Are Conscience Clauses Ethical?

birth-control-pillsI know that the headline of this post sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s not. Arizona recently passed a law that allows health care workers and pharmacists to refuse women access to reproductive health care if they feel that it goes against their conscience. The state’s bill is no different than the federal guidelines that say the same thing. If a pharmacists feels that it is immoral to fill a prescription for birth control or emergency contraception, they can do so. And if a doctor feels that it’s immoral to prescribe birth control to a woman, they can do so. USA Today has a story of one doctor who did just that.

Faced with a request to give an unmarried female patient a prescription for birth control pills, Dr. Michele Phillips looked to her conscience for the answer.

“I’m not going to give any kind of medication I see as harmful,” said Phillips of San Antonio. The drugs would not protect her patient from “emotional trauma from multiple partners,” Phillips reasoned, or sexually transmitted diseases. “I could not ethically give that type of medication to a single woman.”

Which brings me back to my question: are conscience clauses ethical? I don’t think they are. If I go to a pharmacy to fill a prescription, the pharmacist should fill the prescription – that’s their job. If I ask for an over the counter medicine like Plan B, they should give it to me – no questions asked. If I, Goddess forbid, were to get raped and wind up in an emergency room, they sure as hell better give me emergency contraception if I ask for it. It’s not the business of doctors, nurses, or pharmacists to impose a sense of morality on the world. If that’s what they want to do for a job, they should have gone into the ministry instead of the health care industry. [Read more...]

Restrictive Abortion Laws: Parallels Between Arizona and Oklahoma

bill-from-capitol-hillWe recently broke the bad news about a new abortion law in Oklahoma that requires information about women who obtain abortions to be published on a public website. One aspect of the law that has received less attention, however, is that the new bill changes the definition of pregnancy. According to HB 1595:

“Unborn child” means the unborn offspring of human beings from the moment of conception, through pregnancy, and until live birth including the human conceptus, zygote, morula, blastocyst, embryo and fetus; . . .

“Conception” means the fertilization of the ovum of a female individual by the sperm of a male individual;

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, pregnancy does not actually occur until a fertilized egg has been implanted in the uterus. Two-thirds of eggs are never actually implanted into the uterus, and many birth control methods, such as an IUD or Emergency Contraception, prevent implantation. Although the bill states that “nothing contained herein shall be construed in any manner to include any birth control device or medication or sterilization procedure,” the bill effectively does prohibit IUDs and Emergency Contraception by defining abortion as “the use or prescription of any instrument, medicine, drug, or any other substance or device intentionally to terminate the pregnancy of a female” when pregnancy is defined from the moment of conception. [Read more...]

What is the Abortion Pill?

ru-486There is a lot of misconceptions about mifepristone, also known as RU-486 or the abortion pill. Many on the anti-choice side say that mifepristone is the same as emergency contraception, which is also known as Plan B, but they are not the same thing.

Mifepristone is a steroid that is used to induce abortion. It was first approved in France in 1980, however the FDA did not approve mifepristone until September 28, 2000. Mifepristone can be used to induce abortion up to 49 days after the beginning of the last menstrual period. The drug must be administered by a physician, and it is not available in a pharmacy.

Emergency contraception, or Plan B, is different. It is taken by women who are not pregnant who want to prevent pregnancy. It must be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. It has no effect on an already established pregnancy. Emergency contraception is available over the counter for women who are over 17 years old.

For more info, click over to Planned Parenthood’s website.

Will Generic Plan B Actually Increase Access?

plan b emergency contraceptionThis summer the FDA approved the generic version of Plan B, the emergency contraception pill, and ruled that the pill should be available to women 17 and older over the counter. A recent article in Ms. Magazine praised the decision, stating that the generic form of Plab B, called Next Choice, will go a long way towards reducing the price of the drug and making it more accessible for women.

That may be true, but other barriers to access may remain. Although Next Choice has been approved for over the counter distribution, it will still remain behind the pharmacy counter, and women will have to ask a pharmacist to retrieve it for them. Many states, such as Arizona, have laws that allow pharmacists to refuse to distribute emergency contraception if they have a moral objection to it. If women still have to approach the pharmacy counter to obtain emergency contraception, I’m not sure that a generic form of the drug will get around this hurdle.

The Obama administration has overturned a Bush administration directive that allowed doctors to refuse to prescribe birth control and pharmacists the right to refuse to fill the prescriptions. Under federal guidelines, individual pharmacists may opt out of filling the prescription, but by law someone else on the premises must be able to fill the prescription. However, it is still unclear if this applies to all facilities, or merely clinics and pharmacies that receive federal funding.

Anyway, only time will tell if the new form of emergency contraception will actually increase the availability for women.

Montana AG Approves Language of Personhood Bill

montanaThe Montana Attorney General has approved the language of a proposed constitutional amendment that would define a fetus as a “person” from the moment of conception. Two groups, Montana Pro Life Coalition and Personhood USA, are organizing the petition drive to get enough signatures for the personhood amendment to make its way to the ballot. They’re need 44,000 signatures to make that happen.

Whether or not the proposed amendment makes it onto the 2010 Montana ballot, one thing is clear – defining a fetus as a person with constitutional rights would radically challenge that standing medical wisdom, and it would affect all pregnancies. Check out this video for the specifics. But consider this – the medical community currently defines pregnancy as occurring at the time of implantation. A fertilized egg must actually be in the uterus in order for a woman to be pregnant. Drugs that prevent implantation, such as emergency contraception (aka
“Plan B”) could be deemed illegal the definition of pregnancy is defined from the moment of conception.

The other thing to keep in mind is that these personhood statutes are a huge cash cow for the anti-choice movement. According to a story on Air America:

In just five short years, the primary movers and shakers in the absolutist anti-abortion/anti-choice movement seeking to promote the “personhood” of zygotes (the single cell that forms after a sperm fertilizes an egg) have amassed nearly $58 million in tax-deductible contributions for their cause.

That money is spent on lucrative salaries for the CEO’s of anti-choice groups. [Read more...]

New Study Will Look at Effects of Emergency Contraception

plan b emergency contraceptionDr. Heather Prescott, a Professor of History at Central Connecticut State University, is working on a book about the history of emergency contraception (aka “ec,” or “plan B”). Dr. Prescott’s book will describe the history of emergency contraception from the 1960s until the present and place this story within the larger context of women’s health activism in the second half of the twentieth century.

A major focus of the book will be the role women patients played in the dissemination of this technology. This project will show women not only as test subjects for this new method of birth control but also as active health care consumers. By providing a historical account of the development of emergency contraception, this study will help illuminate recent debates regarding over-the-counter status for this drug in the United States. It will also provide a model for how to move beyond the venture capital model that drives much of the research and development of new pharmaceuticals in the United States.

Dr. Prescott needs your help. If you have used emergency contraception, please take some time to complete Dr. Prescott’s survey. She is particularly interested in hearing from women who utilized emergency contraception in the 1960′s, 1970′s, and 1980′s, since most of her respondents have experienced emergency contraception in the past two decades. However, all women are encouraged to participate. The survey will not collect any personally identifying information, like your name or IP address.

For more information, please e-mail Dr. Prescott directly.

Monday News Roundup

mouse_click_270x270First of all, my apologies for the brevity of content today. I woke up yesterday to a dead laptop. My cat managed to spill a glass of water on top of the computer. And I think the rest of the story is self explanatory. Hopefully the nice geeks at the Genius Bar will give me a new laptop and get me back in business within a day. I think a low-cut shirt should help my cause. Thank goodness for extended warranties and external hard drives.

Here’s your Monday click list. Happy reading!

Canadian Government Won’t Appeal Abortion Ruling – Times & Transcript
Canadian Abortion Clinics Exempted From New Law Regulating Surgical Centers – Montreal Gazette
Emergency Contraception: Have We Come Full Circle? – RH Reality Check
Abortion Myths v. Reality in the Health Care Debate – PPAZ Community Action Blog
Did You Know Justice Ginsburg Started the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project in 1972? – ACLU
Saving the World’s Women – New York Times
Hillary’s Response to the War on Women – Department of Homegirl Security
Can I be Sexually Active with HPV? – Feministing

Arizona Governor Approves Abortion Restrictions

On Monday, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer approved two pieces of legislation that will significantly restrict access to abortion in the state. The first bill imposes a 24-hour waiting period before women can obtain an abortion. It also requires abortion providers to read a script during a mandatory counseling session that tells women about so-called health risks related to abortion, alternatives to abortion. The bill also allows pharmacists to refuse to fill birth control or emergency contraception prescriptions.

The second bill tightens the already existing parental consent laws and requires a minor to have the consent of both parents before she can obtain an abortion. Bryan Howard of Planned Parenthood Arizona had this to say:

Despite energetic statements to the contrary, House Bill 2564 / Senate Bill 1206 will pose dire consequences for thousands of Arizona women . . . [A]bortion care will only remain in three of ten Arizona communities creating an undue burden on rural and poor women who need access to care. It will also increase expenses and medical risks as a result of delays caused by a mandated 24-hour waiting period. Likewise, these requirements are especially burdensome to women who may not be able to take extra days off from work, travel long distances, or find appropriate childcare while they are away from home. A woman coming from Yuma County would spend an average $523.08 in additional costs since services will not be available in her community. [Read more...]

FDA Approves Generic Plan B Contraception

imagesFinally – a good piece of pro-choice news to report. Today the FDA approved a generic, prescription-only version of Plan B Emergency Contraceptive for women ages 17 and under.

Emergency Contraception is also known as “the morning after pill.” It is not an abortifacient, and it does not terminate an existing pregnancy. However, Plan B can help prevent pregnancy up to 72 hours after sexual intercourse. You can read more about it on the Planned Parenthood website.