Sunday, November 01, 2015

A Few Links to Dispel Conservative Myths Part Seven: Reproductive Rights

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was questioned for eleven hours on October 19 by a congressional committee in a farcical hearing the likes of which has not been seen in America since the days of Senator Joe McCarthy. The House of Representatives Select Committee on the attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, which Republican House majority leader Kevin McCarthy admits was created to damage Hillary Clinton in her run for President, succeeded however only in making Hillary Clinton look more like Presidential material and in making congressional Republicans look like the blithering idiots they are. (Additional note: congressman Kevin McCarthy is not related to the late Senator Joe McCarthy except in spirit.)

I mention the Clinton hearing because congressman McCarthy wants to take the valuable witch-hunting experience that the current Republican congress has gained through the Benghazi committee debacle and apply it to harassing Planned Parenthood and undermining reproductive rights in America.

"When you look at the poll numbers of Hillary Clinton, they’ve dropped, unfavorables pretty high," McCarthy said. "If we really want to be able to show what this Planned Parenthood has done — you see a few videos, so there’s real question — have the select committee get all the information, all the hearings, so the public can see that."

Jennifer Bendery of the Huffington Post explains, "House Republicans created a special committee on Wednesday (October 7) to investigate abortions, fetal tissue procurement and the use of federal funds at Planned Parenthood."

"Its stated mission, among other things, is to examine "medical procedures and business practices used by entities involved in fetal tissue procurement" and "federal funding and support for abortion providers."

"The special committee comes a few months after anti-abortion activists released a series of heavily edited undercover videos that purported to show the family planning provider breaking the law by selling fetal tissue after abortions. Multiple state investigations and a federal investigation by the Energy and Commerce Committee have so far been unable to find any facts to support that claim. Planned Parenthood, which legally accepts money to cover the costs of transporting donated fetal tissue to medical researchers, has slammed the videos as "deceptively edited" and denies any wrongdoing."

Will the committee attacking Planned Parenthood backfire and merely embarrass itself and, ironically, see Planned Parenthood actually become more well-liked, just as the Benghazi committee did for Hillary Clinton? One can only hope so, because reproductive rights in America are under siege and getting weaker every day.

One in three American women have an abortion at some point during their lifetimes. But with Republicans dominating control of state governments, the landscape for women to exercise their constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy cannot be exercised in most of the country. Eighty-nine percent of all U.S. counties lacked an abortion clinic in 2011; 38% of women live in those counties. There are six states with only one abortion clinic. Between 2011 and 2014, states adopted 231 new abortion restrictions. And the clear goal of the new congressional committee is to convince Congress to strip Planned Parenthood, the most important provider of reproductive health services in America, of its public funding. And on that note, let's move on to:

Part Seven. Reproductive Rights Myths

Secretly recorded video recorded by the anti-choice group called the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) shows Planned Parenthood selling the body parts of aborted fetuses and otherwise breaking the law.
From Rachel Larris of Media Matters' for America, "even the longer version of the video and the transcript released by CMP, which they claim is unedited and accurate, undermines their sensationalist claim, showing at least three crucial edits that reveal that (Senior Director of Medical Services Dr. Deborah) Nucatola was actually discussing reimbursement costs for consensual, legal tissue donations. The CMP-released transcript includes remarks made by Nucatola not included in the shorter edited video explaining that "nobody should be selling tissue, that's just not the goal here." The shorter video cuts nearly eight minutes out in the middle of a conversation about money where Nucatola makes clear that PPFA only accepts payment to cover legal reimbursement costs for what she repeatedly characterized as "tissue donation" in the transcript." Note the reimbursement costs in question were money clinics legally received money to cover the cost of procuring, storing and transporting tissue. Thanks to recent harassment over the issue, Planed Parenthood will no longer accept the reimbursements.

Myth: Another secretly recorded video shows an abortion at Planned Parenthood, and shows, according to Republican Presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, "a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says, "We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.""
Fact: According to medial experts, the event is a miscarriage and it occurred in a hospital, not in an abortion clinic. Furthermore, the video in question has no sound; no one says, "We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain," or anything else.

(There are actually a whole bunch of these deceptively-edited videos used to attack Planned Parenthood. A Comprehensive Guide is found here.)

Myth: Obtaining fetal tissue from abortions is not important for medical and scientific research. "There’s nothing that can’t be done without fetal tissue,"  "[I]t’s been over-promised what the benefits of fetal research would be. And very much under-delivered." - Republican Presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson
Fact: Scientists use fetal cells in research because they divide quickly and adapt more easily than adult cells to new environments. Human fetal cells obtained from two abortions in the early 1960s are still growing in labs and are used as incubators to replicate viruses for the production of vaccines against chickenpox, rubella, shingles, rabies and hepatitis A. Scientists who developed the polio vaccine used cultures from fetal kidney cells. Stem cells extracted from fetal tissue are being used to treat Parkinson's disease. Fetal tissue research has helped medical providers diagnose genetic diseases before birth. Note also that Dr. Carson is a hypocrite on this issue: A 1992 study published by Carson and three of his colleagues at John Hopkins University used tissue from the fetal brain and nasal cavity to better understand the development of chambers in the brain. More information on the Carson study can be found here and here.

Myth: "Almost 95 percent of all (Planned Parenthood's) pregnancy services were abortions." - Fox Business reporter Sandra Smith
Fact: So what does Planned Parenthood do, anyway? From "Testing and treatment for sexually transmitted disease and infection, both for men and women, accounts for the largest share of services provided by Planned Parenthood at more than 4.47 million. Contraception, which includes birth control, emergency contraception kits, and sterilization and vasectomy procedures, accounts for more than 3.58 million services. Different types of cancer screening and prevention, including breast exams, account for 935,573 services." "(T)here were also more than 1.1 million pregnancy tests, 47,2000 urinary tract infection treatments, or 65,500 "family practice services." Over the course of 2013-14, Planned Parenthood performed more than 10.5 million services. Sometimes patients are double-counted because they receive multiple services. Put another way. Planned Parenthood clinics saw 2.7 million individual patients that year. Of all services, abortions account for 3 percent of services performed, said Erica Sackin, a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman." (emphasis mine).

Myth: If Planned Parenthood is defunded, folks will have no problem getting care elsewhere. "(T)here are 10 times the number of community health centers out here, and if you talk to anybody out here on the street right now, particularly women, they would tell you, "Oh, if you get rid of Planned Parenthood, women will never get care." That's just not true. The numbers don't support that." - Gerri Willis, Fox Business Network
Fact: There's already plenty evidence that defunding Planned Parenthood results in women being denied health services. Sarah Kliff of recently wrote a very thorough and incisive article on this subject.

"Historically, researchers have found that when Planned Parenthood clinics close, other clinics do not step up to fill the gap. Meanwhile, when there are fewer reproductive health clinics available, women get less reproductive health care — from birth control to cancer screenings to STD testing and treatment. Unintended pregnancies would likely increase, too."

"(T)here are 103 counties in the United States where Planned Parenthood is the only provider of publicly funded contraceptives. In an additional 229 counties, Planned Parenthood serves the majority of women who are low-income and qualify for government help paying for birth control."

"When Texas defunded Planned Parenthood, there was a lot of talk that it will be easy to fill the gaps and no one would lose services," says Leighton Ku, a public health researcher at George Washington University. "We called other clinics and asked them, 'If Planned Parenthood couldn't do this anymore, are you prepared to step up to the plate?' The answer, in the short run, was they couldn't do it. They just had limited capacity."

Louisiana is currently attempting to defund Planned Parenthood at the state level. This resulted in some very dark comedy when state's attorneys attempted to convince a court, as reported by Molly Redden of Mother Jones,

"that there are 2,000 family planning providers ready to accommodate new patients. A federal judge, reviewing the list in an early September court hearing, found hundreds of entries for specialists such as ophthalmologists; nursing homes caregivers; dentists; ear, nose, and throat doctors; and even cosmetic surgeons

"It strikes me as extremely odd that you have a dermatologist, an audiologist, a dentist who are billing for family planning services," said the judge, John deGravelles, who will determine in the next week whether it is legal for the state to end Planned Parenthood's Medicaid contracts. "But that is what you're representing to the court? You're telling me that they can provide family planning and related services?""

One additional note: It's very strange to hear so many conservatives say they think they live in a country where everyone has access to publicly-funded health care. In reality, for every patient served by a community health center today, nearly three residents of low-income communities remain without access to primary health care.

Myth: Abortion is dangerous to womens' health.
Fact: There is plenty of misinformation on the Internet regarding abortion. For example, claims, "The risk of breast cancer almost doubles after one abortion, and rises even further with two or more abortions." In reality, induced abortion is not associated with an increase in breast cancer risk, according to the National Cancer Institute at the NIH. Less than one-quarter of 1 percent of abortions performed in the United States lead to major health complications. Abortion is 40 times safer than a colonoscopy.

Myth: Women frequently regret abortion.
Fact: Various studies show that 95% to 99% of women feel having an abortion was the right choice. Sources claiming otherwise are generally like the site I've linked in Myth above: they simply dismiss studies on the subject and rely on anecdotal evidence.

Myth: It is dangerous to perform abortions in clinics that do not meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical clinics.
Fact: Requiring clinics to meet these standards and (in some states) requiring clinic doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals are gimmicks designed to close as many clinics as possible. Doctors' groups say the laws do little to improve patient safety.

Myth: Although most abortion clinics in Texas have been forced by new laws to close in the last three years, this has not been an obstacle to women receiving the services they seek. Or, as Texas state attorneys put it when defending the new regulations, "Receiving optimal care is not an undue burden. It would be safer for patients to drive further to receive an abortion at a surgical facility with a credentialed and privileged physician than to seek an abortion at a nearby, substandard clinic."
Fact: The closing of clinics in Texas has resulted in the return of the back-alley abortion: women are now crossing the border to obtain services and pharmaceuticals in Mexico. From Laura Bassett of The Huffington Post:

"Indeed, the lack of abortion access in Texas is already pushing pregnant women back across the border. At Mexican pharmacies, they can purchase misoprostol, a drug with the labeled use of preventing gastric ulcers -- but which can also induce abortions."

"American women are learning that if they don't have access to an abortion provider, they can obtain misoprostol illegally and take a high dose of it on its own to end a pregnancy."

Myth: Support for abortion rights is falling. "In terms of polling, the pro-choice (support) is going down a little bit" - Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump, 6/2015
Fact: From "The most recent polling we could find comes out of Gallup. In May of this year, the polling group found 50 percent of Americans identify as pro-choice, compared to 44 percent of Americans who identify as pro-life. That's actually up, not down. The gap is outside the margin of error, the first time the pro-choice position has a statistically significant edge since 2008. If anything, the pro-choice position is gaining ground, not losing it in recent years."

According to Pew Research, "55 percent of adults say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while with 40 percent say it should be illegal all or most of the time. In both cases, these figures have remained relatively stable for at least two decades."

(Apparent) Myth: Outlawing abortion will reduce the number of abortions.
Fact: I say this myth is "apparent" because, while so many Americans are fighting to outlaw abortion or at least make it virtually unobtainable, I can't find anyone saying point-blank that making abortion illegal will actually reduce the number of abortions. The idea that it would is not mentioned in's Three Legal Reasons Why Abortion Should be Banned, or in's 10 Reasons Abortion Should be Illegal. I did find an old statement by George W. Bush that, "by not spending taxpayers’ money on abortions that we can reduce abortions in America." That is a direct statement, more or less, that making abortion more difficult to obtain in a legal way will result in fewer abortions.

In any case, it's not true. In 2007, as reported by Elisabeth Rosenthal of the New York Times, "A comprehensive global study of abortion has concluded that abortion rates are similar in countries where it is legal and those where it is not, suggesting that outlawing the procedure does little to deter women seeking it." A survey by the Guttmacher Institute in 2009 also found that, (as reported by BBC News), "Restricting the availability of legal abortion does not appear to reduce the number of women trying to end unwanted pregnancies." There is every indication that the number of illegal abortions per capita was far higher before Roe v. Wade than the number of legal and illegal abortions today. See this article in  by Katha Pollitt in the Atlantic and this estimate by the Guttmacher Institute.

So what's the best way to reduce the number of abortions in America? Here's a good summary from Jessica Arons and Shira Saperstein of the Center for American Progress:

"Making abortion less necessary is by far the better approach. The first way to do so is to reduce the incidence of unintended pregnancy. Half of all pregnancies in this country are unintended, and, of those, half end in abortion. Unintended pregnancy could be reduced significantly if we showed true commitment to: 1) comprehensive sexuality education that includes medically accurate information about abstinence and contraception; 2) insurance coverage of and public funding for family planning services; 3) greater access to emergency contraception (which prevents pregnancy and does not cause abortion); and 4) programs that curb domestic violence and sexual abuse. Clearly, women who are able to avoid unintended pregnancy do not have to make the difficult decision of whether to have an abortion."

In other words, as Hillary Clinton has said, with the right approaches to people and health care, abortion can be safe, legal, and rare.

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