Wednesday, November 30, 2011

New Jersey Nurses Refuse to Treat Abortion Patients

A recent lawsuit in New Jersey could greatly affect the way abortion services are performed in hospitals across the country. In late October, twelve nurses filed a suit claiming that the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey violated state and federal law with their announcement that nurses would have to help abortion patients before and after the procedure. This announcement, which came in mid-September, reversed the institution’s previous policy that nurses could refuse to assist these patients based on their moral or religious objections.

New Jersey is far from the only state that allows medical employees to opt out of performing or assisting in abortion procedures. These so-called “conscience” protections were greatly strengthened towards the end of George W. Bush’s presidency; a regulation enacted shortly before he left office would have withheld federal funding from hospitals, clinics, and even state and local governments that did not allow health care employees to refuse to participate in any procedure violated their religious, moral, or personal beliefs. This regulation was widely interpreted as protecting employees that refused to provide birth control pills, perform in-vitro fertilization for single women or lesbians, and refuse to treat gay AIDS patients, among other services. Earlier this year, President Obama rescinded most of the regulation – leaving only the protection for nurses or doctors that do not want to perform abortions or sterilizations.

It’s important to note that the New Jersey nurses are not being asked to assist with actual abortion procedures. Rather, they would need to assist in pre- and post-op care. As it stands now, the nurses are refusing to care for such patients even in emergency situations.

Which raises a very relevant question: what about the patient’s protection? Does a woman deserve to be refused care from a trained medical professional, simply because that person disagrees with her personal choice? I’d hate to think that anyone needing medical care could be discriminated against simply because one of the very people that is entrusted with that care has decided to pass their own judgment about who deserves treatment.

Yet with their lawsuit, that is exactly what these nurses are doing. The case will be heard next Monday, December 5.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

New Website and PSAs Focus on Birth Control

Coming in first is usually a good thing – except when, well, it’s not. Case in point: the U.S. has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the developed world. And older couples aren’t doing that much better: nearly half of all pregnancies in this country are unplanned.

The Ad Council and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy are teaming up to do something about that. They recently launched a three-year multimedia campaign that address the importance of birth control through a series of humorous PSAs and Bedsider, a new website that’s chock full of information and advice about birth control options.

Although the site is aimed at women ages 18-29, there’s a lot on it that is relevant for both men and women of all ages. I particularly enjoyed the “Fact or Fiction” section, which answers such questions as can guys buy emergency contraception (short answer: yes, if they’re 17 or older); and “Real Stories,” where men and women share their experiences with the female condom, the patch, and the IUD, among other birth control methods.

Also cool? Bedsider’s handy-dandy reminder function. Users can set up reminders for appointments or birth control that works on a schedule (i.e. the ring, pill, shot, or patch). Just enter the relevant information and create an account, and you’ll get a reminder via text or email. Other resources include an exhaustive list of questions and answers; a health clinic locator; and a way to find your closest source for emergency contraception.

Besides the wealth of information and the ads themselves, perhaps the most notable aspect of the campaign is its attitude. As Sarah Brown, CEO of the National Campaign, said in a press release, “Bedsider and the accompanying PSA campaign are trying to ‘rebrand’ contraception as a positive part of life that promotes self-determination, education and achievement ... [b]oth bring fun and a light touch to an area that is too often hush-hush, serious and boring.”

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Mississippi “Personhood” Amendment Strongly Defeated

Last night, voters in Mississippi rejected Initiative 26, or the “personhood” amendment. Although the proposal seemed to be enjoying widespread support in the state as recently as a week ago, poll results show that more than 55 percent of voters opposed the measure.

The idea of granting full rights at the moment of conception has been gaining strength in recent years. Colorado voters have rejected a similar proposal twice, and personhood supporters are working to introduce ballot initiatives and legislation in Montana, Ohio, Alabama, Michigan, Nevada, California, Wisconsin, Oregon, and Florida.

While both pro-choice groups and a number of media sites spoke out strongly against Initiative 26, outgoing Republican governor Haley Barbour may have played a significant, if inadvertent, role in defeating the measure. Although Barbour expressed support for 26, he also called it “ambiguous” and admitted that he had “some concerns about it.”

Medical groups in the state also raised concerns about the initiative, as did a number of religious groups. Even some mainstream anti-choice organizations spoke out against the proposal, considering it a distraction to their goal of overturning Roe.

No doubt both pro- and anti-choice groups will be examining the Mississippi vote, and the weeks leading up to it, to see what lessons they can learn for future battles. But the biggest lesson may have been summed up by Cristen Hemmins, one of the most visible opponents of the amendment. “Whether or not you believe life begins at conception, this amendment goes too far. … It is too ambiguous. It seems so obvious to me that it is far-reaching and it is going to be big government getting all up in my uterus.”

Monday, November 7, 2011

Guaranteeing Access, One Dollar at a time

Written for Feminists for Choice, but applicable here too...

When Serena proposed the idea of focusing on gratitude this month by honoring pro-choice advocates, I immediately knew who I’d choose: the people that make sure that women who need abortions have the money to do so.

Working in either local funds or the funding arms of major organizations is not an easy job. The need is overwhelming, and there’s never enough money to go around. The hours can be long – in the case of a lot of local funds, the work is literally 24/7 – and the stories can rip your heart out.

But this is such essential work, particularly in our current economic climate. Helping a woman raise $200 or $100 or even $50 doesn’t just mean that she can get an abortion. It means that no matter her situation, she can access the same services as any other woman. It means, as a case manager for theD.C. Abortion Fund told me years ago, that a woman’s rights shouldn’t depend on her wallet.

It’s hard to remember this when the phone never stops ringing and demand far outstrips supply. It’s hard to remember this when on the other end of the line is an exasperated woman that you’ve never met who isn’t even mad at you, she’s just dealing with one obstacle after another and has hit her breaking point. It’s hard to remember this when you’re also working other jobs because this paycheck doesn’t stretch far enough, or because it doesn’t even provide a paycheck to stretch.

So thank you, for doing this incredibly difficult and incredibly essential work. Thank you for ensuring that Roe is more than just words for so many women. Thank you for inspiring me, and so many others. But most of all, thank you for saving lives.

For more information on local funds, please visit the National Network of Abortion Funds’ website at