PPNYC’s Fall Training Institute

October 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

by MIRANDA

Planned Parenthood of New York City will soon host its annual Fall Training Institute, a series of free and low-cost training sessions “for health professionals and anyone who wants to learn and remain knowledgeable on sexual and reproductive health issues.” Selected topic titles include Public Insurance & Reproductive Health Care; Empowering and Supporting Our Transgender Youth — Taking Lessons from the Film Gun Hill Road; Don’t Forget the Pleasure in Sex Education; and Talking About Abortion With Confidence.

For more information and to sign up for a training, visit the website here.

Kansas Should Serve as a Warning to Virginia Women

August 29, 2011 § 2 Comments

This is a guest post by Dr. Jim Kenley, the former Commissioner of Health in Virginia from 1976 — 1986. Thanks to Dr. Kenley and also to Katherine Greenier, Director of the Patricia M. Arnold Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU of Virginia.

A few weeks ago, a disturbing situation arose in Kansas that brought the state perilously close to banning abortion within its borders. The legislature, with the governor’s support, enacted a new licensing and regulatory law that resulted in the creation of “emergency” regulations giving abortion providers just a few days to comply with impossible and medically unnecessary requirements.

These regulations, which demanded precise sizes for janitorial closets, no-variance room temperatures, and other ridiculous requirements, were purportedly established to protect the health and safety of women, but in truth had one and only one purpose: to shut down the three existing abortion facilities in the state.

Fortunately, a federal judge temporarily enjoined the new regulations, and all three clinics in Kansas are still able to provide services, at least for now.

The situation in Kansas should serve as a warning to Virginians. Our General Assembly passed its own regulatory law this spring motivated by the same anti-choice agenda that spurred the foolishness in Kansas. And now Governor Robert McDonnell is forcing the Board of Health to adopt new regulations in an unprovoked “emergency” process that bypasses the normal public notice and comment periods for changes in state regulations, and reduces opportunities for input from the trained professionals at the state agencies who know the most about the issues at hand.

As a retired doctor and former health commissioner for the Commonwealth of Virginia, I am deeply concerned about these developments, because I fear that we, like Kansas, are attempting to turn back the clock on women’s health in a way that could have devastating effects.

Although I never performed an abortion, when I was a young physician in Cincinnati and Atlanta in the 1950s, I helped women who needed emergency medical care following either self-performed or “back alley” abortions. Later, in practice, one memorable case was a mature, educated mother of two whose spouse had recently survived a brain hemorrhage. Pregnant some 20 years before the Supreme Court legalized abortions and with nowhere to turn, she desperately tried to self-abort with a hat pin.

In the middle of the night, I was called to her house where I found her in excruciating pain suffering from severe chills and a fever of 105 degrees. After telling me what she had done, I rushed her to the hospital where she received emergency medical treatment that thankfully saved her life.

In September, the Virginia Board of Health will propose emergency regulations to require abortion clinics to meet hospital-like standards of care, even though abortion is one of the safest medical procedures available in this country and is already heavily controlled by state and federal regulations.

To be certain, supporters of these new regulations will claim that elevating abortion providers to mini-hospitals by forcing them to make costly architectural upgrades will somehow protect women’s health and safety. Women definitely deserve the highest standard of medical care especially when it comes to reproductive healthcare. But women in Virginia are already receiving abortion care at the highest standard, and medically inappropriate and unnecessary regulations will only serve to restrict access to the full range of reproductive health care services and further marginalize young, low-income, uninsured and minority women by decreasing their health care options.

Early abortion care is already difficult to access in the Commonwealth, with 86% of Virginia’s counties lacking any abortion providers at all. The new regulations could make abortions both harder to get and more expensive, possibly taking us back to something akin to that time I recall with such great dismay, when every abortion was a health risk.

That’s why I hope my fellow medical professionals with the Board of Health will not bow to political pressure or rhetoric from special interest groups. Women in Virginia are already receiving outstanding abortion care, so there is no need for medically inappropriate and unnecessary regulations that will not only reduce access to abortion for all women, but especially for existing marginalized women.

There are additional consequences of fewer providers and more expensive abortion services as a result of overregulation. Virginia abortion providers also offer an array of reproductive healthcare services to women as well as men, including life-saving cancer screenings, birth control, STI testing and treatment and pre and post-natal care. These critical health services could be reduced or eliminated altogether.

As the former Commissioner of Health under four governors, I urge the members of the Virginia Department of Health and the Board of Health to adhere to their charge — to protect the public health and safety of the people of the Commonwealth by adopting only those regulations that are medically appropriate, and based in science.

If they do, they will show us that on important matters involving constitutional rights and health care, Virginia can rise above politics. We can be better than Kansas.

Why Insurance Coverage For Abortion Matters

April 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

This is a guest post by Katherine A. Greenier, Director of the Patricia M. Arnold Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU of Virginia. Read her previous post here.

Late Tuesday night, on March 29, 2011, Governor Bob McDonnell (R-VA) handed down an amendment to Delegate Terry’s Kilgore’s HB 2434 bill, which directed the Commonwealth to establish a health exchange in accordance with the federal health care legislation. The Governor’s amendment will restrict Virginia’s health insurance exchange from covering abortion services, except in the cases of rape, incest, and the life of the mother.

Abortion is part of basic health care for women. For some that may seem like an odd thing to say. Abortion has become such a hotly contested issue in this country that we’ve lost sight of the role abortion plays in women’s lives. But if you stop and think about it, every woman’s situation is different and many things can go wrong in a pregnancy. Every woman deserves the opportunity to make the best decision for her circumstances, whether her decision is raising a child, adoption or abortion. No woman plans to have an abortion, but if she needs one, insurance should cover the procedure just as it covers all other pregnancy related care.

Unfortunately, some politicians have introduced legislation that would make it harder for women to access the health care they need. These measures have been proposed throughout the country, including here in Virginia, to prevent insurance companies from covering abortion care. By introducing the amendment to HB 2434, the Governor reopens the debate on an issue that has already been addressed in the General Assembly. HB 2147 and SB 1202, bills to ban abortion coverage in health insurance plans, were introduced at the start of session and received hearings. Both bills were defeated in the Senate Education and Health committee. These measures would have taken, and the amendment to HB 2434 could take away insurance coverage that millions of women currently have and make it difficult if not impossible for many women to take care of themselves and their families.

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When Backing Up Your Birth Control Isn’t So Simple

March 30, 2011 § 6 Comments

by ELENA

Last week, I spent 72 hours in the hospital after being diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis. In normal terms: I have a blood clot in my leg. The cause? My birth control, which I had been on since the start of June.

I’m lucky. I have insurance, and access to heath care and physical therapy. I’m on rounds of blood thinner medication, and am slowly beginning to recover, and move around normally. However, I am not allowed to use any hormonal birth control for an entire year. Any extra dose of estrogen could be fatal.

So, most contraceptive methods, and Plan B are off-limits to me. And while having a bad leg and withdrawals from painkillers mean that sex is not the highest priority on my list, I know that will not always be the case. And I also know that my options for a contraceptive other than condoms (which are always a given for  me anyway) are slim. They include diaphragms and the copper, non-hormonal IUD.

Sometimes I think we forget that hormonal contraceptives are not always the be-all-end-all solution for wanting to enjoy sex without the risk of unplanned pregnancy. I can’t just take a pill every day, or take a more expensive pill if a condom should break. Those pills could kill me.

Back Up Your Birth Control!

March 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

by MIRANDA

It’s the 10th anniversary of the Back Up Your Birth Control day of action. Today is an opportunity to learn about emergency contraception (EC), how it works, when you can take it, and why access to it is threatened — and a reminder to back yourself up!

This day is a project of the National Institute for Reproductive Health. They have an awesome website where you can find answers to some common questions, as well as ideas for EC-related activism:

Sign the petition calling on the FDA to end restrictions on EC. Tell the FDA to stop stalling and expand over-the-counter access to EC to women of all ages.

Sign the petition to say that contraception is prevention. Speak out to help ensure that comprehensive contraceptive care, including EC, is covered free of charge under the preventive care provision of health care reform.

Sign ‘em! And back it up, ladies. It’s so much easier to buy over-the-counter emergency contraception now so you have it on hand; if the need arises, you can skip the anxious rush to the drugstore when you or your friend is in a bind.

Legislators Take Risks with Women’s Health and Reproductive Rights

March 25, 2011 § 1 Comment

This is a guest post by Katherine A. Greenier, Director of the Patricia M. Arnold Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU of Virginia.

Legislative maneuverings are nothing new, but the Virginia General Assembly, with some last minute shenanigans during this past session, may have just maneuvered itself into reproductive rights morass with very real legal implications.

On February 24, 2011, the House of Delegates passed SB 924, a bill that requires the Board of Health to issue regulations related to infection prevention and disaster preparedness for hospitals, nursing homes and certified nursing facilities. As approved by the Senate, SB 924 had nothing to do with abortions, but House members added a last minute amendment that classifies “facilities in which 5 or more first trimester abortions per month are performed” as a category of hospitals.

Lt. Governor Bill Bolling broke a 20-20 tie in the Senate when he voted in favor of the bill as amended in the House, sending it to Governor Bob McDonnell, who will almost certainly sign it.

The effect of SB 924? That will depend on the regulations produced by the Board of Health, but clinics in the state that currently provide safe and legal first-trimester abortions will have to meet at least some of the facilities requirements now imposed on the various types of hospitals classified under state law, possibly the requirements now mandated for outpatient surgical centers. Even doctor’s offices that provide medication abortions in the very beginning stages of pregnancy could be affected.

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Young Americans…have sex?!?!!

March 9, 2011 § 2 Comments

by MIRANDA

Students at Wesleyan created this flippin’ fantastic video in response to the attacks on Planned Parenthood. Watch!

Emergency contraception and the FDA

February 10, 2011 § 2 Comments

by MIRANDA

I’ve written quite a lot about emergency contraception, and in particular about the shady age restrictions that dictate who can and can’t buy it over the counter.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has an excellent recap:

The Center sued the FDA in 2005 for failing to grant over-the-counter status to emergency contraception (a.k.a Plan B) against the advice of its scientific experts and in violation of its own procedures and regulations. In 2006, the FDA agreed to make Plan B available without a prescription, but only to women 18 and over and only behind the pharmacy counter.

Plan B is now available over-the-counter for anyone age 17 or over, but remains inaccessible to those under 17 even though “medical and scientific consensus provides no rationale for age restrictions on Plan B.”

Today, emergency contraception is available without a prescription, but only for women age 17 and older. Pharmacies and clinics must keep it behind the counter and anyone seeking to buy it must show government issued identification proving their age in order to buy it without a prescription.
These intrusive restrictions, unprecedented for drugs with over-the-counter status, make it harder and more stigmatizing for consumers to get the contraception during its most effective window.

These restrictions are undeniably motivated by political and social pressures that seek to legislate sexuality. (I’ll quote myself: “It’s more than obvious that the conservative movement to restrict access is not about the health and safety of teenage women, but about legislating who is and isn’t allowed to have sex.”) Never mind that the political leaders who restrict Plan B access, which prevents conception after unprotected sex, are the same people who restrict abortion access — abortion being what women might logically turn to when faced with an unplanned pregnancy that using Plan B might have prevented in the first place.

But this morning brought some good news:

Moments ago, Teva, the manufacturer of the emergency contraceptive (EC) Plan B, announced that it filed an application with the FDA requesting that EC be available over-the-counter without a prescription for women of all ages.

While it’s phenomenal that Teva has put this pressure on the FDA, their request will only affect restrictions on their specific emergency contraception product. In an email, the Center for Reproductive Rights emphasized: “We want the FDA to know that it is still required to obey the law and end all restrictions once and for all –- not on a piece meal basis.”

They have a petition to pressure Dr. Margaret Hamburg, the FDA Commissioner of Food and Drugs, to end senseless age restrictions on all forms of emergency contraception. Please sign here.

Fibromyalgia Linked To Increased Suicide Risk In Tragically Ableist Article

July 23, 2010 § 2 Comments

by KATIE E.

A new study has shown that women with fibromyalgia are ten times more likely to commit suicide than women without the chronic pain condition.

Researchers in Denmark followed death rates of men and women diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and while the death rates overall for both genders were consistent, only the individual mortality causes of males were very similar to the rest of the population. Within the women followed, about 3.3% died through suicide, compared to less than 0.005% of the general female population.

The article notes that this is not truly brand new news, as many doctors, and, more likely, people with fibromyalgia, have been aware of this for years.

I suppose the article can be seen as somewhat of a good thing, because it calls attention to the fact that fibromyalgia is a real condition that can have devastating consequences, which many people living in this ableist world don’t or refuse to understand. Normally, I would shudder at the thought of this, but all one has to do to read dozens of stories of misdiagnoses, accusations of lying about the condition, and years of chronic pain is to read the (surprisingly civil) comment section on the article. It is not a safe space by any means, and there are a few ableist comments that are definitely triggering, but all in all, it is one of the few mainstream sites I’ve seen people with fibromyalgia share their stories without excessive attacks, derailing, etc.

The article isn’t perfect, though. There is the obvious issue that this is something people with fibromyalgia and (good) medical professionals already know, but other parts of the article seemed to do nothing but erase the experiences of the exact same women that the article is written about, particularly a section where one of the researchers speculated on the exact causes of the suicides:

“Dr. Bente Danneskiold-Samse, a rheumatologist at Frederiksberg Hospital and one of the study’s authors, said that other psychiatric illnesses that often occur in tandem with fibromyalgia might not be the only explanation for the high suicide rates.”

This leaves the reader to wonder if Dr. Danneskiold-Samse has actually talked to many women with fibromyalgia who may be suicidal, or if she, being the typical “expert,” just decided it must be true without sufficient evidence. The parts of the article detailing the study make no reference to asking women whether or not they had a diagnosed psychiatric condition, or even asking what their primary reason (the section frames it as a depression vs. physical pain issue, I’ll get to that in a moment) for contemplating suicide was.

Better yet, why not take the focus off the “experts” and actually interview some women with fibromyalgia who may have experienced suicidal thoughts or other psychiatric conditions who are willing to share their experiences? They’re the only real experts here, yet the article silences their voices.

“None of the patients in the study who committed suicide had a history of psychiatric illness before they were diagnosed with fibromyalgia.”

Well, this is a huge, ableist fail. Believe it or not, so-called experts of the world, psychiatric conditions can change radically, especially after the diagnosis of the condition that you just said correlates with suicide. Shouldn’t that be blatantly obvious?

“The high suicide rate could still be linked to depression in these patients, or to anti-depressants that are known to carry risks of suicide, she told Reuters Health. But ‘many of these patients do not take anti-depressant medications because of the side effects, and because they do not feel depressed,’ she said. ‘My opinion is that it has something to do with their pain.'”

So much assuming, silencing, and obviousness going on here. Apparently, this doctor knows everything about women with fibromyalgia who’ve committed suicide — why they don’t take anti-depressants, and exactly why they committed suicide. Never mind the fact that some people can’t take anti-depressants because of other conditions, some don’t believe in or see effects of them, and some can’t afford them, among other things. Don’t forget: “My opinion is that it has something to do with their pain.”…really? Does she not notice that that is a huge assumption about all women with fibromyalgia? Some women with fibromyalgia take their lives solely because of the pain, some only because of depression that has nothing to do with their physical condition, some solely because of depression caused by pain, and many because of various combinations of the above, along with completely different reasons.

As stated before, the article does acknowledge fibromyalgia as a real condition that can create very severe problems for people, but it cannot effectively do its job while it silences the women affected by the condition everyday.

In Which I Masochistically Attempt to Understand Camille Paglia

July 6, 2010 § 8 Comments

QUESTION: What the fuck is this? That was my first thought when I came across Camille Paglia’s recent column, No Sex Please, We’re Middle Class. I looked her up on Wikipedia, which was a mistake. Lady is contro-fucking-versial and also slightly ridiculous.

The piece is — apparently — about a drug to counter low libido in women, for which there is significant demand. An advisory panel to the Food & Drug Administration recently voted against the approval of such a drug, but recommended further research. It seems the that possibility of providing non-hormonal medical help to women with this kind of sexual dysfunction might soon be a reality.

This is excellent! Agreed? Because women deserve an equal share of the power of modern medicine, we deserve a drug industry that responds to our concerns, we deserve good sex. Because men with sexual dysfunction are just regular guys with a bit of bad luck, but women with the same problems are alien cyborgs who should be quiet and shame-ridden. Because Viagra was covered by insurance before some kinds of birth control. (Erections are reimbursable, but preventing the unwanted potential products of said erections? Out of pocket, bitches. ERECTIONS!! We bow down to your almighty power! Or something.)

Unfortunately, Camille Paglia doesn’t agree. At least, I think that this is her position, though it’s difficult to discern why from the apalling above-linked collection of words and “ideas” that bears little resemblance to a coherent argument.

Below, for your reading pleasure, a selection of astoundingly ridiculous (published! And financially compensated!) excerpts from Paglia’s piece. (Real Paglia words in bold, followed by my own alternate, comparably illogical text.)

“A class issue in sexual energy may be suggested by the apparent striking popularity of Victoria’s Secret and its racy lingerie among multiracial lower-middle-class and working-class patrons, even in suburban shopping malls, which otherwise trend toward the white middle class.” “Sometimes I see women of color in my local Victoria’s Secret. Lacy underwear = having sex. Therefore, the aforementioned ladies must be having more sex than white ladies. Therefore, they must never suffer from unpleasant sexual dysfunction, which the aforementioned pharmaceuticals might cure. Conclusion: white ladies are prudes! No lady-Viagra can cure that shit! VICTORIA’S SECRET FOR THE WIN!!!”

“Nor are husbands offering much stimulation in the male display department: visually, American men remain perpetual boys, as shown by the bulky T-shirts, loose shorts and sneakers they wear from preschool through midlife. The sexes, which used to occupy intriguingly separate worlds, are suffering from over-familiarity, a curse of the mundane. There’s no mystery left.” “FACT: As soon as you get to know someone, it is automatically impossible for you to find them sexy. You’re like, ‘Oh hey, that guy over there is substantially attractive. Shall I go over and introduce myself, maybe acquire his name, maybe acquire his digits of phone?’ Ladies, I am here to say NO! Do NOT talk to the men, do not allow yourself to glimpse them wearing T-shirts, shorts, OR HEAVEN FORBID SNEAKERS, because the sexy will vanish. It will be GONE, and you won’t deserve any lady-Viagra to turn you on again.”

“In the 1980s, commercial music boasted a beguiling host of sexy pop chicks like Deborah Harry, Belinda Carlisle, Pat Benatar, and a charmingly ripe Madonna. Late Madonna, in contrast, went bourgeois and turned scrawny. Madonna’s dance-track acolyte, Lady Gaga, with her compulsive overkill, is a high-concept fabrication without an ounce of genuine eroticism.” “I, Camille Paglia, don’t find Lady Gaga sexually appealing. Since I, Camille Paglia, have recently been crowned The Very Important White Lady Who Is Also The World’s Sole Arbiter Concerning Who Is And Is Not Attractive, the previous statement obviously supports my thesis that white women have an incurable lack of lust, so incurable that not even the most testosterone-packed lady-Viagra can attempt to correct it.”

“In the discreet white-collar realm, men and women are interchangeable, doing the same, mind-based work. Physicality is suppressed; voices are lowered and gestures curtailed in sanitized office space. Men must neuter themselves, while ambitious women postpone procreation.” “Because of stupid feminism, today’s poor, poor men sometimes work with their minds instead of their muscles, which is of course degrading and ridiculous. I would prefer if men were once more allowed to roam free in the wild, where they might enjoy a life of staring at their biceps, gnawing on beef jerky, never washing their hands, and impregnating women left and right. Men! MEN!!!”

Men must neuter themselves?! I am literally wondering aloud: what the fuck do these words mean? Is she saying that men have to suppress their masculinity, really? Really, they have to control their rapacious manliness in the unabashed boys’ club that is almost every single “white-collar realm” in this nation? Because 30% of female workers report harassment in their workplace, and men are almost always the perpetrators, dontcha know. (Keep in mind that the vast majority of sexual harassment cases go unreported, so that 30% estimate is likely far from accurate.)

And maybe some “ambitious women postpone procreation” not because they don’t like sex, as Paglia implies, but because…their lifetime ambitions simply don’t include children? Or because despite being inundated since birth with cultural messages about how they’d better-become-moms-or-else, many of their jobs offer shamefully stingy maternity leave? Or because they fear workplace discrimination based on pregnancy status?

Look, Paglia: I guess I can concede that I admire your attempt at a historical analysis of women’s sexuality in the United States. I live for that shit! Seriously, I love writing about sex and women. Because it is interesting, and complicated. Also, convoluted. A BRIEF AND REALISTICALLY CONFUSING PARAPHRASE OF WHAT WE TELL WOMEN: Everyone is having sex. Also, having sex is weird. Sex feels good. Also, feeling good is bad. Your sexuality is your only power and worth. Also, if you have sex your power and worth will vanish. You must want and be ready for sex all the time. Also, you can never have sex at any time.

Yes, this is what we do. We repeat over and over that women’s most potent power is sexual — which in some ways, unfortunately, is true, because we don’t hold equitable financial, or corporate, or political power — and then we don’t let women have sex!

So yes, I can agree with Paglia that the topic of women’s sexuality is ripe for analysis, and that a comprehensive understanding of such requires dissecting cultural norms. But what I cannot condone is her condescending dismissal of real womens’ sexual problems. Because female sexual dysfunction? Is not cultural. At least, it’s not any more cultural than breast cancer is cultural or fibromyalgia is cultural or any medical condition is cultural — which is, actually, somewhat (because the way we understand and interact with our bodies differs from culture to culture), but not entirely, as her writing supposes.

Paglia’s piece is a farcical charge against the logical and equitable notion that women, like men, sometimes suffer from sexual dysfunction. She betrays and mocks the 43% of this country’s women who will experience some form of sexual dysfunction in their lifetime. These conditions are real. They are medical. And they are treatable — or will be, if the FDA will approve effective drugs, and if people like Camille Paglia will take seriously the right of women to enjoy fully the pleasure our bodies can provide.

Also see the Harpy Seminar on and Sungold’s takedown of Paglia’s article.

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