Pope Francis last week issued an expansive document outlining the mission behind his papacy, including a strongly worded indictment of free market economics and the government leaders and corporate executives who are the system’s greatest beneficiaries. The pope’s declarations on poverty and economic justice may have been a new turn for the church, but the rest of the 84-page document was a regurgitation of the same old doctrine.
Specifically, the church’s hard line on abortion and other issues of reproductive justice remains as rigid and as dangerous as ever. Which is why the timing of the American Civil Liberty Union’s lawsuit alleging gross medical negligence against the United States Congress of Catholic Bishops, filed just days after the pope released his “Evangelii Gaudium,” felt significant. The suit was a necessary reminder that a church doctrine that refuses to respect women’s bodily autonomy and the medical judgment of doctors — no matter how progressive its economic agenda — is still a dangerous thing. (Related: Economic justice and reproductive justice are not distinct agendas, but I digress.)
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Tamesha Means, a 27-year-old mother of two who presented at the emergency room of a Catholic hospital in Michigan — the only hospital within 30 miles — after her water broke while she was 18 weeks pregnant. According to the suit, Means’ fetus had virtually no chance of survival, but the hospital did not tell her this information, nor did it tell her that the safest treatment option would be to induce labor in order to terminate the doomed pregnancy.
Last spring, my half-sister Michele called me concerned about her 21-year-old daughter’s mental health, as she’d had several bouts of depression and it appeared another one was coming on. This time, Michele was eager to get in touch with her daughter’s therapist before their next meeting. She had some new—and potentially treatment-altering—information.
“Her tests came back,” Michele told me. “Turns out she’s got a MTHFR-gene mutation. We’re waiting to find out which kind.” This was not a conversation anyone would have had 10 years ago, and it’s not one that many are having now. But if personalized, gene-based medicine keeps expanding into the brain sciences, it might be.
Michele, who works as a medical researcher in Australia, may know more than the average parent about the potential of genetics in treating psychiatric conditions. She had read studies that a mutation in the MTHFR gene may increase the risk of psychiatric disorders. Depending on the variation of the mutation, it could also signify which medications are most useful—with some studies recommending folate supplements instead of, or in addition to, antidepressants.
I really commend Melinda Gates for taking on this challenge. Although I’d prefer she include abortion in her cause, I understand that with wide-spread contraception use the need for abortion should (in theory) be less. It is an important step.
With strong leadership and a commitment to community-based health services and family planning, Ethiopia has dramatically reduced child mortality and nearly doubled the prevalence of modern contraceptives in recent years.
Now, Ethiopia is on the leading edge of an innovative effort, using mobile phone technology, to ensure more women have access to voluntary family planning services and a broad range of contraceptive methods, close to where they live.
Going door to door in communities across Ethiopia, a cadre of local women data collectors will interview women about their reproductive health, including contraceptive preferences and use. The responses are entered into mobile phones, and after a day of interviewing the data is uploaded to a cloud-based computer system. The data is available for immediate analysis, and is useful for identifying patterns of contraceptive use, maintaining adequate supplies in health clinics, and monitoring family planning information and services to ensure they are voluntary and high quality and achieving the intended impact.
The effort is part of a broader program, known as PMA2020, that is using mobile technology to help 10 countries - eight in Africa and two in Asia - improve their family planning services. The Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health at Johns Hopkins University is leading the effort, with funding support from our foundation.
The Miami Herald recently reported on the “abortion crisis” in Haiti, a country with the highest rate of unintended pregnancies and maternal mortality in the Western Hemisphere. That mortality rate includes those who die from abortion complications, which the Haitian health ministry has roughly estimated at 20-30% of maternal deaths.
Those of us living in the U.S. are certainly no stranger to the fight for abortion rights. What with the recent battle in New Mexico, Indiana and now Michigan, abortion is so inaccessible for so many people that it seems as if the procedure has been made all but illegal. But during the #SecretLivesofFeministas twitter chat I was moved by FeministaCansada’s comment that, living in Brazil, she is envious of more developed countries where abortion is legal and safe. I too often take for granted the fact that when/if someone living in the U.S. is able to access a legal abortion, at least they are not risking their safety by undergoing the procedure.
Living in Brazil a couple of years ago, I remember being shocked when I realized that I no longer had that privilege-that if something went wrong, if a condom broke or I missed a pill, there would be no Planned Parenthood. Just parenthood.
In rapidly growing Texas, which is home to one in 11 children in the United States, child poverty has continued to increase despite an improving economy, according to a report released Tuesday.
There was a 47 percent increase in the rate of Texas children living in poverty from 2000 to 2011, according to the Kids Count report by the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank that advocates for low-income Texans. That was faster than the 18 percent growth rate in the child population in Texas during the same period.
Twenty-seven percent of Texas children were living in poverty in 2011, a rate that put the Lone Star State among the nine worst states.
Poverty is “almost a canary in the coal mine,” said Frances Deviney, Texas Kids Count director at the Center for Public Policy Priorities. “Poverty is not destiny, but it certainly puts kids off on the wrong foot.”
Lorinda Fox of New Albany, Ind., hasn’t been to a doctor since her last child was born 21 years ago. Poor and uninsured, she treats her illnesses with over-the-counter remedies.
At age 58, she knows she’s taking chances with her health, especially since she recently began having heart palpitations and chest pain.
“I’ll do the same thing I always do — gut it out,” said Fox, who lives with her hearing-impaired daughter and earns about $12,000 a year working in retail. “I don’t know what else I can do.”
If Fox lived in Kentucky, she would qualify for expanded Medicaid next year under the Affordable Care Act. But she lives in a state where she makes too much to qualify for traditional Medicaid, and politicians have chosen not to expand Medicaid as Obamacare intended, contending that Indiana taxpayers can’t afford it.
A reproductive health-care clinic that was recently forced to close due to stringent restrictions passed by the Texas legislature has once again opened its doors to clients after a doctor affiliated with the clinic obtained admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Whole Woman’s Health in Fort Worth, one of five Whole Woman’s Health (WWH) clinics in the state, announced Tuesday that it would reopen. This leaves the WWH clinic in McAllen as the only one of the five clinics to still be closed.
The Texas legislature passed several restrictions on reproductive health care this summer. After a 13-hour filibuster by current gubernatorial candidate Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth), the legislature reconvened later in the summer and passed HB 2, which created a slew of new restrictions on abortion care, including a mandate that doctors affiliated with clinics providing abortion services obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic.
A dispute between a Colorado cardiologist and the hospital he works for has highlighted a growing area of concern among patient advocates and civil libertarians: gag rules imposed on doctors and nurses by Catholic health-care providers.
In a complaint filed Wednesday, ACLU of Colorado accused Mercy Regional Medical Center in Durango, in the remote southwest corner of the state, of illegally telling doctors and other employees that they cannot discuss abortion with patients, even if a pregnancy threatens a woman’s life. The complaint was filed with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which oversees the state’s hospitals.
“Mercy Regional’s moral objection to abortion does not exempt the hospital from complying with [state and federal] laws,” the ACLU’s Sara Rich wrote to the health department, “and the hospital cannot invoke its religious status to jeopardize the health and lives of pregnant women seeking medical care.”
Trying to align lawmakers with the people they represent, Congress three years ago decided that when the new healthcare plan took effect, members would give up their platinum health benefits and enroll in the online marketplaces created for millions of other Americans.
In typical congressional fashion, however, things have not worked out exactly as advertised.
While many members of Congress are indeed signing up for health coverage through the District of Columbia exchange — which was designated as the provider for all members — their experiences have been significantly better than those of average consumers in several respects, including more generous benefits packages, VIP customer service from insurers and the same government-subsidized premiums they’ve always enjoyed.
It’s a far cry from the experience of millions of other Americans, who have been frustrated by a crash-prone federal website, policy cancellations and confusion over the new program.
Amy Hagstrom Miller fired 34 people in November. “It’s hard to look people in the eye and say they don’t have a job anymore, not because of anything they or we did incorrectly or because we weren’t caring for women in a fabulous way,” she says. “It’s illogical.” Miller, founder and chief executive officer of Whole Woman’s Health, based in Austin, had to stop or sharply curtail abortions at four of her six Texas clinics because a new state law requires doctors performing the procedure to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. To get an abortion, the mostly poor women who relied on Miller’s establishment in McAllen, on the state’s border with Mexico, will now have to drive 150 miles to Corpus Christi or to the local flea market, where illegal, do-it-yourself drugs start at $15 a pill.
At least a dozen clinics in Texas have closed their doors or stopped offering the procedure in the past month after a federal appeals court and the U.S. Supreme Court let the new statute take effect. The Texas law is emblematic of a shift in the tactics of abortion opponents: State-level laws targeting women and providers have become a more effective tool than the past noisy clinic blockades and violence against doctors. Since 2011, legislatures in 30 mostly Republican-controlled states have passed 203 abortion restrictions, about as many as in all of the prior decade. At least 73 clinics have closed or stopped performing abortions. New laws are responsible for roughly half of the closures, while declining demand, industry consolidation, and crackdowns on unfit providers have also contributed to the drop.