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Tag: Abortion

Matthew’s health care tidbits: Texas is the present future of abortion care

Each week I’ve been adding a brief tidbits section to the THCB Reader, our weekly newsletter that summarizes the best of THCB that week (Sign up here!). Then I had the brainwave to add them to the blog. They’re short and usually not too sweet! –Matthew Holt

In this edition’s tidbits, I have to return to the stunning impact of the Dobbs ruling. We know will happen because it is already happening in Texas where the 6 week law was already being enforced in contravention of Roe v Wade.

Taxpayer money is going to “pregnancy crisis centers” that flat out lie to vulnerable patients about the impact of abortions on their health. Doctors are questioning women who have miscarried–at a moment that is already terrible for them, and women who have miscarried are being denied basic D&Cs–which can kill them.

Don’t get me started on the absolute nonsense being talked–and passed into law –about ectopic pregnancies, of which there are over 130,000 each year in the US, being carried to term. How unlikely is it that an ectopic pregnancy makes it to term with no ill effects? Let me tell you a story. My dad was an OBGYN. He and his anesthetist saved the life of a woman and her baby who somehow had made it to term while being ectopic. During the surgery she needed 12 pints of blood (a normal woman has 7-8 pints in her body) and he considered it the greatest piece of surgery he did in his entire career. He thought that he and the patients were very lucky. So I demand that crazy legislation saying ectopic pregnancies have to be carried to term also mandates that my dad is around to do every single C-Section. Unlikely, as he’s dead, but no crazier than the legislation in Indiana.

Then there’s the impact on telehealth. Most abortions are done using drugs but more and more of the pandemic-era exemptions to prescribing drugs and seeing patients over telehealth across state lines are being withdrawn. Clearly the state-based licensing of doctors is itself ridiculous in an age of online commerce, but despite the DOJ statements the legality of prescribing abortifacients across state lines is very unclear and, as Deven McGraw explained in this harrowing piece on THCB Gang, HIPAA doesn’t protect patient privacy from local law enforcement. So what happens to someone in a state where abortion is banned if they have to go to hospital because of a complication from taking an abortifacient? Trump thinks they should go to jail.

What is clear is that bans on abortion don’t stop abortions. But they do endanger women. And if the pregnancy crisis center stops a woman from getting an abortion, do they help afterwards? Why yes, if you mean by “helping”, they have a celebratory dinner and light a fricking candle.

Mike Magee’s Advice to the AMA on Reversal of Roe vs. Wade

BY MIKE MAGEE

Stable, civic societies are built upon human trust and confidence. If you were forced to rebuild a society, leveled by warfare and devastation, where would you begin? This is the question the U.S. Army faced at the close of WW II, specifically when it came to rebuilding Germany and Japan, hopefully into stable democracies. The Marshall Plan answered the question above, and its success in choosing health services as a starting point was well documented by many in the years to come, including the RAND Corporation. Their summary in 2007 said in part, “Nation-building efforts cannot be successful unless adequate attention is paid to the health of the population.” 

They began with services for women and children, the very location that a splinter of politicians and Supreme Court Justices has targeted, replacing entrusted doctors with partisan bureaucrats in an approach so obviously flawed that it forced a course correction a half-century ago in the form of Roe v. Wade.

The practice of Medicine is complex. Ideally it requires knowledge, skills, supportive infrastructure, proximity and presence. But most of all, it requires trust, especially in moments of urgency, with lives at stake, when an individual, and family, and community are all on high alert. When time is of the essence, and especially if one or more people are trying to make the right decision for two, rather than one life, decisions are impossibly personal and complex.

This was widely recognized by most physicians, including those most devout and conservative nationwide in the troubling years leading up to Roe v. Wade. As recently as 1968, the membership of the Christian Medical Society refused to endorse a proclamation that labeled abortion as sinful. In 1971, America’s leading conservative religious organization, the Southern Baptist Convention, went on record as encouraging its members “to work for legislation that would allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.” In 1973, both the Southern Baptist Convention and the Christian Medical Society chose not to actively oppose the Supreme Court ruling against a Texas law prohibiting abortion known as Roe v. Wade, and reaffirmed that position in 1974 and 1976.

What they recognized was that the nation’s social capital, its political stability and security, relied heavily on the compassion, understanding and partnership engendered in the patient-physician relationship. As most doctors saw it, what possible good could come from putting politicians in the middle of such complicated, emotion-ridden, and highly personal decisions?

The American Medical Association’s prepared reaction to the June 24, 2022, reversal to Roe v. Wade was direct and immediate. They labeled the decision “an egregious allowance of government intrusion into the medical examination room, a direct attack on the practice of medicine and the patient-physician relationship…” Their president, Jack Resneck Jr. M.D. went further to say, “…the AMA condemns the high courts interpretation in this case. We will always have physiciansbacks and defend the practice of medicine, we will fight to protect the patient-physician relationship..” But what exactly does that mean?

Approaching 75, and a lifelong member of the American Medical Association, I expect I know the AMA, its history as well as its strengths and weaknesses, as well as anyone. Aside from having deep personal relationships with many of the Board of Trustees over the years (some of whom quietly continue to contact me for advice), I have studied the evolution of the patient-physician relationship in six countries over a span of forty years.

Those who know me well, and who have pushed back against my critique of the organization, know that my intentions are honorable and that the alarms that I sound reflect my belief that, for our profession to survive as noble, self-governing, and committed above all to the patients who allow us to care for them, we must have a national organization with reach into every American town and city, and official representation in every state, and every specialty.

My concern today, despite the strong messaging from Chicago, is that the AMA and its members have not fully absorbed that this is a “mission-critical” moment in the organization’s history. It is also an opportunity to purposefully flex its muscles, expand its membership, and reinforce its priorities. The strong words, without actions to back them up, I believe, will permanently seal the AMA’s fate, and challenge Medicine’s status as a “profession.”

Here are five actions that I believe the AMA should take immediately to make it clear that physicians stand united with our patients, in partnership with nurses and other health professionals, and that the actions of last week can not and will not stand.

  1. The AMA should pull all financial support for all Republican candidates through the 2022 elections.
  2. The AMA should actively encourage physician “civil disobedience” where appropriate to protect the health and well being of all women, regardless of age, race, sexual identity, religion, or economic status.
  3. The AMA should convene, under the auspices of its’ General Counsel, Andra K. Heller, a formal strategy meeting with the legal counsels of all state and specialty medical societies to formulate an aggressive legal approach to minimize the damage of the recent Supreme Court action.
  4. The AMA should actively promote AMA volunteers to help provide a full range of women’s health care services at federal institutions and on federal land, and stand up information sites that coordinate travel and expenses should inter-state travel be required for care access.
  5. The AMA should immediately make clear that any restriction of prescribing authority of medications in support of women’s health care, including contraceptive medications and devices, and Plan B treatments will result in a coordinated nationwide disruption of health services.

Mike Magee MD is a Medical Historian and the author of “CODE BLUE: Inside the Medical-Industrial Complex.”

We Have a Right to Privacy…Right?

BY KIM BELLARD

Well, they did it.  We had a warning they were going to do it, from the leaked opinion in May, but it still was a blow to well over half the country when the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in its ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. It didn’t rule that abortion was unconstitutional – as Justice Kavanaugh wrote. “On the question of abortion, the Constitution is therefore neither pro-life nor pro-choice” – but, rather, left it to the “voters,” i.e., the states, to decide.  And, boy, the “pro-life” states have been deciding and are ready to do a lot more deciding.  

There has been lots of outrage, many protests, and calls for the Senate to pass a federal law explicitly granting a right to abortion (although that would require changing the filibuster rules).  Aside from the fact that the Democrats probably don’t have the votes to do that, even if they did, as soon as the Republicans retook Congress and the White House, they’d just repeal it and perhaps pass a law outlawing abortion everywhere.  So it goes.

There are going to be many fights about abortion in Congress and in the states, but I think it’s time for a new strategy.  It’s time to amend the Constitution.  

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American health care leaders are not blameless today

By MATTHEW HOLT

It is a very sad day for America. Roughly 30% of our country is part of a quasi-religious cult. In general these people reject science and the enlightenment. This week the Jan 6th committee has shown they are prepared to use and support any tools or tactics–up to and including the overthrow of the government, in order to get what they want. 

The overturning of Roe vs Wade is the most visible artifact of a 40-year campaign. The campaign was funded by business leaders like the Koch brothers who want to revoke all environmental, labor and rational restrictions on their activities. Using dark money and the passion of religious zealots who want to control women’s bodies and discriminate against anybody who doesn’t believe what they believe, they have turned this nation back to the 18th century, using the Supreme Court as their vehicle.

The biggest of those dominos has now fallen and women’s right to control their own bodies has been taken away in most states. We can assume a nationwide ban (such as happened in Poland) will be coming here soon, maybe as soon as 2025 if the Republicans win the 2024 elections. And note that the rolling coup described by the witnesses at the Jan 6 hearings show that the Republicans are already blatantly taking over the supposedly neutral election process.

But the American health-care system is not blameless. Abortion and other reproductive health services are clearly part of health care. Yet uniquely in this country the provision of the services has not been from mainstream health care institutions. The leaders of our health care organizations, in particular our major hospital systems, have completely avoided delivering these services. They have been more than happy to allow Planned Parenthood and other specialist organizations to provide reproductive care, and have just looked the other way in the debate. 

Worse, many of our religiously affiliated institutions,  particularly those with a Catholic heritage which represent an enormous amount of hospitals in this country, have banned not only abortion but many other forms of reproductive health care such as female sterilization. The Hyde Amendment, ironically named after a religious bigot who was an appalling adulterer and hypocrite to boot, bans Federal funding for abortions. That means that private Medicaid plans which now cover most births in this country have never offered a full suite of reproductive health care.

Even in recent weeks when the fate of Roe became clear I have heard nothing from major leaders of hospital systems or health plans about this. Some of the newer provider organizations focusing on women, such as Maven and Tia, have been outspoken, as have many non health care-related employers. But the general silence from all major health care organizations in America on this topic has been deafening.

Today there is plenty of shame and blame to go around.

How About This Opportunity, Health Tech Investors? Promoting Contraception vs. Banning Abortion

By MIKE MAGEE

Dr. Linda Rosenstock has an M.D. and M.P.H. from Johns Hopkins, and was a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar. She is currently Dean Emeritus and Professor of Health Policy and Management at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health, but also spent years in government, and was on President Obama’s Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion and Integrative and Public Health.

In the wake of the release of Justice Alito’s memo trashing Roe v. Wade, she was asked to comment about the status of abortion in America. Here is what she said:

The broader the access to proven family planning methods, the lower the unintended pregnancy rate and the lower the abortion rate. We cant underestimate the role of educating and empowering women – and men – about these issues.”

These are not simply the opinions or insights of a single health expert. They are backed up by the following facts:

  1. Since 1981, abortion rates in U.S. women, age 15 to 44, have declined by nearly two thirds from 29.3 per 1000 to 11.4 per 1000.

2. Approximately half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended.  Of those unintended, approximately 40% of the women chose to terminate the pregnancy by abortion – either procedural or chemically induced.

3.  The decline in the number of abortions has coincided with increased access to long-acting reversible contraception, including IUD’s and contraceptive implants. These options are now safe, increasingly covered by insurers, and more accessible to at-risk populations.

4. The increasing inclusion of sex education in middle school and high school curricula has been accompanied by a decline in high school sexual activity by 17% between 2009 and 2019.

5. There were 629,898 abortions recorded by the CDC in 2019. For every 1000 live births that year, there were 195 other women who chose to terminate their pregnancies. Almost half of the 1st trimester abortions are now chemically induced through Plan B-type pills.

What is clear from these figures is that knowledge and access to contraception is the best way to decrease the number of abortions in America.

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The Licensing Walls Come Tumbling Down

BY KIM BELLARD

Abortion rights continue to be one of the most heated issues in American politics, super-fueled by last week’s leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion that would overturn 1973’s Roe v. Wade and return the issue to the states to decide. 

I’ll leave it to others more qualified than me – women, for example — to weigh in on abortion itself, but I want to talk about how abortion pills are going to force changes to our healthcare system that many may not be ready for.

Although the stereotype of abortions is a procedure done by a physician in an office/clinic, the majority of abortions in the U.S. are now done through the use of abortion pills.  It is a two step process, and the two medications must be prescribed by a physician. Until last December, women were required to see a physician in person, but the FDA permanently lifted those requirements, following a temporary waiver during the pandemic. The pills are considered both highly effective and safe.  There are startups, like Hey Jane and Just the Pill, that specialize in them.

Not surprisingly, since the leak searches for “abortion pills” have hit all-time highs.

The states that have been passing various abortion bans have not ignored the loophole that abortion pills represent. There are a variety of restrictions that have been enacted, such as requiring in-person visits to outright banning use of telehealth for them. In those states, some women have opted to travel out of state to do the telehealth visit and/or to receive the pills via the mail. 

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In “Riding” Abortion, Is Greg Abbott Driving Texas Toward Divestiture?

By MIKE MAGEE

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has been on a tear lately, and his central theme appears to be “revanchism.” Faced with declining demographics, he is retaliating against enemies and newcomers alike, aligning himself with slippery politicians and vigilantes. As they say in Texas, “He’s on a first-name basis with the bottom of the deck”, and the game he’s playing appears to be “South Africa – 1950.”

The formal establishment of apartheid in South Africa occurred in 1948, though racial injustice had been baked in centuries earlier. Violence and intimidation, embedded in legislation supported by a 15% white minority, led to the creation of the African National Congress (ANC) which launched what they called their “Defiance Campaign.” By 1962, their party had been outlawed, and their dynamic leader, Nelson Mandela, was imprisoned.

And yet resistance continued to grow, inside and outside the country. Religious leaders, like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, took to the street, organizing huge, peaceful rallies. In 1976, images of Black children being attacked and killed in Soweto township during a protest spread like wildfire around the world. 176 died and thousands were injured. In response, the United Nations called on its member states to divest and impose economic sanctions. Only 2 leaders did not. (More on that in a moment.)

Minority rule, oppression, vigilantism, and disenfranchisement are eventually losing propositions as Greg Abbott is learning. A majority of 52% now say his state is moving in the wrong direction. The list of grievances is long and continues to grow. Catholic bishops decried his inhumane handling of immigrant families this year. Baptist minister Rev. Frederick Haynes III spotlighted the Republican legislature’s voter suppression law recently suggesting they were “dressing up Jim and Jane Crow in a tuxedo.” Only 39% approve of his handling of the pandemic, and many Texans find the renewed endorsement of “vigilante justice” for unfortunate women and girls seeking abortions to be a disturbing and dystopian new reality. By the way, 1 in 5 Texans lack health insurance, and Texas is one of twelve Republican-led states that continue to refuse federal offers to expand Medicaid coverage of their citizens.

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Roundup of State Ballot Initiatives on Health Issues

This November, voters weighed in on an array of state ballot initiatives on health issues from medical marijuana to health care reform. Ballot outcomes by state are listed below (more after the jump).

Voters in Alabama, Montana, and Wyoming passed initiatives expressing disapproval of the Affordable Care Act, while a similar initiative in Florida garnered a majority of the vote but failed to pass under the state’s supermajority voting requirement. Missouri voters passed a ballot initiative prohibiting the state executive branch from establishing a health insurance exchange, leaving this task to the federal government or state legislature.

Florida voters defeated a measure that would have prohibited the use of state funds for abortions, while Montana voters passed a parental notification requirement for minors seeking abortions (with a judicial waiver provision).

Perhaps surprisingly, California voters failed to pass a law requiring mandatory labeling of genetically engineered food. Several states legalized medical marijuana, while Arkansas voters struck down a medical marijuana initiative and Montana voters made existing medical marijuana laws more restrictive.

Colorado and Washington legalized all marijuana use, while a similar measure failed in Oregon.

Physician-assisted suicide was barely defeated in Massachusetts (51% to 49%), while North Dakotans banned smoking in indoor workplaces. Michigan voters failed to pass an initiative increasing the regulation of home health workers, while Louisiana voters prohibited the appropriation of state Medicaid trust funds for other purposes.

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The Other Scarlet Letter

Do you hate abortion? Me too. Every form of the procedure sickens me, and has since the first one I ever heard about, when I was 10 years old.

My mother had come home early, distraught and bathed in tears, from her job as a teacher in a special high school for pregnant teenagers. Her school had let out early, following the news that a 15-year-old student had just died in the hospital from sepsis, a few hours after delivering a second-trimester, stillborn fetus she had impaled the night before with a knitting needle. It was 1972, a year before Roe vs. Wade.

No, it was not appropriate to explain abortion to a 10-year-old. And perhaps it was my overexposure as a child to the nasty realities of the world that continues to inspire my utter impatience with the nonsense running out of some peoples’ mouths, in particular moralizing politicians who are probably cheating on their wives, but that’s another story. The starkness and radicalization of my upbringing gave me a hair-trigger for spotting and calling out hypocrisy and collective self-delusion – especially when both are so obvious, no one else in the room seems to see them.

To wit: those who claim to be “pro-life,” whatever the hell that means, should get real about how the real world works. The “pro-lifers” in Congress leading the charge to dismantle Planned Parenthood should try listening to their own rhetoric about the inexorable power of market forces. Demand will always seek and find supply; and as demand for abortions will never go away on its own, neither will those who “supply” them, be they overseas physicians for the wealthy, discreet, chart-buffing physicians for the middle class, back-alley butchers for the poor, or desperate, do-it-yourself teenagers. Anyone who thinks I am kidding – and who has not had the benefit of an OB/GYN rotation in a public hospital and/or a politically furious mother with poor boundaries – should read or watch the blistering Revolutionary Road through to its bloody end.Continue reading…

Voters Want Abortion-Neutral Health Care Reform

Mark-Mellman-resized A few months ago, I warned that some folks were attempting to misuse healthcare reform to restrict access to abortion. They have come a long way since then, endangering the vital struggle for healthcare — indeed, torpedoing reform is a key goal for many involved in this effort.

Americans oppose using abortion as a means of derailing health care reform and oppose using health care reform as a means of restricting abortion. The more voters find out about what is happening on Capitol Hill with respect to this issue, the angrier they are getting, because language inserted in the House bill will take away coverage for abortion that tens of millions of women already have.

Taking away existing coverage not only violates the public will, but also does fundamental violence to Democrats’ explicit promise that if you like what you have, you will be able to keep it.

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