Monday, July 30, 2012

A Big Old Can of Worms

By Amy Phillips Bursch, Media Relations Manager

In all the excitement of the Olympics (USA! USA!) you might have missed this bit of news on Friday: A judge in Colorado issued a preliminary injunction so that a Catholic-owned business can ignore the requirement that it provide contraception coverage for its employers, at least for now. Remember: That coverage will soon be mandated under “Obamacare.”

The owners of the business, Hercules Industries, say that providing their employees birth control violates their religious beliefs. The majority of Catholics think that employers SHOULD cover birth control, but apparently that’s not germane to the conversation.

Religious exemptions open up a huge can of worms -- and they won't be tasty worms like these bad boys. (Nomadic Lass/Flickr)
So where do we draw the line? It seems to me that if the courts ruled in favor of this employer, it would open a big old value-sized can of worms. If we’re going to allow for religious exemptions, it seems like these court fights might be next:
  • A Christian employer refuses to cover misoprostol, a drug used to prevent ulcers in people who take certain other medications, such as aspirin. What’s wrong with that? Misoprostol is also used in combination with mifepristone to end an early pregnancy. ABORTIFACIENT!
  • A Christian employer refuses to cover chemotherapy for an employee with cancer. Why? Because the employee happens to be pregnant. Think that sounds far-fetched? It’s not.
  • A Christian employer refuses to cover these medications because they can lower sperm counts and affect male fertility (and therefore go against God’s whole “Be fruitful and multiply” thingy.)
  • A Christian employer refuses to cover all FDA Category X medications when used by women because they might cause birth defects (and subsequent abortions.)
  • A Jehovah’s Witness employer refuses to cover a blood transfusion for their church janitor who got in a motorcycle wreck (and happens to be a Methodist.)
  • An orthodox Jewish or Muslim employer refuses to cover a tissue transplant because the tissue came from a pig.
  • A Scientologist employer refuses to cover psychiatric medications or visits.
  • A member of the Church of Jenny McCarthy refuses to cover any vaccinations. (OK, that’s not a real church, but you get my point.)
Making all of these exceptions sounds like a great way to continue to have a health care system that looks like Swiss cheese. It’s also extremely unfair to women, since most of the “religious” outcry relates to care only women need. How soon before employers decide that there are too many ethical potholes if they hire people with a uterus, so they hire only men?

Universal coverage of family planning isn’t just good for women – it’s good for families, communities, nations, and our planet. It’s too bad some employers seem to be blinded by their beliefs.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Lies and the Lying Doctors

Amy Phillips Bursch, Media Relations Manager

Let me tell you about South Dakota, where I lived from age 2 to 33. It’s a lovely state with lovely people. I had a reasonably idyllic childhood and received a good education. If I were interested in raising a family, it wouldn’t be a bad place to do it. No matter where I go, my heart will always be in Spearfish Canyon.

That goes for you, too, South Dakota Legislature. (Stormbear/Flickr)
The entire state of South Dakota has fewer people than the Las Vegas metropolitan area. It also has one – count it, one – clinic that provides abortions, a Planned Parenthood in Sioux Falls that has to fly doctors in from Minneapolis because nobody local will perform them.

This clinic is about seven hours by car away from cities on the other side of the state.

South Dakota also has one of the most virulently anti-choice legislatures this side of the Dominican Republic. Seriously. Every legislative session seems to be aimed at how lawmakers can shut down Planned Parenthood and turn the state into a mecca for blastocysts:

  • In 2011, lawmakers considered a measure that would have had the effect of making it legal to kill abortion doctors. Mercifully, the bill was defeated.
  • In 2011, lawmakers passed and Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed into law a bill that requires women to wait a longest-in-the-nation 72 hours before having an abortion. Women also must also receive mandatory counseling at a “crisis pregnancy center,” most of which are run by anti-choice religious organizations. That law is currently tied up in the courts.
  • In 2006, the South Dakota Legislature passed and Gov. Mike Rounds signed into law a bill banning abortion. South Dakotans responded – and defeated the abortion ban at the ballot box by 11 points. In 2008, anti-choice forces AGAIN tried to ban abortion – this time through a vote of the people. Once again, the people responded, and the ban failed. Yay for common sense!

Bad news came yesterday in the form of a federal appeals court ruling that upheld a 2005 South Dakota law that REQUIRES doctors to tell women seeking abortions in South Dakota that if they go through with it, they face an increased risk of suicide. Even though it’s not true.

In short, the court ruled that doctors can be forced to lie to their patients in South Dakota. This is in America, folks.

The 2005 law also requires that doctors tell women that “the abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being” and that they have a constitutionally protected “existing relationship with that unborn human being,” whatever that means.

So here’s a reminder as we fight for women around the world to have access to contraception and safe abortion: Those same rights are increasingly under attack right here in the United States, and we need to make sure that we're fighting back.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Have Babies. For America. Or Something.

By Amy Phillips Bursch, Media Relations Manager

The Population Reference Bureau's 2012 World Population Data Sheet is out, and it doesn't hold many surprises. The world's population is still increasing rapidly -- there are nearly 7.1 billion of us. Most of the growth is happening in the world's poorest countries.

But a few of the statistics for the United States are liable to cause a freakout:
  • Between 2010 and 2011, the U.S. population grew by only .7%, down from a more-typical 1%.
  • The number of people under age 18 dropped by 190,000.
  • The number of older Americans grew by 917,000. In other words, the U.S. population is growing more slowly and aging more rapidly.
This is when right-wingers usually argue that American women need to have more babies. Right now. For Social Security and Medicare, among other reasons.

An example of this reasoning was contained in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed by Ben J. Wattenberg, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He writes:

“Never-born babies are the root cause of the ‘social deficit’ that plagues nations across the world and threatens to break the bank in many. When a very large cohort of population (a ‘baby boom’) is followed by a very small cohort (a ‘birth dearth’), there will be relatively few working-age people to underwrite the benefits of the many seniors who have paid into national retirement systems, such as Social Security and Medicare.”

So whom does Wattenberg blame for this “birth dearth”? Selfish, hedonistic American women, it seems:

“Women are pursuing education to an extent never seen before, and women with advanced education have fewer children than women with less schooling. …  As incomes go up—and they have gone way up over recent decades—fertility tends to decline, and this is especially true as more women enter the workforce. The additional family income is important. But pregnancies and child-rearing interfere with that, and so are sometimes viewed as unacceptable sacrifices to the good life.” 

What are you doing, lady? You're supposed to be having kids! (Ralph and Jenny/Foter)
So ladies: It appears that you're supposed to forgo an education and career in favor of staying home and pumping out babies in order to pay for Mr. Wattenberg's Social Security. Yeah. We'll get right on that.

We sent a letter to the editor in response to Wattenberg’s op-ed, but the Wall Street Journal didn’t publish it (shocker!) So here’s our take. Enjoy:


Ben J. Wattenberg’s solution (“What’s Really Behind the Entitlement Crisis,” July 12) to increase the American birth rate seems a bit like solving the problem of 100 mice in your home by investing in 100 cats. Sure, it might take care of the problem, but you’re looking at much bigger problems down the road.

First of all, children are not free. Society must ensure that they receive adequate nutrition, health care, and – if they are to grow up to read the Wall Street Journal – education. Adding millions more young Americans would require enormous investments in roads, bridges, water systems and schools – where will the money come from? And speaking of water, ask anyone in the West: They’re already running low.

Wattenberg also seems quite dismissive of the desires of young American women. How can it possibly be a bad thing that women are pursing higher education and careers and marrying later? As for contraception, what’s wrong with people who don’t want a child at the moment taking steps to prevent one? It seems that Wattenberg is criticizing people for taking responsibility.

The only way we can expect to meet future needs is through increased productivity – so that additional needed goods and services can be produced. It stands to reason that smaller families are in a better position to provide for each child. Investments in health and education are critical to greater productivity. The old adage about “building a better mousetrap” still applies. There really is no limit to what a healthy, well-educated person can do to make the world better.

John Seager
President, Population Connection

Monday, July 23, 2012

Beyond 7 Billion

If you have a spare hour (or two, or three) this week, you NEED to check out “Beyond 7 Billion,” an amazing project by Los Angeles Times reporter Kenneth R. Weiss and staff photographer Rick Loomis (both Pulitzer Prize winners, by the way.)

Honestly, there’s so much to read (and watch) here that I’m going to spend the next few nights geeking out on my laptop at home.  But here are just a few nuggets of information Weiss shares:

  • If birthrates aren’t reduced, we will have 11 billion mouths to feed by 2050. That’s like adding three more Chinas to our world population.
  • Africa alone is expected to add a billion more people by mid-century.
  • If poverty and migration remain steady, by mid-century, 1 in 3 people will live in a slum. Currently, 1 in 8 do.
  • U.S. funding for international family planning programs has been flat for 20 years. Family planning aid to poor countries from all sources has actually been DROPPING since 1999.

Educating women and girls is an important step toward slowing down population growth. (McKay Savage/Foter)
So what can we do to reduce pressure on the planet and give everyone the best possible chance at a good quality of life? Educate women. Let girls be girls, not brides. And make sure every family who wants to delay, limit, end or avoid childbearing has safe and effective means to do so.

Read the stories, view the photos, watch the videos and check out the interactive graphics. But if you want to continue to have any hope in humanity, you might want to avoid reading the comments. Here’s an unedited sample:

  • “I really find it hard to believe that you are all falling for this same old ‘scare’ scam for the 3rd time in my lifetime !!!  The earth is not in jeapardy whatsoever!” (Oh really?)
  • “Abortionis killing babies, thr word fetus mean baby in Latin.” (The “pro-life” contingent makes its requisite appearance.)
  • The catholic church is not advocating the tremendous waste of energy that is threatening mother earth - that's the secular folks doing that. ("Secular folks" advocate energy waste? Huh? And by the way, more people = more energy used.)
  • “This is not America’s problem.” (Just wait until millions are starving, energy is scarce, water is scarcer, and conflict breaks out widely. It very much will be America’s -- and everyone's -- problem.)

And this, in part, is why it’s so darn hard to take any action to help people -- and our planet, too.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Better Get Out Your Aspirin, Gals

The House released a health spending plan yesterday that arguably might be the least healthy for women ever!  Way to go, boys! (Sarcastic clap.)

Funny, they forgot to mention "for contraception."
Here’s a rundown (If I can quit rolling my eyes long enough to type):

  • Eliminates Title X. The bill would scrap Title X. Title X is that radical family planning program begun by that most radical of presidents – Republican Richard Nixon. It provides contraception and preventive health services to mostly low-income Americans through community-based clinics. The horror! In all seriousness, every dollar invested in Title X saves almost $4 in government spending (mostly Medicaid) the next year, so if you’re looking to save money, scrapping Title X is a really moronic way to do it.
  • Attacks Planned Parenthood. AGAIN. The bill would disqualify Planned Parenthood from receiving any federal funding whatsoever. So all you women who rely on Planned Parenthood for cervical cancer screenings? Well, there’s always other Title X clinics. OH, WAIT.
  • No Funds to Implement “Obamacare.” Are you looking forward to no-cost reproductive health services under the Affordable Care Act? Me too! Well, that won’t happen in the House gets its way. NO PILLS FOR YOU!
  • But Boy, Do They Love Their Abstinence Education! The bill would cut funding for comprehensive sex ed – you know, the kind that actually works – and shift the money to “abstinence-only” programs. In other words, just hold aspirin between your knees, gals.
  • Puts Your Boss Between You and Your Doctor. Gross, right? The bill also would allow ANY health plan or employer to refuse ANY coverage for ANY reason. In other words, if you work at Bob’s Delicatessen, and Bob opposes birth control (or mammograms, or Pap tests), you’d better stock up on aspirin.
Speaking of aspirin, could you hand me the bottle? I feel a headache coming on. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Family Planning Needed Here, Too!

By Amy Phillips Bursch, Media Relations Manager

I have a confession to make: I’m a bit of a Grist fangirl. I really like their straightforward take on important environmental issues of our time.

Children are our future. Let's leave them a nice planet. (JD Hancock/Flickr)
I was especially happy to see Grist weigh in on contraception in the wake of last week’s London Summit on Family Planning. Their take: It’s not just developing countries that lack birth control access:  

If so many young women … are getting pregnant accidentally, then we as a country are doing something really wrong — doing lots of things wrong, actually. Sex ed in our schools is too often crappy or nonexistent. Reliable birth control can be hard to get ahold of and afford. Our whole culture is at once saturated with sex and at the same time afraid of having of having honest conversations about it. Add all that up and the result is that almost half of the nation’s 6 million-plus pregnancies each year are unintended.

Imagine if it became normal for young women in America, when they become sexually active, to start using a long-acting form a contraception — an IUD (they’re making a comeback!) or a patch or a ring or a shot, something you don’t have to think about every day — until/unless they decide they want to have kids. (Yes, they should still use condoms too.) Obama’s healthcare act will help make this more achievable; starting this August, most insurance plans will be required to cover the full cost of birth control. But it’ll take more than changing the rules; we need to change the culture too.


Currently, there are 222 million women in developing countries who want to delay or end childbearing but who don’t have modern, appropriate contraception. It’s a HUGE problem – for the women, their families, their nations, and the planet. But this Grist post makes an important point – women right here, in our own communities and neighborhoods, also lack access to contraception. That access is crucial if women are able to choose their own futures.

(That’s one of the reasons that I, personally, was so happy about Obama Administration’s rule on contraception, but that’s a post for another time.)

One issue Grist didn’t mention: Those millions of (unintended) American kids also have a big impact on our environment. Americans produce more trash per person than anyone else on Earth. We also use more energy per person than anyone else. We’re No. 1! We’re No. 1!

P.S. No, I don’t hate children. I have seven nieces and nephews under age 6 whom I adore. I just want the best possible life for all kids for generations to come, and that won’t happen if we run out of resources first.