Blog Carnival LogoOf course the US Department of Health and Human Services should classify birth control-whatever the method or methods-as an essential preventive service for which health plans cannot charge copays. Of course.

Participation in today's "Birth Control: We've Got You Covered" blog carnival is a no-brainer for a prolife group like All Our Lives. Access to the contraceptive supplies and services of one's own choosing is essential to the voluntary, effective prevention of unintended pregnancies and abortions.

In other words, contraception is prolife. Pro the lives of women-and men-who choose to delay conception or forego it altogether. Pro the lives of children, who have the best chance at a good life if they are conceived by parents who are prepared to bear and support and love them.

Our organization calls itself prolife because we believe-on grounds open to people of all religions and no religion- that everyone, unborn or already-born, has a right to live, and live as well as possible, with all necessary supports from every level of human society. For real. That includes a thoroughgoing commitment of public policies and resources to make voluntary family planning as widely accessible and affordable as possible.

A word like "prolife" should mean what it says. All Our Lives will soon launch our "Contraception Is Prolife" educational campaign, starting with a downloadable slide presentation that explains in more detail just what we mean when we say this. We welcome your visit and participation here, and hope you will return to learn more about our "Contraception Is Prolife" effort. We have already challenged misinformation about Plan B that a Family Research Council staffer gave on National Public Radio. Please sign up for our email updates, subscribe to our Twitter feed, or join our Facebook group.

Blog Carnival LogoPeople who are opposed to contraception, or who simply think it isn’t that important often object, “How can there possibly not be enough birth control? Condoms are cheap and easy to get. And anyway, lack of access to birth control isn’t the problem—look at all the women who have abortions who were using birth control.”

While on the surface it may seem that women in the U.S. have adequate access to contraception—99% of women who have had sex have used birth control on at least some occasions—the bare statistics obscure some underlying access issues. For one thing, not all methods work equally well for all women’s situations. A woman who can afford condoms but would be better served by the pill or an IUD has an access problem if she can’t afford to go to the doctor to get those methods prescribed for her.

Let’s look more closely at those figures from women who have had abortions. It is true that 54% of women who have abortions used some form of birth control during the month when they conceived. Of course, that doesn’t mean that they remembered to use it every time, or used it correctly. Proper counseling—one of the services recommended by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to be covered without copays under the Affordable Care Act—could help with that. But inconsistent use can also be due to an access problem. For instance, a staggering 76% of women who used the pill report using it inconsistently. Many of them could be having trouble getting their pills on time every month. Most women can only get one to three months’ worth of contraception prescriptions at a time; one study showed that allowing low-income women to get twelve months’ worth of pills at a time decreased the odds of unintended pregnancy by 30%, and the odds of an abortion by 46%. Alternatively, some women may need a method that doesn’t have to be remembered every day, such as an IUD—but those can have a large up-front cost. Reproductive coercion is another factor that can cause women to use contraception inconsistently. Though it isn’t strictly an access issue, family planning clinics and other health care providers have a role to play in helping women recognize and prevent reproductive coercion. Reproductive coercion often accompanies partner violence, and screening for such violence is also recommended by the IOM. Finally, some of the women who report using contraception were actually using ineffective methods such as withdrawal. They could benefit from counseling and access to more effective methods.

If 54% of women who have abortions were using contraception during the month when they conceived, that means 46% weren’t. Twelve percent of these women directly cited barriers to access as a reason for contraceptive nonuse. Another 10% reported that their partners didn’t want to use contraception; again, this could be reproductive coercion at work. Others didn’t know they were at risk for unintended pregnancy; counseling could certainly help there. Still others cited concerns about side effects or bad experiences with contraception in the past. Many of these women could benefit from assistance to help them find and afford a method that works well with their particular bodies.

Access is a complicated issue; it’s not simply a matter of whether a woman can afford a packet of pills every month or whether the pharmacy down the block sells condoms. There is still plenty of room for improvement in the way we make contraception information and methods available to women. If the Department of Health and Human Services accepts the IOM’s recommendations, more women will get the help they need to avoid unintended pregnancy and abortion.

The Institute of Medicine has issued its recommendations for a range of preventive health services that it says should be covered for all U.S. women without a co-pay under the Affordable Care Act. Several of these recommendations improve not only women's health, but that of their children as well.

The eight recommendations include:

  • screening for gestational diabetes
  • HPV testing as part of cervical cancer screening for women over 30
  • counseling on sexually transmitted infections
  • counseling and screening for HIV
  • contraceptive methods and counseling to prevent unintended pregnancies
  • lactation counseling and equipment to promote breast-feeding
  • screening and counseling to detect and prevent interpersonal and domestic violence
  • yearly well-woman preventive care visits to obtain recommended preventive services

The recommendations will now go to the Department of Health and Human Services, which is scheduled to issue the final rule for insurers in August.

The report will be discussed Wednesday, July 20, at a public briefing beginning at 10 a.m. EDT at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. A live audio webcast of the briefing will be available at www.nationalacademies.org if you would like to listen.

All Our Lives has joined over 200 other organizations in endorsing this call for 3.5 million more health workers, especially in the Two Thirds World. This figure includes 350,000 more midwives and 1 million community health workers, who can help with providing certain reproductive health services, such as sex education and some family planning methods. No human being should ever have to die-or live less abundantly than he or she could-for lack of enough health workers.

Jill Stanek has a post up in response to this Salon article by a woman who had an abortion that doctors believed was necessary to save her life.

What disturbs me the most are the comments on Stanek's post. Why is the immediate response to this story “Let’s see how we can pick it apart, discredit it, and cast the woman telling it as dishonest”? Why not, at the very least, “I’m terribly sorry that she lost her child and had such a traumatic health crisis,” or “The health professionals at that hospital treated her terribly”? Why not assume, at the very least for the sake of argument, that the story is true, and ask how we can ensure that pregnant women can get proper medical treatment that also respects the lives of their children? If we believe that it’s really possible to do both, then we should be able to handle listening to this story and figuring out what needs to change for women like Ms. Kendall to get better care.

I just don’t understand why a woman who lost a child and nearly died has to be cast as an enemy.

I received the following action alert from the Consistent Life email newsletter today:

Subscriber Mary Grace sends in this note from the United Farm Workers union: “Cesar Chavez said farm workers are society’s canaries because they show the effects of pesticide poisoning before anyone else. The State of California has recently certified a highly dangerous pesticide, methyl iodide, for use on fruits and vegetables, including the state’s $1.6 billion strawberry industry. Strawberries may very well become the new poster child for plaguing farm workers with cancer and late-term miscarriages.” We have here another case where poverty is lethal because the very lives of unborn children in immediate danger aren’t taken seriously by those running large corporations. UFW has an online petition against this.

The UFW has a petition you can sign to tell the EPA not to approve methyl iodide. The comment period ends today, so please act quickly!

In 2008 alone, something prevented an estimated 112.3 million abortions and 21.9 million miscarriages, and saved the lives of 1.17 million newborns and 230,000 mothers globally.

What is it?

Surely, one would imagine, it's something that groups who call themselves prolife would be all over themselves to promote.

One would imagine, unfortunately.

Because that something is: modern, voluntary contraception.

And most anti abortion groups are all over themselves to actively undermine it, or to profess "neutrality" on the subject.

When really, how can anyone be "neutral" about anything that spares women and babies so much misery and death?

Don't believe those statistics? They are here for all the world to see.

I've gone a few rounds on Twitter with a pro-life Catholic man who likes to post anti-feminist, anti-contraception links to #fem2 (for those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, that's a hashtag for posts related to feminism) and #sexed. After reading one too many "Contraception isn't the answer; keeping sex inside marriage is the answer" tweets, I finally broke down and asked, "So, you have nothing to say to the 95% of people who have sex before marriage except, 'Follow my religion's rules.'?" He replied that his religion's rules were the best for everyone, and that he wasn't going to stop promoting them. I asked again, "What happens to that 95% of people? You don't want them to have contraception, so what happens?"

He never replied. I don't think he has an answer. At least if he does, I've never seen it.

I could ask the same question of so many anti-abortion politicians. So you refuse to provide public funding for contraception, because your base opposes it due to religious objections or anxiety about sex in our culture or whatever the case may be. What's next? Do you believe that people will simply stop having sex if they can't afford to get birth control on a regular basis? What's your evidence for that? What will happen if they don't? What effect will that have on the abortion rate?

So you defund Planned Parenthood. What's next? Where's the plan to ensure that women get the life-enhancing services they need — services like contraception, STD screening, and Pap smears? How do you intend to ensure that the clinics that still receive funds are able to take in all the new clients, and that clients are able to get to them? Don't get me wrong; it could probably be done with enough funding and political will, but are you doing it? What's next?

So you defund prenatal care for undocumented immigrants — over the objections of pro-life advocates, no less. What's next? What happens to babies when their mothers can't get prenatal care? Some of them die due to illness or prematurity. Others die of abortion.

We always have to ask, "What's next?" Passing a bill may feel good and earn points on an interest-group scorecard. But if what happens next is that your policies make people's actual lives harder and more painful, and you don't have any plan to do anything about it, what's righteous about that?

This Alternet article highlights an important report from the Southern Poverty Law Center on the exploitation of immigrant women in the U.S. food industry. Of particular interest to reproductive peace activists is Section 3, entitled "Sexual Violence: A Constant Menace." The SPLC found that:

  • In a recent study of 150 women of Mexican descent working in the fields in California’s Central Valley, 80% said they had experienced sexual harassment. That compares to roughly half of all women in the U.S. workforce who say they have experienced at least one incident.
  • While investigating the sexual harassment of California farmworker women in the mid-1990s, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that “hundreds, if not thousands, of women had to have sex with supervisors to get or keep jobs and/or put up with a constant barrage of grabbing and touching and propositions for sex by supervisors.”
  •  A 1989 article in Florida indicates that sexual harassment against farmworker women was so pervasive that women referred to the fields as the “green motel.” Similarly, the EEOC reports that women in California refer to the fields as “fil de calzon,” or the fields of panties, because sexual harassment is so widespread.
  •  Due to the many obstacles that confront farmworker women — including fear, shame, lack of information about their rights, lack of available resources to help them, poverty, cultural and/or social pressures, language access and, for some, their status as undocumented immigrants — few farmworker women ever come forward to seek justice for the sexual harassment and assault that they have suffered.
  •  In interviews for this report, virtually all women reported that sexual violence in the workplace is a serious problem.

Poverty and undocumented status leave these women vulnerable to sexual abuse that they can neither refuse nor report without facing harsh reprisals.

The report also found that farmworkers are exposed to such high doses of pesticides that their health — and, if they are preganant, the health of their unborn children — is at serious risk. Within a seven-week period in late 2004, three children with severe birth defects were born to women who worked in the tomato fields of a single grower.

What can you do? The Alternet article recommends several steps that individuals can take:

But as both Alternet and the SPLC point out, individual actions aren't going to be enough. We need public policy that protects workers from abuse regardless of their immigration status. SPLC has specific recommendations, including bill numbers in some cases. If you live in the United States, please help stop the abuse of the women who help supply your food.

  • A new report by the World Health Organization estimates that the maternal mortality rate dropped by one-third worldwide between 1990 and 2008. Although it's hard to quantify the exact reasons, there are a number of factors that likely helped bring about the decrease: the report specifically cites improvement in health systems, improved education for females, more births being attended by skilled health-care personnel, more women receiving prenatal care, and an increase in availability and use of contraception. Though this is a significant and welcome development, there is still a long way to go. An estimated 358,000 women died of pregnancy-related causes in 2008, 87% of them in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. A 15-year-old girl in sub-Saharan Africa has a 1 in 31 chance of eventually dying from a maternal cause.
  • Only two-thirds of U.S. teens receive sex education that includes information on birth control, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control.  About 97% of teens interviewed for the National Survey of Family Growth said they received formal sex education by age 18. Formal sex education was defined as instruction at a school, church, community center or other setting that dealt with saying no to sex, prevention of sexually transmitted infections, or birth control.  Of all of the teens interviewed, 62% of boys and 70% of girls had received instruction about methods of contraception. Teens were even less likely to talk to their parents about birth control: 31% of boys and 51% of girls reported talking to their parents about methods of contraception, and only 20% of boys and 38% of girls talked to their parents about how to obtain it.
  • Last week, I was interviewed for the Point of Inquiry podcast about atheist opposition to abortion. The interview should be posted online today. I'm very grateful to Bob Price and the Center for Inquiry for the opportunity to discuss a viewpoint  that is not often heard in either anti-abortion or skeptical circles — the secular, pro-balance, pro-reproductive-peace position.