Tag Archives: abortion

Health reporters can cover safety claims in abortion fight

Brenda Goodman

About Brenda Goodman

Brenda Goodman (@GoodmanBrenda), an Atlanta-based freelancer, is AHCJ’s topic leader on medical studies, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on medical study resources and tip sheets at brenda@healthjournalism.org.

The dramatic filibuster of Texas Senate Bill 5 has refocused the nation’s attention on abortion.

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and her staunchly planted pink sneakers – along with help from a raucous crowd of spectators – delayed a vote on SB5 until three minutes past midnight on Wednesday, blocking its passage. It may be a short-lived victory for the Democrats, however.

Gov. Rick Perry quickly called another special session, starting today, to take up the bill again.

The bill and supporting documents – including the list of witnesses that testified for and against the legislation (AKA potential sources) – can be found here.

According to a report by the nonprofit Texas Tribune, there are two flashpoints in the proposed law.

The first is that it would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks gestation.  That provision is similar to a bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in June. The rationale for the legislation, which has been disputed by some doctors, is that fetuses older than 20 weeks can feel pain.

The second is this:

On and after September 1, 2014, the minimum standards for an abortion facility must be equivalent to the minimum standards adopted under Section 243.010 for ambulatory surgical centers.

Those minimum standards, which are set by the Texas Department of State Health Services, can be found here. Continue reading

Women’s health and the ACA: Look beyond contraception

Joanne Kenen

About Joanne Kenen

Joanne Kenen, (@JoanneKenen) the health editor at Politico, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health reform and curates related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on health reform resources and tip sheets at joanne@healthjournalism.org.

If you have been listening to the contraception debate in Washington (sort of hard to avoid, isn’t it?), you may be under the impression that preventive health for women equals contraception. Or contraception equals women’s preventive health. (We’re putting aside, for the purpose of this post, the debate about religion, conscience and the role of government).
Health Reform core topic

The Senate has defeated one bid to overturn the administration rule requiring employers to provide an insurance plan with first-dollar coverage of birth control, and it’s not clear what the House will do. But the issue is likely to percolate in Washington, state legislatures and the courts for some time to come.

The health reform law, and the regulations being developed to implement it, has a far more expansive definition of prevention and what it means for women’s health. Here are more details on the new regulations and a tutorial from Kaiser.edu. According to the new women’s preventive health rule, new health plans must cover, without cost-sharing, a lot more than the pill:

  • well-woman visits;
  • screening for gestational diabetes;
  • human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA testing for women 30 years and older;
  • sexually-transmitted infection counseling;
  • human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) screening and counseling;
  • FDA-approved contraception methods and contraceptive counseling;
  • breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling; and
  • domestic violence screening and counseling.

These requirements will go into effect in August (with another year allowed to finalize how the religious exemptions will work). Grandfathered plans won’t have to follow the new rule, while they maintain their “grandfather” status. Over time, many health plans will go through changes that will mean that they will no longer be “grandfathered.” Then they too will have to follow the new regulations.

Of course, more women will get these benefits, simply because more women will be insured. Approximately one in five women of reproductive age is currently uninsured. Most of them will get coverage, including preventive services, starting in 2014 whether through Medicaid, through subsidized coverage in the exchanges or by buying coverage. Right now, coverage of maternity benefits is spotty on the individual insurance market, but the plans in the health exchanges will cover it.

The law also requires many other preventive services – some free – for men, women and children. They have not gotten much attention in the polarized birth control debate.

The conversation (and press coverage) about the contraceptive rules have included lots of misinformation about abortion. Politicians who misstate policy don’t help, but reporters need to know what the law does and does not do.

The health law does not mandate abortion coverage and this preventive health rule does not change that. In fact, states under health reform have the explicit ability to limit abortion coverage in policies sold in state exchanges and several have already taken action to do precisely that. Plans that do cover abortion in the exchange will have to wall that off in a way to keep it apart from the federal subsidies.

Joanne Kenen

Joanne Kenen (@JoanneKenen) is AHCJ’s health reform topic leader. If you have questions or suggestions for future resources, please send them to joanne@healthjournalism.org.

A few more stray but relevant facts:

According to the Kaiser.edu materials, about two-thirds of women aged 15 to 44 use contraception – and do so for about 30 years.

Most employer-based insurance plans do cover contraception, though there are often co-pays. Among large employers, more than 80 percent cover contraception.

Federal Medicaid dollars do not cover abortion under the Hyde Amendment (except for rape, incest or when the life of the mother is in danger) – although some states use their own money to cover abortion in some circumstances. But Medicaid does cover contraception. In fact, Medicaid pays for more than 70 percent of publicly financed family planning services.

And Title X funds family planning clinics (created in 1970 under the Nixon presidency). According to HHS, about 5 million women and men get family planning services through more than 4,500 community-based clinics. Someone with religious objections to providing contraceptives for employees is indirectly paying for Medicaid birth control coverage – and indirectly for the tax subsidies of employer-sponsored insurance – just as we all pay taxes that fund some things we agree with and some we don’t.

Sebelius coverage focuses on experience, abortion

She tries to work with both Republicans and Democrats, but is inexperienced when its comes to working with Congress. And her support for abortion rights is a flashpoint that will generate serious protest. These are among the observations from various corners now that President Barack Obama has nominated Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary.

Several AHCJ members and staff visited Sebelius in Topeka on April 21, 2008, as part of AHCJ's Midwest Health Journalism Program Fellowships.

Several AHCJ members and staff visited Sebelius in Topeka on April 21, 2008, as part of AHCJ's Midwest Health Journalism Program Fellowships.

For instance, USA Today points out that Sebelius would bring “expertise as a former state health insurance regulator but not deep ties to the members of Congress who will decide the fate of the president’s health care proposals.” The paper quotes Norman Ornstein of conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute as saying “it’s a tough job for anybody to do right now,” but especially for a Washington outsider. “It’s like suddenly being inserted as quarterback in the second quarter of the Super Bowl, where you know the coach, you know the game, but you haven’t played with this team and you don’t know all the plays.”

On the other hand, CNNPolitics.com notes that Sebelius has “experience working with both Democrats and Republicans in her home state, which could be an asset to President Obama as he embarks on an effort at bipartisanship in reforming health care.”

The experience, however, may have been sobering, according to The New York Times, which pointed out that her “efforts to forge bipartisan consensus have rarely succeeded. She recently observed that the greatest frustration of her six years in office had been her inability to persuade lawmakers to raise tobacco taxes for a modest expansion of government health coverage.”

Meanwhile, The Washington Post writes that Sebelius, who was raised as a Roman Catholic in Ohio, has “endured fierce and often personal criticism from anti-abortion activists largely because she vetoed a bill that would have required doctors who perform late-term abortions to report a reason for the procedure.” The paper adds that, after the veto, the archbishop of Kansas City asked her to stop taking Communion. Underscoring the point, FoxNews.com reports how anti-abortion activists plan to fight her nomination.

Beyond the mainstream, blogs are reacting with passion. Catholic Fire writes that it would “certainly be good to get her out of Kansas.” On the other end of the spectrum, Women’s Voices for Change is thrilled that Sebelius was chosen for HHS and calls her a “Mistress of the Universe,” who is a tough administrator, deeply bipartisan and determined to get things right, even when faced with unpopular choices.

Related

Obama releases documents from advocacy groups

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates social media efforts of AHCJ and assists with the editing and production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Jennifer LaFleur at ProPublica points out that “President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team seems to be following through with its promise of transparency by posting documents from its meetings with industry and advocacy groups.”

There are some health-related documents among the postings:

AIDS in America: An agenda endorsed by 15 national organizations that calls for “the development of a National AIDS Strategy for the U.S. that is designed to lower HIV incidence, increase access to HIV care, and reduce racial disparities in the epidemic and integrate HIV with STD, viral hepatitis and TB programs at the local level.”

Asian Pacific Islander American Health Forum: “Priorities for the new administration to improve the health and well-being of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders”

Analysis of HIV/AIDS Priority Issues for Immediate Action: List of issues for “immediate action” from the AIDS Action Council

Advancing Reproductive Rights and Health in a New Administration: Agenda from a coalition of about 60 medical, public health, research, religious and religiously affiliated, women’s health, legal, and other advocacy organizations.

National Water Policy Dialogue: The American Water Resources Association, the Environment and Water Resources Institute of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the National Wildlife Federation submitted a summary of the National Water Policy Dialogues conducted by AWRA at the request of 10 federal water agencies. Water quality is among their concerns.

Last-minute rules would affect health care

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates social media efforts of AHCJ and assists with the editing and production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

ProPublica, which is tracking last-minute rulemaking by the Bush Administration, reports on one rule that would make it more difficult for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to regulate toxins.

Fire and emergency response personnel practice techniques for hazardous materials containment and removal.

Fire and emergency response personnel practice techniques for hazardous materials containment and removal. Photo: Jim Gathany/CDC

ProPublica, which also links to coverage in The Washington Post and The New York Times, says “OSHA has issued just one significant health standard” in the past eight years – and that it did that under court order.

Another rule the administration is pushing forward is would require federally funded health care facilities to allow employees to refuse to provide services at odds with their moral or religious beliefs, such as abortion.

David G. Savage of the Los Angeles Times reports that “For more than 30 years, federal law has dictated that doctors and nurses may refuse to perform abortions. The new rule would go further by making clear that healthcare workers also may refuse to provide information or advice to patients who might want an abortion.”

Savage writes that the rule, as written, could extend to other procedures, including prescribing birth control or providing artificial inseminination. A lawyer for the National Women’s Law Center said the law also could affect decisions about end-of-life care.