Thursday, February 26, 2009

Keeping Abortion Private

Check out this really great Newsweek article by Anna Quindlen, celebrating the benefits of the availability of RU-486, also known as "the abortion pill":
RU-486 flies in the face of anti-abortion orthodoxies, and not simply because some physicians who have never dreamed of performing a surgical abortion have no qualms about making the medication available. It counters the irresponsibility myth, which suggests that women who end pregnancies are thoughtless, feckless, and have not bothered with birth control or matrimony, despite the fact that many women who have abortions are married and were using contraception that failed. RU-486, which now accounts for 14 percent of all abortions nationwide, demands a high degree of responsibility. A woman has to ascertain early that she is pregnant and then take charge of the process herself, choosing to deal at home with the results. With every new political power shift the abortion issue arises again, with talk of a search for common ground and the future of Roe v. Wade. But change in party or philosophy cannot change this undeniable fact: women who do not want to be pregnant will try to end their pregnancies. They will do it because they don't have enough money, or enough support, or they think they are too young or too overwhelmed by circumstance. They always have, and they always will. Rat poison, Lysol, ergot, bleach—oh, the historical list of desperate measures is long. Over the years some have died, leaving motherless children behind.
Medication abortion is not the best option for every woman seeking an abortion. Many women prefer the faster process of a surgical abortion, and though quite small, medication abortion does carry its own risks. But for those women who have early abortions, who prefer to have their abortions in the privacy of their own homes, and who may otherwise not have access to abortion services, medication abortion is indeed an option definitely worth having. And just like every woman should have a right to access abortion when she needs one, every woman should also have the right to choose the abortion method that is safest and most comfortable for her own circumstances.

Read the full Newsweek article here.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

North Dakota House Passes Bill Giving Rights to Fertilized Eggs

Yesterday, a bill in North Dakota that would give the rights of personhood to fertilized eggs passed the legislative House.
A measure approved by the North Dakota House gives a fertilized human egg the legal rights of a human being, a step that would essentially ban abortion in the state.

The bill is a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that extended abortion rights nationwide, supporters of the legislation said.

Representatives voted 51-41 to approve the measure Tuesday. It now moves to the North Dakota Senate for its review.

The bill declares that "any organism with the genome of homo sapiens" is a person protected by rights granted by the North Dakota Constitution and state laws.

As the bill's sponsor Dan Ruby notes in this article, the bill is indeed a direct challenge to Roe vs. Wade. The goal is to outlaw abortion not only in North Dakota, but also to overturn a Supreme Court decision and render the procedure illegal in many states across the nation.

The bill would also quite arguably outlaw many types of birth control as well as abortion. This is because some types of birth control are believed to potentially prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. Implantation in the uterus is the first moment from when we can know that a pregnancy has been established -- indeed, it is how "pregnancy" itself is defined. And so, there actually is no way of knowing when a fertilized egg has been created without implanting; and therefore no way of proving that birth control does not have this kind of effect. This presents a whole host of logistical problems, potential court battles and almost certain rollbacks in women's rights and bodily autonomy. The practice of IVF would also be at serious risk, as it requires creating embryos while knowing that there is a high risk of them not implanting, or even not being used in an attempt to establish a pregnancy.

For more on all of these issues, see this previous post on the very similar Human Life Amendment. In the meantime, we will have to wait to see how this issue plays out in the North Dakota Senate, and hope that in a time when so many more important issues are on the table and the government is already strapped for cash, they will do the right thing by their citizens -- especially the female ones.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

National Condom Week

This Saturday February 14 is Valentine's Day, the national day of love. And what better way to show love for your significant other -- and for yourself -- than playing it safe? That means using condoms every time you engage in sexual activity.

That's why February 14 also kicks off National Condom week.
National Condom Week is a national effort, sponsored by over 100 health and youth-focus agencies and organizations. It's primary purpose is to educate sexually active Americans about the signs and symptoms of sexually transmitted infections, the risks they pose if they are not detected and treated, and the best methods for prevention including proper use of condoms.
Other than total abstinence from all sexual activity besides masturbation, condoms are still the most effective way way to prevent STIs, including HIV/AIDS. They can be used for vaginal, anal and oral intercourse for people of all genders, can be easily turned into dental dams for oral sex performed on women, and should even be used with sex toys that are shared between partners. If you don't know how to properly use one, or just need a refresher course, learn now!

With a new Facebook application created by the City of New York, you can remind your friends to protect themselves, too. And don't forget that you can get free condoms by stopping in at any local Planned Parenthood clinic!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Rates of Teen Sex Are Lower Than Most Think

Parents everywhere will likely be relieved to hear this news. The idea of today's teenagers engaging in rampant, promiscuous and unprotected sex is just what many of us have been claiming all along . . . a myth.
The news is troubling, but it’s also misleading. While some young people are clearly engaging in risky sexual behavior, a vast majority are not. The reality is that in many ways, today’s teenagers are more conservative about sex than previous generations.

Today, fewer than half of all high school students have had sex: 47.8 percent as of 2007, according to the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, down from 54.1 percent in 1991.

A less recent report suggests that teenagers are also waiting longer to have sex than they did in the past. A 2002 report from the Department of Health and Human Services found that 30 percent of 15- to 17-year-old girls had experienced sex, down from 38 percent in 1995. During the same period, the percentage of sexually experienced boys in that age group dropped to 31 percent from 43 percent.

The rates also went down among younger teenagers. In 1995, about 20 percent said they had had sex before age 15, but by 2002 those numbers had dropped to 13 percent of girls and 15 percent of boys.

[. . .]

As for that supposed epidemic of oral sex, especially among younger teenagers: national statistics on the behavior have only recently been collected, and they are not as alarming as some reports would have you believe. About 16 percent of teenagers say they have had oral sex but haven’t yet had intercourse. Researchers say children’s more relaxed attitude about oral sex probably reflects a similar change among adults since the 1950s. In addition, some teenagers may view oral sex as “safer,” since unplanned pregnancy is not an issue.
In other words, the fact that teenagers are seemingly somewhat more comfortable discussing sex than their parents were doesn't necessarily mean that they're engaging in risky behaviors. Of course, proponents of comprehensive sex education have been arguing the same thing -- that being open and honest about sex isn't the same as having more of it -- for many years!

It is, however, important to note that while promiscuity among teens is not a major problem, there are other sexual issues involving teens that need addressing. The fact that the teen birth rates have risen for the first time in 15 years, as well as the high rates of STD transmission, both need our immediate attention. And as the NY Times notes, if these trends are not due to increased rates of sexual activity, they're almost certainly due to a decrease in the use of condoms and other contraception. That's something important to chew on -- and to remember when abstinence-only supporters try to take credit for this study's findings.