In December, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the pivotal Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case that challenges a law enacted by the state of Mississippi in 2018.
The Mississippi law was passed as a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that underpins legal access to abortion in the U.S.
Roe established a constitutional right to abortion and prohibited states from banning the procedure. It also gave women the right to end their pregnancies before a fetus could survive on its own, around 23 weeks of gestational age. The Mississippi law seeks to ban abortions after 15 weeks.
In two hours of oral arguments, Justices in the court’s conservative majority seemed poised to let the Mississippi law stand, though the court won’t officially rule until June or July.
By the time it heard Dobbs, the Supreme Court had already punted on Senate Bill 8 (SB 8), the controversial Texas law that rewards ordinary citizens for successfully suing anyone who helps a woman get an abortion. At least 12 states are attempting to copy this law. Idaho already has.
Texas has also recently made it a crime to prescribe or mail medications that induce an abortion at home.
These legal actions and many others in state legislatures across the U.S. are rolling back 50 years of legal protections for abortions in the U.S.
While beauticians and tattoo artists are regulated in the state of Oregon, midwife certification is voluntary and, even then, the hurdles for certification are rather minimal.
But with midwives largely operating outside of the established health care system, there was little more than anecdotal evidence about the safety of home births to go on. That changed last year.
Markian Hawryluk, a health reporter with The Bend (Ore.) Bulletin and an AHCJ Regional Health Journalism Fellow, describes how he took advantage of new data collected by the state of Oregon to shape an article that revealed high mortality rates for home births in his state.
“If home birth were a drug,” he wrote, “it would be taken off the market.”
Read more about how he reported the story and get links to resources he used.
Recently, Dr. Ben Goldacre (@bengoldacre), a prominent critic of drug studies, wanted to find out how often side effects reported by users of cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins were genuinely caused by the medications.
The study he co-authored concluded that most reported side effects of statins aren’t often due to the drugs themselves, but to other causes. The study generated front-page headlines in the U.K., with an article in The Telegraph declaring, “Statins have virtually no side effects, study finds.”
Outcry ensued. Patients who experienced side effects on statins begged to differ, and Goldacre’s fans wondered if he had suddenly gone soft on pharmaceutical companies.
In response, Goldacre penned a nuanced explanation of the study findings, explaining* that its conclusions were flawed because it was based on incomplete data.
The statin study controversy aside, his blog post makes some key points about how side effects are reported in medical journals that are helpful for health reporters to keep in mind when covering the downsides of new drugs. I’ve boiled some important points down and included them in this tip sheet for AHCJ members.
*Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post used the word “admitting.”
What if experts wanted to figure out the rate of tonsil cancer, but forgot to exclude all the people who’d had their tonsils removed?
Those people are no longer at risk for tonsil cancer, and since there are more than half a million tonsillectomies performed each year in the U.S., counting them in the risk pool would dramatically dilute the true rate of the disease.
That’s what seems to have happened with cervical cancer, according to a thought-provoking new study published in the journal Cancer.
Image by Ray Dumas via flickr.
There was some good data analysis that turned personal for me last week, and I feel compelled to give a shout-out to the reporters and publications (Consumer Reports, CNN, Time) that covered the stunning rise in cesarean rates in the U.S. and revealed the enormous differences in C-section rates between hospitals.
This is really helpful stuff if you’re trying to find the best place to deliver a baby, as I’ve been for the past few weeks. And trust me, it’s no easy task.
I’m pregnant with my first child. As a health reporter, all the worries of pregnancy have been compounded by what I’ve long known about the health care system I’m up against.
The U.S. is a scary place to be expecting a baby. We spend more than any other country in the world on health care and more on childbirth related care – $86 billion annually – than on any other area of hospitalization, according to a 2011 editorial in the journal Contraception. Yet our maternal-fetal outcomes are some of the worst among developed nations.