and the wisdom of factory farming.

At AlterNet, food scientist and activist Dr. Marion Nestle writes that “Industrial egg operations have gotten out of hand in size, waste, and lack of safety.” So far, at least 1500 people caught salmonella from tainted Iowa eggs. Nestle urges the Senate to pass the long-awaited food safety bill, S. 510, which the upper chamber has been sitting on for over a year. It’s about time. Powerful agribusiness interests have hijacked the regulatory process for too long. The chickens are coming home to roost.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Pulse: The Religious Right vs. Birth Control

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Does health care reform’s promise of preventive care extend to free birth control? Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services have 18 months to decide whether to require insurers to provide oral contraceptives, IUDs, and other prescription birth control with no co-pay. With pro-choice Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at the helm, HHS is expected to say yes. [Update: The Wall Street Journal is reporting that birth control will not be on the White House's preliminary list of free preventive services, to be issued today. However, as Miriam Perez of feministing explains, HHS will ultimately have the final word. Observers, including Dana Goldstein who covers reproductive rights for the Daily Beast, are optimistic that the pro-choice side will carry the day at HHS.]

At this point in the process, social conservatives are shut out in the cold, quaking with impotent rage. Now that the reform bill is law, HHS has to interpret the rules—and the Obama administration officials at HHS can’t be swayed as easily as elected officials.

Religious right on the warpath

Predictably, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the National Abstinence Education Association, and the Heritage Foundation are up in arms. They’ve picked a deeply unpopular battle. Abortion remains controversial in some circles, but birth control is as American as baseball. The vast majority of sexually active women in the U.S. tell pollsters that they are not trying to become pregnant, and 89% of them are using some form of birth control.

“Seriously,” writes Monica Potts of TAPPED, “a battle over contraceptives?” Over 15 million Americans currently use hormonal contraception. Studies show that the vast majority of Americans are morally comfortable with birth control.

Expanding access to birth control is smart policy because it reduces health care costs, as Suzi Khimm notes in Mother Jones. Birth control is a lot cheaper for insurers than pregnancy and childbirth. Free birth control could change women’s lives for the better. In this economy, $30-$50 a month for hormonal birth control can be a major obstacle for many. As Michelle Chen notes in ColorLines, women of color are among those hardest hit by out-of-pocket costs.

Birth control as common ground?

Many centrists hope that contraception will be a source of “common ground” between the pro-choice and anti-abortion camps. The premise sounds reasonable. If anti-choicers oppose abortion, surely they will support measures proven to reduce the abortion rate, like expanded access to contraception. Political scientist Scott Lemieux argues in TAPPED that conservative opposition to birth control coverage is further proof that the common ground hypothesis is wishful thinking:

The problem with this line of reasoning is that it ignores the broader set of assumptions about women and sexuality on which actual opposition to abortion is based. Consider anti-choice Republicans, who consistently opposed expanding contraceptive use: Given the choice between reducing abortion rates and controlling female sexuality, they will always choose the latter. Thus the idea that contraception can be a means of achieving a ceasefire in the culture wars has always been a fantasy. Liberals and conservatives aren’t just divided by abortion but by broader questions of female equality and sexual freedom.

The USCCB clearly understands that birth control is broadly popular. Its lobbyists aren’t even trying to argue that birth control shouldn’t be covered because it’s sinful. Instead, they are playing semantic games about what constitutes preventative health care. According to the USCCB, birth control shouldn’t count because fertility isn’t a disease. Be that as it may, pregnancy is a life-altering health condition that can kill you. As a matter of fact, the Catholic Church is on the record as saying that pregnant women must sacrifice their own lives for their fetuses. Ergo, pregnancy prevention is preventive health care.

Approving free birth control would go a long way towards restoring the trust between the Obama administration and its pro-choice base, at low political cost. It seems unlikely that the USCCB and its allies have the power to fuel a national backlash on this one. After all, three quarters of U.S. Catholics disagree with their own church’s teachings on birth control.

Conscience concerns

Speaking of the Department of Health and Human Services, Megan Carpentier at RH Reality Check wonders what happened to President Barack Obama’s early promise to repeal the so-called “conscience clause” rule that allows health care workers to opt out of providing reproductive health care that conflicts with their anti-choice principles. The rule is still on the books, over a year after Obama pledged to repeal it.

FEMA Foul

Finally, how did some BP oil spill cleanup workers end up living in formaldehyde-laced FEMA trailers ruled unfit for human habitation? As I report for Working In These Times, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, wants answers from FEMA and the General Services Administration about how these trailers found their way back onto the market.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Urgent: Tell Charlie Crist to Veto HB 1143

On the last day of the 2010 Legislative Session, the Florida Legislature passed HB 1143 - sweeping anti-choice legislation that restricts women's access to reproductive health care and drastically chips away at Roe v. Wade.

House Republicans rammed through a measure  to require women seeking an abortion to pay for an ultrasound and hear a doctor give a description of the fetus. The cost of an ultrasound exam can vary between $200 and $1,000.

The bill also restricts businesses that receive tax credits from providing their employees with health insurance that covers abortion, even if they don't use federal or state subsidies to purchase their plans. This goes far beyond the Hyde Amendment by prohibiting abortion from being covered in private health insurance plans.

This attack on women's health care  by anti-choice Republicans passed both chambers despite never being vetted through a single committee, and never allowing for public comment.  Help us urge Governor Crist to veto HB 1143, which interferes with private health care decisions and restricts private health insurance from offering abortion coverage.

 

HB 1143 currently awaits the Governor's decision.

Women will not stand for legislation that takes away our rights and leaves us worse off than we are today.

Tell Governor Crist to veto HB 1143. 

 

 

Weekly Pulse: The Pill at 50 and Oklahoma's Extreme Ultrasound Law

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Fifty years ago, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first birth control pill. Needless to say, the repercussions of this medical and public policy breakthrough are still being felt today.

Catherine Epstein of the Women’s Media Center thinks it’s significant that we celebrate the date a U.S. government agency approved the Pill, as opposed to the anniversary of its invention. The Pill has been at the center of a power struggle from the very beginning:

The pill has been under ideological fire since the first tiny tablet hit a woman’s palm. And the impact it’s had on women’s autonomy and freedom has been – as decades have passed – nearly equal to the fear (and subsequent restriction) it’s instilled in those who believe in curtailing reproductive rights.

Which came first?

Michelle Goldberg of the American Prospect takes up a longstanding debate: Did the Pill liberate women, or did it take a feminist revolution to make the Pill relevant? Call it a chicken and ovum problem: American women were able to use the Pill to wrest control of their reproductive destinies because they had a certain level of autonomy to begin with.

Women didn’t immediately embrace the pill when it came on the market because the stigma of divorcing sex and reproduction was still too great. Arguably, society’s attitudes about sex and reproduction had to evolve before the Pill could catch on. As Goldberg notes, oral contraceptives are widely available in Saudi Arabia, yet they pose no apparent threat to the patriarchy. I would argue that reproductive freedom is a positive feedback loop. Women who control their fertility are in a better position to push for even more autonomy through education, paid work, and social activism.

Reproductive rights and the Supreme Court

The battle over reproductive rights is far from over. With the impending retirement of Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, all eyes are on President Barack Obama as he mulls the shortlist to replace the Court’s leading liberal. Interestingly, the reputed front-runners are all white women: Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Judge Diane Wood of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Merrick Garland of the D.C. Circuit, and Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm.

Paul Waldman of the American Prospect casts a jaded eye on the upcoming confirmation battle. He predicts a good, old fashioned culture war brawl. He notes that the Republicans are already preparing to paint Wood as an “abortion rights extremist,” if she gets the nod, according to early opposition research obtained New York Times.

Everything is not OK

Speaking of abortion rights, Rachel Larris of RH Reality Check reports that the Center for Reproductive Rights has filed a lawsuit challenging Oklahoma’s new law, which forces women to undergo ultrasounds prior to obtaining abortions. The Center argues that the law is unconstitutional because it violates a woman’s right to privacy by forcing unwanted information on her and impinging upon doctor/patient confidentiality.

Monica Potts of TAPPED floats the idea that, because these mandatory ultrasounds typically involve a vaginal probe, the Oklahoma law might violate the state’s rape laws.

WellPoint caves to House Dems

Finally, some good news on the women’s health front. Evan McMorris-Santoro of Talking Points Memo reports that health insurance giant WellPoint caved to political pressure from House Democrats and agreed to stop dropping sick customers.

WellPoint achieved nationwide notoriety in recent weeks when it was revealed that automatically reviewed the records of women diagnosed with breast cancer (and other ailments) to see if they had any unreported preexisting conditions that might justify terminating their coverage. This practice will become illegal when the health care reform legislation takes effect, but WellPoint has agreed to stop ahead of schedule.

Action Urged on Neglected Diseases

In the Progressive, Dr. Unni Karunakara and Dr. Bernard Pecoul urge the Obama administration tackle more neglected tropical diseases. Obama has already pledged unprecedented aid to fight five neglected ailments afflicting the developing world. Krunakara and Pecoul argue that this isn’t enough. The administration is fighting the good fight on malaria, but sleeping sickness, visceral leishmaniasis, Chagas disease and Buruli ulcer, which affect a billion of the world’s poorest people.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Pulse: Obama Signs Health Reform Bill, Backlash Begins

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Yesterday, President Obama signed health care reform into law. As Mike Lillis explains in the Washington Independent, the bill now proceeds to the Senate for reconciliation. The whole process could be complete by the end of the week. Republicans and their allies have already moved to challenge reform in court.

Legal challenges

The fight is far from over, however. Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly notes that Republicans have already filed papers to challenge health care reform in court. The Justice Department has pledged to vigorously defend health care reform, according to Zach Roth of TPM Muckraker.

The legal arguments against health care reform center around the constitutionality of an individual mandate, i.e., the requirement that everyone must carry health insurance. This argument is specious. The bill characterizes the mandatory payments as a tax, and imposes a fine for those who don’t pay their insurance tax. There is no question that Congress has the authority to levy taxes in support of the general welfare and providing health insurance to the people easily meets that legal criterion.

Dave Weigel of the Washington Independent reviews some of the other formidable legal barriers to challenging health care reform in court. But take heart, teabaggers! Birther-dentist-lawyer Orly Taitz is on the case.

Violent outbursts from reform opponents

Some anti-reform activists have resorted to intimidation.  Five Democratic offices were vandalized in the days surrounding the House vote, as Justin Elliott reports for TPM Muckraker. Someone hurled a brick through the window of the Niagara office of Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), the chair of the powerful House Rules Committee.

Slaughter is notorious on the right for drawing up the controversial “deem and pass” strategy for moving the bill forward. Her plan was never put into action, but she has become a target anyway. Another Democratic office in Slaughter’s district was damaged by a brick bearing a quote from conservative icon Barry Goldwater: “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice.”

Elliott notes that a conservative blogger in Alabama is doing his best to incite similar attacks, though it’s not clear whether he instigated any of the original five:

…Blogger Mike Vanderboegh has been tracking the breaking of windows at Dem offices after issuing a call Friday: “To all modern Sons of Liberty: THIS is your time. Break their windows. Break them NOW.

Reproductive rights take a hit

Anti-abortion extremist Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) failed to get his ultra-restrictive abortion language inserted into the health care bill, but the final bill does impede health insurance coverage for abortion.

For example, those who choose abortion coverage will have to write two checks: One for their regular premium and one for a dollar to go into a separate abortion coverage fund. Many analysts fear that the extra hassles will discourage private insurers from covering abortion at all.  Pro-choice activists were in a weaker negotiating position because, unlike Stupak and his allies, they weren’t prepared to kill health reform if their demands weren’t met.

The greater good?

Now that health care reform is safely signed into law, the pro-choice movement is stepping back and asking itself some tough questions.

In The Nation, Katha Pollitt argues that the pro-choice movement deserves to be rewarded for sacrificing its own agenda for the greater good. She suggests that the Democrats could reward the reproductive rights movement by fully funding the Violence Against Women Act, addressing maternal mortality and other policy changes to advance women’s health and freedom.

Jos of Feministing counters that with their go along to get along attitude pro-choice groups have only demonstrated that they can be ignored with impunity: “You don’t get rewarded for demonstrating a lack of political power, you get further marginalized.”

At RH Reality Check, Megan Carpentier argues that national pro-choice organization like NARAL and Planned Parenthood ceded their leverage too easily. While anti-choicers were beefing up their lobbying presence in Washington, major pro-choice groups were scaling back. Pro-choice groups compromised early and easily, perhaps because they were overly confident that their service to the Democratic cause would be rewarded in the end.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

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