Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

January 22, 2014

On The Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Get Informed and Get Active

Today marks the 41st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision making abortion legal throughout the United States.

As we have seen, however, legality does not equal access. Many states have chipped away at Roe v. Wade; in 2012 alone, 22 states enacted 70 new abortion restrictions, making abortion much more difficult to obtain

There have been numerous stories lately on state abortion battles and where the push will be in 2014 to further reduce abortion access, as (mostly male) politicians, seeking to boost their midterm election profiles, will try to enact more barriers.

Abortion rights activists are going on the offensive. So should you.

For this anniversary of Roe, make a plan to support reproductive choice in 2014. Connect with supporters in your area.

Contact your senators and representatives and let them know you support the Women’s Health Protection Act (S 1696/HR 3471), which would prohibit many restrictions that intrude on a woman’s decision and make it more difficult for physicians to provide abortion services.

Learn about abortion restrictions in your state, and check to see if bills proposing new restrictions have been introduced.

We need to talk more openly about abortion as a health issue for women, and we need to work together to ensure it remains a legal option in the years to come.


December 17, 2013

When Off-Label is Safer for Women: The Politics of Medication Abortion

Among the numerous tactics used to restrict abortion access, several states have proposed or implemented laws that impose unnecessary restrictions on medication abortion. These restrictions interfere with evidence-based practices that are considered safer for women’s health.

Some states are requiring that medication abortions follow the exact regimen approved by the FDA back in 2000, though research has since proven that lower doses are safer and just as effective. (The FDA has approved updated labeling since 2000, but these updates have not addressed the commonly used lower-dose regimen; it is not clear whether the drug company plans to submit new data and request these changes.)

The FDA protocol calls for a clinician to provide 600 mg of the first drug, mifepristone, for the patient to take orally, followed 48 hours later by 400 mcg of oral misoprostol. More modern, evidence-based regimens call for only 200 mg of mifepristone, followed later by 800 mcg of misoprostol that is held in the cheek until it dissolves instead of swallowed. The newer regimen also allows for the misoprostol dose to be taken at home.

Guttmacher Institute: State Policies on Medication AbortionBut states looking to make abortions more difficult for women to obtain are requiring physicians to administer the second dose in person. This mean women are forced to make an additional clinic visit — a significant hardship for many patients.

It’s common practice for doctors to prescribe drugs “off-label,” which means in a different way or for a different purpose than what the FDA has specifically approved. This allows doctors to use the most current evidence and their own judgment. Indeed, a new study accepted for publication in the journal Contraception illustrates how the practice of medicine can change to improve patient safety after a drug has been approved by the FDA.

The researchers reviewed Planned Parenthood data from the five years prior to 2006 — the year Planned Parenthood clinics changed their protocol for medication abortion from vaginal to oral administration of misoprostol, and added additional steps (such as STI testing and routine antibiotics) to reduce infection risk — and the five years after.

They found three deaths out of 218,928 abortions before the change, and no deaths among 711,556 abortions after the change. The Planned Parenthood study used the common reduced dose regimen of 200 mg mifepristone followed by 800 mcg of misoprostol. Other studies have also demonstrated the safety and effectiveness of the reduced mifepristone dose.

When politicians insist on the outdated FDA-approved regimen, they are prohibiting the use of the safer approaches.

The outdated FDA regimen, says Rachael Phelps, medical director for Planned Parenthood in Rochester and Syracuse, is “dramatically less effective, has more side effects, is harder for women to use, and increases the likelihood of an additional invasive procedure compared to the evidence based regimen. Mandating the FDA regimen forces doctors to provide substandard medical care and is just plain bad medicine.”

A case challenging such a law in Oklahoma had been set to go before the Supreme Court, but was dismissed following a state Supreme Court ruling that the law would effectively ban all medication abortion in the state. Texas’s controversial HB 2 law also requires adherence to the outdated FDA-approved regimen.

For a quick guide to additional states with restrictions requiring the old regimen or barring remote doctors from supervising medication abortion via telemedicine, view this fact sheet from Guttmacher Institute.

The federal Women’s Health Protection Act (S1696 / HR 3471) introduced this year would prohibit such restrictions. Among provisions addressing telemedicine abortion, hospital admitting privileges, and other targets of recent legislation, the bill would forbid any “limitation on an abortion provider’s ability to prescribe or dispense drugs based on her or his good-faith medical judgment, other than a limitation generally applicable to the medical profession.” Contact your senator or representative to support this Act.


November 4, 2013

The Ultimate Guide to the Legal Battle Over OTC Access to Emergency Contraception

In the October issue of the journal Contraception, authors from Harvard Law School and Brown University’s medical school trace the legal and political battles over non-prescription access to emergency contraception.

The authors date the legal dispute back to Jan. 21, 2005, when a coalition of organizations in favor of emergency contraception filed a lawsuit accusing the FDA of ignoring the science and safety and applying different standards to Plan B, a type of EC under review at that time, than the FDA applied to other drugs.

Of course, concern about access and the FDA’s process actually goes back further. Organizations had filed a Citizen Petition four years earlier asking the FDA to approve over-the-counter access. The FDA’s failure to respond to that petition, and rejection of the drug company’s application for OTC status, are what ultimately led to the 2005 lawsuit.

The article in Contraception covers the legal battles and notes the various ways the U.S. government interfered in the FDA’s decision-making. You might recall that politically motivated delays under the Bush administration led Susan Wood, a former assistant FDA commissioner for women’s health and director of the Office of Women’s Health, to resign in 2005.

“I can no longer serve as staff when scientific and clinical evidence, fully evaluated and recommended for approval by the professional staff here, has been overruled,” she said at the time of her decision.

After President Obama took office, and amid hopes that sound policy would prevail over politics, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled the agency’s 2011 decision that Plan B could be made available without a prescription or age restrictions. Noting this and subsequent political interference, the authors comment:

The final resolution of this controversy offers an ideal vantage point to examine the vulnerability of the FDA to political influence. While the FDA has “consistently been named or identified as one of the most popular and well-respected agencies in government”, the ability of the FDA to resist political influence is more precarious than its apparent reputation might suggest. After all, the FDA is not an independent agency. Indeed, the FDA Commissioner serves at the pleasure of the President. What is more, the idealized notion that the science-driven decision-making process of the FDA is insulated from and resistant to the political discourse is incommensurate with precedent.

Yes, that’s lawyer speak, but what it translates to is this: The Plan B drama has shown us that the FDA cannot be relied upon to make purely evidence-based decisions. At any time, a presidential appointee (like Sebelius) might step in to overrule evidence-based decisions. And as we’ve seen with Plan B, the resulting legal battle and limited access to a needed drug can stretch on for years.

Without a doubt, as the authors note, “there can be little questioning the foot dragging and active role played by two successive presidential administrations in shaping the emergency contraception debate.”

Plus: For more on the history of the fight for OTC emergency contraception, view a timeline from the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the original Citizen’s Petition, and check out coverage at Our Bodies, Our Blog. Important posts for context include this item on  Sebelius overriding the FDA’s decision, Susan Wood’s response at the time, and more history of the battle for increased access to EC.


October 4, 2013

Wendy Davis is Running for Governor in Texas, and That’s a Big Deal

Democratic State Sens. Sylvia Garcia (obscured), Royce West, Wendy Davis and Kirk Watson after the Senate passed the abortion bill on July 13, 2013. Photo by Callie Richmond / Texas Tribune (Creative Commons)

Wendy Davis, the Texas state senator who held off a vote restricting abortion rights by staging an 11-hour filibuster in June, announced on Thursday that she will run for governor.

Davis’s filibuster was an attempt to block legislation intended to reduce abortion access, including a 20-week ban on the procedure, imposition of surgical center standards for abortion clinics, and a requirement for providers to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital — which would force the majority of Texas’s 42 abortion clinics to close.

The legislation was later enacted; a lawsuit is underway to block the admitting privileges and medication abortion provisions of the law from taking effect.

The state senator’s actions inspired women’s health advocates around the country (and a whole bunch of memes). Her actions capped off a difficult six months, as states enacted 43 provisions aimed at restricting access to abortion — the second highest number on record at the mid-year point, and as many as were enacted in all of 2012, according to Guttmacher Institute. These states are, not surprisingly, mostly led by Republican male politicians.

If Davis is successful in her run (a very big “if” considering Texas hasn’t had a Democratic governor since 1995, when the formidable Ann Richards, mother of Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, was in charge), she would join a very small group of female governors throughout the country. At present, there are only five.

But as Danny Hayes, a political science professor at George Washington University, writes in the Washington Post, getting more women to run for office is a very big deal: “[B]ecause the main barrier to electing more women in the United States is getting them to run in the first place, Davis’s emergence — the result of her 11-hour filibuster against an abortion bill in the state Senate in June — may be critical for encouraging other female candidates to throw their hats into the ring.”

While Davis’s views on abortion are clear, female representation is, of course, no guarantee of more sensible approaches to women’s reproductive health. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed a 20-week ban in that state last year.


October 2, 2013

How the Government Shutdown Affects Women’s Health

The federal government shutdown is expected to have wide-ranging consequences on the health of women and their families.

Before we get to the bad news, an important reminder: Enrollment for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act is *not* being blocked by the shutdown.

Go to healthcare.gov to learn more about your options and to enroll. If you need additional information, Raising Women’s Voices and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health both have resources that explain more about healthcare benefits for women under the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare (yes, as Jimmy Kimmel demonstrated, they’re one and the same).

Now, here are the negative consequences:

- The WIC program that provides nutrition for women, infants, and children will not be able to take on new people and may run out of money to provide food assistance.

- Likewise, the Administration for Community Living will not be able to fund programs in Senior Nutrition, Native American Nutrition and Supportive Services, Prevention of Elder Abuse and Neglect, and Protection and Advocacy for persons with developmental disabilities.

- Federal websites that provide health information to consumers, like womenshealth.gov and MedlinePlus, are not being updated during the shutdown. The longer the shutdown continues, the more likely it is that these sites will have information that is no longer current.

- Researchers trying to answer questions about women’s health are also affected, meaning important research databases on medical topics may not be fully updated or updated at all.

- Clinical trials from the National Institutes of Health will not be able to accept new patients, possibly delaying important new discoveries in health.

- The FDA will be unable to support the majority of its food safety, nutrition, and cosmetics reviews. While the agency is expected to continue managing emergencies and high-risk situations, it will not have the resources to deal with some inspections and less urgent product alerts.

- In addition, those who may have delays in their paychecks and benefits – and other services – are hit directly, potentially making it harder for them to attend to their own health and that of their families.

Republicans tried to make restrictions on women’s preventive health care– including contraception coverage – a condition of not shutting down the government. As Cecile Richards writes, “The country wants Congress to focus on jobs and the economy, not on pushing an extreme agenda against women’s access to health care.”

And we really don’t want to bargain away our health.


July 31, 2013

The Medical (and Political) Problem with 20-Week Abortion Bans

July 15 protest rally in Austin against anti-abortion legislation

July 15 protest rally in Austin against anti-abortion legislation / Photo by Mirsasha

The recent wave of anti-abortion legislation has caused much confusion and concern over what the future of reproductive healthcare might look like in a few years.

Texas recently enacted a 20-week abortion ban, and 13 states have passed similar bans. In Congress, Republican senators are pushing to bring a 20-week abortion ban up for a vote after the August recess, reports The New York Times.

Let’s first look at the language in these bills, which usually reference “20 weeks post-fertilization.” Aside from the restrictive issues, these post-fertilization bans present a major problem — that’s not how pregnancy is measured.

When a doctor or midwife indicates that someone is “20 weeks pregnant,” what they mean is that it has been 20 weeks since the first day of the last menstrual period (or LMP). This can be a bit confusing, because the first day of the last period is not when ovulation followed by fertilization actually occur.

This LMP method is used because it’s the easiest to measure. While ovulation is often estimated at about two weeks after the start of the last menstrual period, it can occur at different times for different people, making it impossible to know exactly when ovulation — or fertilization or implantation, for that matter — occurred.

LMP, however, is something we can point to on a calendar and is easily knowable. That’s why healthcare providers ask the question.

To recap the terms:

  • 20 weeks “pregnant” = 20 weeks after the first day of the last menstrual period (LMP); used by medical providers to date pregnancies.
  • 20 weeks “gestational age” = usually the same as above, measured since the first day of the last menstrual period; used by medical providers to date pregnancies.
  • 20 weeks “post-fertilization” = may be approximately 22 weeks “pregnant” by the normal method of measuring; used by politicians to promote 20-week abortion bans.

In other words, nobody but politicians uses fertilization as a way of dating a pregnancy. For the record, a pregnancy does not start at fertilization; implantation must occur for the pregnancy to progress.

So why are politicians using “post-fertilization”? For one, politicians may simply have very little understanding of pregnancy. This would not surprise us in the anti-science era of “legitimate rape.” (Though we really wish members of Congress would read their copies of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.”)

More cynically, politicians may be deliberately fostering confusion in order to make it more difficult for women to determine whether they are within their legal right to obtain an abortion.

For example, a woman told she is “22 weeks pregnant” by a healthcare provider may assume she’s past the cutoff and no longer able to obtain an abortion. In reality, she may be just 20 weeks post-fertilization and still eligible for a short period of time.

Anti-abortion advocates justify 20-week post-fertilization limits based on the widely disputed idea that fetuses may feel pain at that point. The so-called “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” (HR 1797) that the House passed in June specifically referred to 20 weeks after fertilization as the cutoff for legal abortion, based on the widely disputed idea that fetuses can feel pain at this point.

However, a 2005 systematic review on the topic concluded that “pain perception probably does not function before the third trimester.” Similarly, a 2010 report by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (UK) concluded: “Interpretation of existing data indicates that cortical processing of pain perception, and therefore the ability of the fetus to feel pain, cannot occur before 24 weeks of gestation.”

For all the supposed concern about pain, it’s almost unheard of for anti-abortion activists to discuss the counterbalancing notion of pain, illness, injury and potential death that a woman may face carrying a pregnancy to term — see Jessica Valenti’s most recent column in The Nation for more from this perspective.

It’s also important to remember, as Paul Waldman points out, that these bills contain provisions that aim to shut down abortion clinics, including onerous Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws that are costly and do nothing to increase safety:

Abortion clinics often require doctors from out of state to travel to the clinic, because of the harassment, threats, and even assassinations that local doctors have been subject to? Then we’ll require that every doctor have admitting privileges at a hospital within a certain number of miles, which out-of-state doctors won’t have. And we’ll throw in some rules on how wide your hallways need to be (not kidding), meaning in order to stay open you’d have to do hundreds of thousands of dollars of remodeling. Failing that, we’ll make sure that women who need abortions will have to suffer as much inconvenience, expense, and humiliation as possible.

Ultimately, the GOP’s concern is not so much about minimizing human suffering, but about advancing strategies for keeping women from exercising their right to safe, legal abortion. Writing at RH Reality Check, Imani Gandy does a  good job explaining the anti-choice litigation strategy, noting in part:

The push for 20-week abortion bans is part of a national strategy implemented by anti-choice advocates to create exactly the sort of legal mess that will force the Supreme Court to reconsider Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and to revisit the viability standard that has served as the constitutional foundation for abortion rights for 40 years.

An analysis by RH Reality Check suggests that the strategy deployed by anti-choicers is deeply subversive. It capitalizes on personal feelings and anti-abortion hostilities by enticing judges and legislatures to abandon empirical science in favor of biased, agenda-driven science or, as it is sometimes called, “junk science.” Proponents of junk science, which has become a cottage industry among anti-abortion advocates, confuse the issue of fetal viability, invent claims about fetuses feeling pain (or masturbating in utero), and call into question established medical standards.

The strategy is a smart one, to be sure. Anti-choicers understand that once junk science has been incorporated into legislation, courts are not inclined to question those scientific findings—no matter how agenda-driven they are—and will simply apply the law to those “facts.” In cases when junk science is presented to a court, a judge (or justice) hostile to abortion rights requires only the flimsiest reasoning to ground their legal opinion in fact, even if those “facts” are anything but factual.

As the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists wrote when addressing political attempts to limit abortion based on ideas about fetal, pain: “Facts are important.”

Let’s hope the courts think so, too.


July 12, 2013

State by State: Laws Restricting Abortion and Family Planning as of Mid-2013

 abortion restrictions enacted at midyear for 2007 through 2013

If you’re having trouble keeping up with the assault on abortion rights across the states, you’re not alone.

While we’ve been hearing a lot out of Texas, and some from North Carolina and Ohio, many other states have enacted regulations restricting access to healthcare.

These include obstacles such as requirements for hospital admitting privileges for providers, bans on medication abortions by telemedicine and abortion after 20 weeks, and biased counseling laws — requiring, for instance, that women be provided with information falsely linking abortion to breast cancer.

Other new laws, such as restrictions on family planning funding, have further affected women’s access to reproductive health services.

How bad is it? According to updated information from the Guttmacher Institute, states enacted 106 provisions related to reproductive health and rights in the first six months of 2013 alone. This includes 43 restrictions on access to abortion — the second-highest number ever at the mid-year mark, and as many as were enacted in all of 2012.

Guttmacher points out a glimmer of sunshine as well: Among the numerous restrictions, some states saw new laws to expand comprehensive sex education, make STI treatment of partners easier, and increase access to emergency contraception for women who have been sexually assaulted.

Rachel Maddow this week looked at the overall impact of state-by-state anti-abortion laws, showing how states under Republican control since the 2011 elections are restricting access. Maddow also provides more information on some of the individual states.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


July 1, 2013

Keeping Up With Anti-Abortion Attacks in the States

Following up on the amazing filibuster by Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis, Republican Gov. Rick Perry has called for a second special session, beginning today, in which he hopes to push through abortion restrictions.

Texas Tribune will once again provide livestreaming; here’s a seating chart for understanding who’s who in the state Senate.

For continued updates, follow the Twitter accounts of scATX and naraltx and the hashtag #standwithTXwomen. There’s also a virtual march event page on Facebook and a livestream of the rally outside the Statehouse.

For more good commentary from Texas that helps to put the Davis’s filibuster in context, read these columns from the Texas Tribune: “‘Ruly Mob’ Was Prompted by Civic Duty” and “Protest Caused by Unruly Bunch in Control.”

Texas is not the only state suffering from anti-abortion attacks. Mississippi is implementing a law that will make it much harder for women to have medical abortions. The law requires women to take the necessary pills in the presence of a doctor and schedule a mandatory follow-up a couple of weeks after the abortion.

In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich, flanked by a group of white male legislators, signed a state budget Sunday evening that included several abortion-related laws, including measures to strip funding from Planned Parenthood, divert money to right-wing crisis pregnancy centers, and defund rape crisis centers that provide women with information about abortion services. (You might recall that the Supreme Court last week decided the U.S. government could not refuse funding for global programs that do not take an anti-prostitution pledge; it will be interesting to see if Ohio can block funding for programs that share information about legally available options for rape survivors.)

Meanwhile, North Dakota’s extremely restrictive new laws will go into effect one month from today.

Today’s Women’s Health Policy Report has more news about other states, including North Carolina. And the Guttmacher Institute has an overview of the new wave of laws intended to shut down abortion providers and seriously restrict access. It’s going to be one long, hot summer.


June 11, 2013

Obama Administration Will Stop Trying To Block Some Emergency Contraception Access

Best news all day: ”The Obama administration has decided to stop trying to block over-the-counter availability of the best-known morning-after contraceptive pill for all women and girls.”

The administration is withdrawing its appeal of a ruling that requires emergency contraception pills to be made available without prescription, regardless of age. This is good news for access to the one-pill form of emergency contraception.

In not-so-good news, the administration may still interfere with over-the-counter access to the two-dose form of the drug.

Although the previous ruling required that the two-pill form be made available even before the intended appeal was heard, the Justice Department’s letter indicates that it may still try to require additional data specific to safety of the often more affordable, generic two-dose form in younger adolescents before approving the change.

As SCOTUSblog explains, “the FDA is interpreting Judge Korman’s April order as giving it permission to choose between Plan B One-Step and the two-pill version so that just one of them would be open without restrictions to women of all ages.”

The Center for Reproductive rights, which has been heavily involved in the court cases around this issue, responded:

Now that the appeals court has forced the federal government’s hand, the FDA is finally taking a significant step forward by making Plan B One-Step available over the counter for women of all ages. But the Obama Administration continues to unjustifiably deny the same wide availability for generic, more affordable brands of emergency contraception.

Congratulations and thanks to everyone who has worked for more than a decade to call attention to this important issue. While more work is still needed to make emergency contraception fully accessible to women and girls when they most need it, this recent news puts us much closer to that goal.


May 20, 2013

“Educate Congress” Accomplished: Every Member Now Has a Copy of “Our Bodies, Ourselves”

Our Bodies, Ourselves Goes to Washington

Every member of Congress has pages of accurate information on women’s health at their fingertips – more than 900 pages to be exact – now that they have the latest edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.”

Thanks to supporters of OBOS’s Educate Congress campaign – inspired by a road trip to deliver “Our Bodies, Ourselves” to then-Rep. Todd Akin – we hand-delivered or mailed the newest edition and a letter signed by prominent health policy experts to all members of the U.S. House and Senate.

Educate Congress launched with a simple premise: Everyone deserves access to accurate information concerning women’s reproductive and sexual health – especially those who write the laws.

Deliveries began Feb. 28, when I spent the day meeting with members on Capitol Hill. It was the day that the House finally passed the Violence Against Women Act, which made the trip particularly poignant.

Joining me were Christy Turlington Burns, founder of Every Mother Counts (EMC), and Erin Thornton, EMC executive director. We collaborated on scheduling and delivered EMC materials along with “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” including a special petition for women members of Congress congratulating them on their leadership role and asking them to affirm support of policies that protect the health and well-being of girls and women around the world, especially those that will reduce infant and maternal mortality rates.

Two National Women’s Health Network (NWHN) interns, Alysson Reddy and Grace Adofoli, provided invaluable logistics support and shoulder-bag transport of the rather hefty copies of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” We received warm receptions not only from those who know the book and OBOS’s work, but also from members who want to be better prepared to address key reproductive health concerns.

Our first meeting was with Rep. Jim McGovern (MA), a consistent advocate of evidence-based policies. Christy and Erin presented a copy of EMC’s excellent documentary about maternal mortality, “No Woman, No Cry.”

Alysson and Grace helped me walk the corridors of three House office buildings in record time, with stops in the offices of Representatives Adam Kinzinger (IL), Steven Horsford (NV), Gary Peters (MI), Kay Granger (TX), Betty McCollum (MN), Chellie Pingree (ME), Michael Capuano (MA), Marsha Blackburn (TN), James Clyburn (SC), Jackie Speier (CA), Nita Lowey (NY), Anne Kirkpatrick (AZ), Joseph Kennedy (MA), and Cheri Bustos (IL).

The day ended on the Senate side, with visits to Senators Jeanne Shaheen (NH) and Elizabeth Warren (MA). Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Research Center for Women and Families (NRCWF), joined me in discussing women’s health with Sen. Warren and her chief of staff, Mindy Myers.

Time was running short, so Allyson and Grace returned later that week to deliver books and letters to Senators Mitch McConnell (KY), Rob Portman (OH), Carl Levin (MI), Mark Begich (AK) Charles Grassley (IA), Pat Toomey (PA), Jeff Flake (AZ), and Christopher Coons (DE).

OBOS has already received personal thank-you notes from several members of Congress who indicated that the book will be a useful resource. We’re confident it will be of value to staff members working on policy issues.

If you visit the D.C. office of your representative or senator in the coming months, let us know if you get a chance to ask about how “Our Bodies, Ourselves” might have been referenced. Establishing sound, science-based policy about reproductive health is no easy feat, but it will be all the more likely if each of us finds ways to promote this goal.

OBOS will continue to monitor where information interventions are needed. Please help fund our efforts to send books to state legislators, educational leaders, and other public officials.

* * *
Photo, clockwise: EMC’s Erin Thornton and Christy Turlington Burns, Rep. Gary Peters, OBOS’s Judy Norsigian, and NWNH interns Alysson Reddy and Grace Adofoli; Judy and Christy with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen; Judy, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and NRCWF’s Diana Zuckerman; Rep. Chellie Pingree; Judy and Christy with Rep. Jim McGovern (center). 


May 2, 2013

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: The Week in Over-the-Counter Emergency Contraception

Plan B on a drugstore shelf in Canada.

Plan B on a drugstore shelf in Canada. Photo / Cory Doctorow

What a frustrating week in the ongoing battle over evidence-based health policy.

To the surprise and disappointment of women’s health advocates, the U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday filed an appeal to prevent girls under age 15 from gaining over-the-counter access to emergency contraception.

Approaching the date U.S. District Judge Edward Korman’s order making levonorgestrel-based emergency contraceptive pills (such as Plan B and Next Choice) available without restrictions would go into effect, the Obama administration also requested a stay pending appeal, meaning the judge’s order would not be implemented according to schedule.

The judge’s ruling last month was in response to the Center for Reproductive Rights’ renewed lawsuit seeking over-the-counter access to the morning-after pill.

Responding to the appeal, Nancy Northrup, CRR president and CEO, said in a statement:

Women who urgently need emergency contraception have been delayed in getting it or denied access entirely for more than a decade because of the political maneuverings of the last two presidential administrations. The federal court has made clear that these stalling tactics were based purely on politics, not science.

We are deeply disappointed that just days after President Obama proclaimed his commitment to women’s reproductive rights, his administration has decided once again to deprive women of their right to obtain emergency contraception without unjustified and burdensome restrictions.

In the appeal documents, the administration argues that the court overstepped its authority and improperly interfered with the rulemaking process; the judge should have instead sent the issue back to the FDA for further action.

“We aren’t focused in this appeal on the merits of the secretary’s decision,” a Justice Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The New York Times. “What we’re focused on is that the remedies that the judge ordered were beyond his authority.”

Ironically, overstepping is what many would argue the administration did in 2011 when HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overturned a decision by FDA scientists to make the contraceptive pills available without restriction.

The administration also argues that since the actual plaintiffs in the case are all over age 15, and it’s not a class action suit, that no harm is done to the plaintiffs by granting the stay (see below). By making this argument, the administration avoids addressing the potential harm to girls who are prevented from accessing a drug both FDA scientists, and the judge, said should be available.

The administration claims that the public would suffer irreparable harm if the stay is not granted; if the ruling is allowed to go forward and later overturned, it would create confusion for women, who might “mistakenly believe that they can obtain the drug without a prescription or at certain locations where it used to be available, but is no longer.”

We’re also supposed to believe the appeal has nothing to do with politics. A Justice Department official told The New York Times: “This is a decision that the Justice Department is making in representing our client: FDA. This is not a political decision. It’s not had White House intervention or involvement. This in our judgment is the right legal step to take in this case.”

Meanwhile, FDA Approves Making Plan B Available to Teens Age 15 and Up
The decision to appeal came just one day after the FDA announced its approval of Plan B One-Step emergency contraception pills without a prescription for teens age 15 and older. The drug was previously only available without a prescription to women 17 and older.

It’s a great step forward; however, younger women, for whom access to a healthcare provider may be most difficult, are still left without prescription-free access to the drug, which must be used within a limited window.

The FDA adds to the burden by specifically requiring proof of age. From the FDA’s press release:

The product will now be labeled “not for sale to those under 15 years of age *proof of age required* not for sale where age cannot be verified.” Plan B One-Step will be packaged with a product code prompting a cashier to request and verify the customer’s age. A customer who cannot provide age verification will not be able to purchase the product. In addition, Teva has arranged to have a security tag placed on all product cartons to prevent theft.

In addition, Teva will make the product available in retail outlets with an onsite pharmacy, where it generally, will be available in the family planning or female health aisles. The product will be available for sale during the retailer’s normal operating hours whether the pharmacy is open or not.

The ID/proof of age requirement is a big hurdle for many teens. Many states set an age requirement of 16 for a driver’s license or learner’s permit. Obtaining a state ID (related to driving or not) costs money, and hours for doing so are often limited. And undocumented teenagers are unable to obtain a legal ID at any age.

“While welcomed by some as an acceptable compromise,” said Nancy Stanwood, Physicians for Reproductive Health board chair-elect, the “FDA decision to approve the sale of emergency contraceptive Plan B One-Step to those 15 years and older with government-issued identification does little to improve real access for already-vulnerable women and young teens. Plan B has a time limit, and too many women in the U.S. have gone without it because of unfair, unnecessary, and medically unjustified barriers to access.”

Writing at ThinkProgress, Tara Culp-Ressler explains other reasons why the policy shift is still problematic, noting in part that it simply isn’t based on science, and the high cost remains a barrier.

The FDA’s ruling was in response to an amended application request by Teva Women’s Health, the company that makes Plan B One-Step, to make the drug available without a prescription to women age 15 and older. The FDA in 2011 denied Teva’s application to make Plan B One-Step available for all females of reproductive age. And still the debate goes on.


February 28, 2013

Delivery of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” to Members of Congress Launches on Capitol Hill

Erin Thornton, Judy Norsigian, Rep. Jim McGovern, and Christy Turlington Burns

Last fall, following a sex-ed road trip with The Ladydrawers to deliver “Our Bodies, Ourselves” to former Rep. Todd Akin (of “legitimate rape” fame), Our Bodies Ourselves launched Educate Congress, a campaign to deliver the book to all members of Congress and key administration officials.

The basic premise: Everyone deserves access to accurate information concerning women’s reproductive and sexual health — especially those who write the laws.

Today OBOS kicked off delivery of the book, as Judy Norsigian, OBOS executive director and one of the original authors of “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” hand-delivered copies of the newest edition to about 20 legislators and staff members.

The point was made that the problem isn’t just poorly chosen words; rather, a lot more needs to be done to advance evidence-based health policy.

Norsigian walked the halls of Capitol Hill with Christy Turlington Burns, founder of Every Mother Counts, and EMC’s executive director, Erin Thornton. They submitted EMC’s petition to female members of Congress, asking them to support policies that protect the health and well-being of girls and women around the world, especially those that will reduce infant and maternal mortality rates.

Doing this on the day that the House finally passed the Violence Against Women Act made it particularly poignant.

NWHN interns Allyson Reddy and Grace Adofoli with Judy Norsigian and Rep. Chellie Pingree

Thanks to Allyson Reddy and Grace Adofoli, interns at the National Women’s Health Project, the book launch was a success. More books will be delivered in the coming weeks, until every member of Congress has, in their office, up-to-date information they can rely on when drafting bills that have a real impact on girls and women.

A big thank you to the supporters of Educate Congress! And a special shout out to fellow road-trippers Anne Elizabeth Moore, Rachel N. Swanson, Nicole Boyett and Sara Drake; Congress scheduler Christina Knowles; everyone who participated in the making of the Educate Congress video, especially Paul Noble and Anthony Cupaiuolo (bro!); and Malcolm Woods, who helped organize the Educate Congress launch at the National Press Club and kept the word going on Twitter (with the aid of “The West Wing” staff). All of you made this happen!

Erin Thornton, Christy Turlington Burns (holding the film “No Woman, No Cry”) Rep. Gary Peters, Judy Norsigian, Allyson Reddy, and Grace Adofoli


January 8, 2013

No Country for All Women: Holding Up Violence Against Women Act

The 112th Congress ended without reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), threatening the funding of programs and services that prevent and respond to domestic violence, rape, stalking, and other forms of violence against women. It’s the first time Congress has failed to reauthorize VAWA since it was signed into law in 1994.

The failure is due to objections by House Republicans over new provisions adding protections for LGBTQ individuals, Native American women on tribal lands, and undocumented immigrants — protections that are considered “controversial,” according to Florida Republican Rep. Sandy Adams.

Those provisions are included in the Senate version, which passed with bipartisan support in April. The House passed its own version, stripping those provisions and making other changes that the administration has refused to approve.

The National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women addresses objections to the LGBTQ and Tribal provisions with a smart analysis of myth vs. fact. The organization also provides a good outline of many of the problems with the House version and its possible effects on vulnerable communities, and it asks the 113th Congress to reauthorize VAWA immediately.

Please encourage your senators and representatives to pass an inclusive version of VAWA. You can also contact House Speaker John Boehner’s office (202-225-0600 or 202-225-6205) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s office (202-225-2815 or 202-225-4000).

Here’s further commentary and analysis, on both the bills and the failed reauthorization. Feel free to suggest other commentary or news items in the comments.


December 11, 2012

Lies Straight From the Pit of Hell and Other Comments on Biology and Women’s Health

“All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory … all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell.”

“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Comments like these are what spurred us to create Educate Congress, a campaign to deliver “Our Bodies, Ourselves“ to every member of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. Because these comments really were spoken by members of Congress.

And that’s not the only problem. Misinformation is too often used as the basis for crafting bad policy, which is why we’re working to show how Congress can advance evidence-based reproductive health policy, based on science and fact. Reproductive health policy pertains to issues such as birth control, abortion, breast and ovarian cancers, the effects of environmental toxins on women’s health and fetal development, and more.

We’re into our final countdown, with just eight days left to reach our goal of raising $25,000 to deliver books to every member of Congress and key members of the administration and government agencies whose work involves health care policy.

You can select a specific representative or senator to receive the book or donate to the general fund. There are great perks to show our thanks, including stickers, tote bags, signed copies of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” by OBOS founders and Gloria Steinem, and a signed Legitimate Road Trip poster commemorating the drive from Chicago to St. Louis with The Ladydrawers to rush sex-ed materials to Rep. Todd Akin.

Please help us reach our goal — because, really, doesn’t everyone deserve access to comprehensive sex-ed?


November 19, 2012

What Do You Want Congress to Know About Women’s Bodies & Health?

We’ve been amazed by — and grateful for — the comments left by supporters of the Educate Congress campaign about why the site matters to them and what they want Congress to know about reproductive and sexual health.

During the recent election cycle it became all too apparent that there is a *lot* that some members still need to learn. Speaking from my experience, I want Congress to understand more about the science behind conception. Rep. Paul Ryan was a co-sponsor last year of HR 212, the Sanctity of Human Life Act, which states that “human life shall be deemed to begin with fertilization.”

I’m hoping members of Congress will stop proposing “personhood” legislation that would potentially ban some forms of contraception, such as the birth control pill, and threaten the health of women and their families in numerous ways (see this fact sheet from the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice, a group that formed to fight personhood legislation in that state).

What do you think Congress should know about women’s bodies and health?

Tell us what you  think Congress should know when you join our campaign to Educate Congress. It can be something based on your health, the health of a family member or friend, or a community need or policy change.

Then make sure to share your message here on the blog, post it on our Facebook page, or tweet it using the hashtag #EducateCongress.

Our Bodies Ourselves has long believed that women’s stories and experiences inform what we know about women’s health. Who better to educate Congress than all of us?